Sunday, October 21, 2012

A Whirlwind of Music

Shamefully this is being written in November and back dated a month (wow, so behind) so it shows in the correct month drop down menu.  So way back on Oct. 14 the Toronto Symphony offered a Whirlwind of Music program.  We started in Germany with the first movement of Mendelssohn's "Italian Symphony No. 4", then moved on to Italy for Vivaldi's "Concerto for Bassoon in F Major" and Rossini's "Overture to William Tell".  After intermission we went to Austria for the "Overture to the Magic Flute" by Mozart, then back to Germany for Mendelssohn's "Konzertstuck No. 1 for Two Clarinets", before finishing the trip with the second and fourth movements of Beethoven's "Symphony No. 7".

Joshua Weilerstein
The concert was conducted by the incredibly energetic (ah, the joys of youth) Joshua Weilerstein.  He's accomplished a lot in his 24 years, completing graduate studies in conducting and violin, assistant conductor of the New York Philharmonic, and has had conducting gigs all over the world with orchestras such as the BBC Symphony, Los Angeles Philharmonic, and Danish National Symphony to name a few.  He had an excellent rapport with the audience, provided interesting tidbits about the pieces and added humour by defining an intellectual as one who can "list to the William Tell Overture without thinking of The Lone Ranger".  True not a quote created by him (wikipedia credits it to Jack Guin of the Denver Post) but fun nonetheless.

Michael Sweeney
Highlights of the concert for me started with the bassoon concerto.  I enjoy the sound of the bassoon, but often find it difficult to pick out from the full orchestra unless it has an obvious melodic line.  So it was really nice to hear principal bassoonist Michael Sweeney take centre stage.  In fact it was an embellished version of the concerto that Mr. Sweeney created himself.  A rather prolific concerto writer with over 500 to his credit and more than three dozen for the bassoon, I've always liked that Vivaldi probably wrote most of these works for the female students at the Venetian orphanage where he worked.

L: Valdepenas, R: Zhai
The spotlight continued to be on principal players when new TSO clarinetist YaoGuang Zhai joined the veteran Joaquin Valdepenas for the "Konzertstuck (or Concert Piece) for Two Clarinets".  What impeccable tone, articulation and ability they both have that showed off the versatility of this wonderful instrument (sorry, I'm biased since that's my instrument too).

Clearly I'm no intellectual because I thought of The Lone Ranger, but I had no idea the "Overture to William Tell" had four sections and is 12 minutes long!  As a whole it's a great piece, and a shame so much gets forgotten about because of the popularity of the final gallop.  It opens with a section called Prelude: Dawn featuring only the cellos and basses, then the full orchestra joins for the Storm.  The third section, Call to the Cows, is the pastorale calm after the storm and features the English horn, before  transitioning to the brass filled finale.

It was a lot of variety packed into an fun filled afternoon concert.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Some Enchanted Evening with the TSO

Tuesday evening the Toronto Symphony opened its Pops Concert Series with new Principal Pops Conductor Steven Reineke at the helm for an evening of Rodgers and Hammerstein hits.  At first glance in the new, all glossy pages program (which had the side effect of condensing the piece order list to 1/2 a page!) I wasn't entirely thrilled with the pieces listed.  It seemed like a rehash of what's typically done at Pops concerts.  However my opinion changed once things got started.  While some of the these pieces are well worn and typical fare the vocalists made them come alive again!  Additionally some pieces often done by soloists were done by the choir combination of the Orpheus Choir of Toronto and the University of Toronto MacMillan Singers.  There were even a few included that often get overlooked.  "We Kiss in a Shadow" for example,  I don't recall ever hearing before. Obviously it's been a LONG time since I've watched The King and I.

The arc to the evening was chronological.  Reineke briefly described the plots of each musical and mentioned some of the historical significance Carousel and South Pacific had being the first to include subject matter regarding abuse, sexism and racism.

Ashley and her husband Daniel
looking lovely at their wedding
I have no complaints about any of the singers, they all had good voices, Ashley Brown though is spectacular!  Just wow!  She looked stunning as well in two lovely gowns.  Total side note: I couldn't help noticing a ring I didn't remember before.  Turns out she's been married almost a year (thanks google) and congrats Ashley!

I've heard her before and was so excited she was going to be coming to Toronto.  In fact all the singers were making their TSO debut.  In addition to Ashley was Aaron Lazar, and it was great to see Canadian talent on the program with Jonathan Estabrooks (see his interview regarding this concert here).

The choirs were highlighted as well, beginning with "It's Grand Night for Singing".  They also got to show off their whistling skills in their other main numbers "There is Nothin' Like a Dame" and "I Whistle a Happy Tune".  "Nothin' Like a Dame" was probably the most enjoyable selection as they passed around a mike singling out individual lines.  There was one guy in the front row who stood out even before his solo with his apparent enjoyment and great expressions.  It's great fun watching people like that.  Back in the audience, I don't think the young gentlemen in front of me had heard the song before because he was cracking up at some of the more humerous lyrics.

Carousel was apparently Richard Rodgers favourite musical and is Reineke's as well.  Here Ashley embraced a variety of vocal styles from the twang of "June is Bustin' Out All Over" to the serious romantic "You'll Never Walk Alone".  Later in The King and I section she shared the loving romantic "I Have Dreamed" with Jonathan for probably my favourite piece of the evening.  Such a wonderful combination of melody and voices.

Jonathan (
While a bit repetitive with the gestures in "Soliloquy", Jonathan showed impressive stamina throughout the 7.5 minute long song, which follows the character's wondering over all the fun he could have with a son, lamenting that his child may be a girl,  deciding that might not be so bad after all, and resolving to do all he can to support her!  I think it's one of the first times I haven't been bored by the full version and the ending was just as powerful as the start.

Aaron Lazar
South Pacific selections in the second half allowed Aaron to reprise his Lt. Cable days (he performed the part at the Hollywood Bowl) with a nice rendition of "Younger than Springtime".   Jonathan got the ever popular "Some Enchanted Evening".  If I closed my eyes at the start of "A Wonderful Guy" I could have sworn it was Kelli O'Hara singing.  It diverged from there, but Ashley started out so similarly.

It's always nice when the orchestra gets its chance to be centre stage as well.   Here they were featured in the opening "Orchestral Interlude" which included segments of songs that weren't elsewhere in the show such as "Everything's Up to Date in Kanses City" (from Oklahoma) and "Shall We Dance?" (from The King and I).  The second half opened with the "Waltz" from the 1957 made for TV movie Cinderella.  Rodgers and Hammerstein took that project just to work with Julie Andrews and we all know what became of that collaboration.  It was a nice to hear the waltz live with full orchestra and I had forgotten that "10 Minutes Ago I Met You" was part of it.  I couldn't resist quietly singing along.  It was actually the Lesley Anne Warren remake from 1965 that I grew up watching and remember having to fast forward the commercials.

Hill Twirl
The evening concluded with the final R and H collaboration The Sound of Music.  The "Prologue and the Sound of Music" performed were the arrangement from the film.  It's been a while since I watched it but the start of "Prologue" sounded like dissonant contempoary music at times, with the flitty flutes (reminiscent of birds) and chime of church bells.  The horns calling with the mellow opening line "what will this day be like, what will my future be" in "I Have Confidence" was just enough to pull it back into context.  When Ashley walked to the front of the stage to start "The Sound of Music" I was so hoping she'd do the Julie Andrews twirl at the top of the hill, but she didn't.

After Jonathan's "Edelweiss" solo he invited the audience to participate in the second time through.  Nothing beats singing with full symphony orchestra!  The vocalists then all joined together for the concert conclusion "Climb Ev'ry Mountain".

After a standing ovation and several sets of bows, the orchestra returned to their seats for an encore (yay!) of "Do Re Mi".  At the first line from the choir of "Let's start at the very beginning" there was applause and cheers from the audience!  I absolutely agree it would have been no trouble to sit through the entire concert again.

I will venture that the A-list of symphonic pop artists isn't huge (well ok, maybe it is, but I've only been exposed to a limited number, so still think it's small) and Reineke and Ashley have worked together before so let's hope that this is only the beginning of her collaborations with the TSO.  Hmm, how about a dream team concert?  My votes go to Hugh Panaro, Ashley Brown and Ben Crawford...could you imagine an evening with them...heavenly!

Kudos also to the sound mixer.  It was perfect!  The singers didn't sound over amplified that I've sometimes noticed before, and their voices were melded beautifully with the orchestra.