Monday, June 25, 2012

Diamond Jubilee Proms

The Toronto Symphony 90th anniversary season concluded (well practically, there was one more concert featuring the guest trumpet soloist a few days later) June 20th with the standard The Last Night of the Proms.  This year there was the added theme of celebrating the Queen's Diamond Jubilee year.  As I've been very lax in getting this written, it covers highlights only.

Conductor Bramwell Tovey, who was absent last year, was back and making her TSO debut was trumpeter Alison Balsom.  Rounding out the cast were soprano Laura Whalen and baritone James Westman.

The concert opened with a special appearance by the Fort York Honour Guard and Fife and Drum group who stood guard on stage during "O Canada" and "God Save the Queen".  The orchestra then continued with the "Crown Imperial March" which is one of my favourites.  Maestro Tovey was very engaging with the audience, particularly the late comers as he started to tell us about the piece "most of you have just heard".  He also promoted the volunteer committee's flag selling efforts at every opportunity.

One of the most humorous parts of the evening was when he asked those in the audience who were bearers of the large flags where they were from.  The first few who proudly displayed the Union Jack or St. George's Cross were from Lake Simcoe, Bobcaygeon and Toronto.  It took a few more people to find a true Londoner.  Perhaps the best response, that even had the orchestra laughing, was "Quebec".  Tovey replied he was looking forward to hearing them sing the finale "Jerusalem".

Alison Balsom
Ms. Balsom, wearing a lovely white gown, started her part of the evening festivities with the well known "Trumpet Voluntary" then moved onto the "Prayer of St. Gregory".  What an amazingly beautiful sound!  When she returned in the second half, this time in a stunning red dress, with "Casta Diva Variations from Norma" by Vincenzo Bellini I think everyone's jaw was on the floor by the end.  How anyone can play that many notes with so few breaths is astounding.  I don't know of many trumpet guest soloists, and she's definitely one worth having back.

The red, white, and blue wardrobe theme was concluded by Ms. Whalen who had the blue gown and for the finale wore the Kate and Prince William flag from last year's concert as an additional shawl. Not to be outdone was Mr. Westman.  After demonstrating his vocal skills with "The Lost Chord" and "When Britain Really Ruled the Waves" he complemented his Union Jack handkerchief by revealing his Canada flag boxers.

Luba Goy as Queen (
A special guest appearance was made by Queen Elizabeth II herself (in the form of Royal Canadian Air Farce actress Luba Goy).  She was accompanied by several hobby horse riding RCMP officers who managed to keep a straight face while she chatted with Tovey and indicated "60 years is a long time to be on the throne".  It took a second for the double entrendre to sink in and the audience laughter to start.

Mr. Tovey arranged several selections for the evening including "A Novello Rhapsody" consisting of parlour songs such as "I Can Give You the Starlight", "Waltz of My Heart", "Music in May", and "We'll Gather Lilacs" by Ivor Novello sung by Ms. Whalen and Mr. Westman.  In a tribute to Mr. Tovey's mother who passed away last year and the World War II veterans, of which there were a few in the audience, he played the piano in his own arrangement while Ms. Whalen sang "(There'll Be Bluebirds Over) The White Cliffs of Dover".  It was a tender, touching and quiet rendition that would have been easier to be sucked into without the distracting coughing from the audience.

The concert was bittersweet in that The Last Night of the Proms tradition is going on hiatus for a few years.  It was 20 years ago that Bramwell Tovey made his TSO debut, and I'm not sure how long after that the Proms started, but he's probably been the conductor of the concert since it's inception.  He shook hands with not just the concert master but all the front row players, then went to the bass row which consisted of the older veteran players he's probably known for most of those years.

I've only attended twice, but I like that the concert is a mix of Canada Day and Remembrance Day combined.  It's fun, and funny, but with its share of poignant and important moments as well.  The Wed. evening performance was quite full and I expect it will be missed next year.  So in the words of the encore song, until the Proms and the next TSO season return, "I'll Be Seeing You".

Thanks to everyone who made the 90th season a joy to attend!

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