Sci Fi Spectacular did not disappoint. Perhaps a disclaimer first. I've seen this concert before, and thoroughly enjoyed it. However, I don't think it has sounded better than the three (yes I went to all of them with various friends...have to keep getting more people hooked on the symphony and Pops is my methodology :) ) shows over the two days.
Where to start! How about with night one. It was good, but not great, there was no knock your socks off feeling. Half way through the opening "Star Wars: Main Title" I felt like it was loosing steam. Cymbal crashes and trumpet fanfares just didn't have the power and volume I was expecting. Perhaps evidence of the single rehearsal these programs typically have (I'll assume the same is true here and they rehearsed Tuesday morning with the first concert that night) there were moments of slight staggered entrances from basses and muddled brass entries. It was nice to see some principal players that don't always do the Pops concerts in attendance. Including both principal clarinetists! The reason they were there became clear in the second half, keep reading.
These small issues worked themselves out, and I was thrilled with the volume Wednesday afternoon. Perhaps I just needed to sit closer. With seats in L4 right over the strings, the trumpets and horns were gloriously clear, all entrances sounded precise (save one, more on that later), and I could see the music!
the original. "My Favourite Martian" and a brief quote of "The Outer Limits" were the remaining two. My playlist can now be completed!
|Supermen (George, Christopher, and my personal preference, Dean Cain)|
As a special guest was Lt. Sulu from the original Star Trek, Mr. George Takei! The wonderful music "literally transported" him down from the Enterprise and he provided some background on what was going on at the time Gene Roddenberry was creating Star Trek. The ship was to be a metaphor for Spaceship Earth with Uhura representing Africa, Sulu Asia, Kirk North America, with Chekov from Russia and Scottie from (where else?) Scotland to round things out. Given the civil rights movement, Cold War, and Vietnam War happening in the real world, combining this group of people and showing how diversity could work together was a pretty radical concept for the time period. He also pointed out that with James Doohan (Scottie) and William Shatner (Kirk) both being Canadian, Canada was really over represented :)
After using the phrase "infinite diversity in infinite combinations" as many times as possible, Mr. Takei introduced a "crew member with an angelic voice who had just beamed down, Lt. Kristen Plumley". Ms. Plumley arrived in original series uniform and they chatted about the "star ship Thomson" feeling like home with the "mothership" hovering above.
|Inside Roy Thomson Hall|
|Royal Ontario Museum |
In keeping with the theme of aliens coming to earth, Richard Dreyfuss had "encounters, close ones, of the third kind" and the TSO provided the appropriate suite of music. The violins made these incredibly eerie sounds by holding a note then sliding their fingers up or down the string. So creepy! The five note theme makes an appearance as well, although plays a much expanded role in the movie. This piece is so much better live than any recording I've found. In order to hear the fading out of that five note theme as it's transfered between the woodwinds at the end, you have to have the volume way up, or be in a very quiet location. Seeing it performed though, you know exactly where it is! What I don't remember hearing was the brief quote of "When You Wish Upon a Star" which is in recordings. According to wikipedia Spielberg wanted that to play over the closing credits, but was denied permission. Perhaps that's why Kristen Plumley sang it as a solo, so not that out of place after all.
With the brief introduction of "this next piece is the most poignant and profound that John Williams wrote" audience snickers from those who had read the program started. At the opening clarinet trio of "Cantina Band" from Star Wars, the rest of the audience joined in realizing the tongue in cheek nature of that description. Clarinetists Joaquin Valdepenas, YaoGuang Zhai, Joseph Orlowski, and bassoonist Fraser Jackson precisely played the lighthearted, cooky piece which had a fantastic drum solo as well.
|Takei and Plumley from same concert|
with Detroit Symphony in March
Even harder to describe is the energy that existed by the end of the Wednesday night show. I've heard it said performers feed off audience energy, and I'm sure that's what was happening. Even I felt energized by it. I mean this music is demanding particularly the brass parts. Although you wouldn't know by listening, the mark of the master is making what's hard appear easy and that was the TSO. When was the last time four trumpeters were on the stage and playing the entire concert, or five French horns? Kudos to trumpeter James Gardiner! This was now the end of the second show that day and it ended even stronger than it started.
Jack also seemed more animated and that was poured into "Duel of the Fates" and "Throne Room and End Title" from the Phantom Menace and Star Wars respectively. The orchestra was game and it was clean, tight, powerful and thrilling when he broke out his glowing light saber baton! The phenomenal and appreciative audience were quickly on their feet ending a fantastic final evening of music. As always Jack graciously acknowledged the orchestra at every opportunity.
Originally when I saw it was the "Sci Fi" show coming this year, I was hoping for something different. But I'd forgotten what a wonderful showcase it is for pure symphonic music. There's not a chance for the orchestra to be relegated to roll of back-up band for a singer, the whole evening keeps them front and centre. Not to mention how the futuristic subject matter really did suit one of the last pops concerts for the 90th TSO season, having started with 100 years ago on Broadway. Jack concluded by saying that it's always a pleasure to be back in Toronto, so even though he's not scheduled for next season, I hope talks are underway for the one after that!
For perhaps a less biased review, you can check out the National Post's opinion here. Personally I'm shocked that they felt a Pops concert worthy of review, but if it draws more attention to the Toronto Symphony I'm all for it.
Thanks to all involved for a wonderful series of sci fi concerts!