Friday, November 30, 2012

Montreal Symphony in Toronto

New Maison Symphonic.  Similar in look to The Four Seasons
Centre in Toronto.   They are both designed by architect
Jack Diamond (
This season, in addition to having an exchange of venue with the National Arts Centre Orchestra, the Toronto Symphony also has one with the Montreal Symphony Orchestra.  On November 21, the MSO was at Roy Thomson Hall, and the previous Sunday the TSO was trying out the new Maison symphonique in Montreal.

The evening of the 21st started with the always interesting pre-concert chat hosted by Rick Philips.  This evening he had MSO conductor, Kent Nagano as a guest.  They discussed Haydn's work and how it has fallen off the programming radar of the larger orchestras in recent years.  Nagano described how he had this great idea to do a Haydn cycle.  He was all excited and pitched it to the box office and marketing departments.  Unfortunately they were less than enthused not being sure how to sell that sort of concert.

The Haydn on our program was Symphony No. 94 "Surprise".  It's one of the first of the last group he wrote (104 symphonies in total) referred to as the London Symphonies.  Getting the okay to actually program a series of Haydn works, the next issue to tackle by Maestro Nagano was, what do you pair with them?  His choices for the "Surprise" were "An Orkney Wedding, with Sunrise", and "Le Sacre du printemps" ("The Rite of Spring").  He programmed these selections because they also have dance themes that can be bombastic and beautiful, and perfectly complete ideas and ones that leave you hanging.

The symphony opened with an Adagio cantabile first movement and light airy theme.  The second movement begins innocently enough, although I imagine the entire audience was on the edge of their seats awaiting the "surprise".  The sudden fortissimo about 30 seconds in occurred, but I was underwhelmed by it.  The pianissimo just before the section was so excellent that I think the forte could have had a real punch to it, but given the anticipation of the moment I was expecting more.

I believe at least part of "An Orkney Wedding, with Sunrise" was on a TSO program not that long ago. (The Last Night of the Proms from June 2011 to be exact)  The comma in the title makes me giggle, as if the piece was too short so the "with sunrise" was an afterthought.  The humour in this piece has to do with the deterioration of the dance theme as it goes from the flute, clarinet, oboe, bassoon and violin depicting the results as the amount of whiskey ingested by the wedding guests increases.  I like how the strings can mimic the sound of bagpipes.  The final call of the real bagpipes, decrescendo as the night fades and crescendo as morning breaks completes the picture.

4 bars from the Rite of Spring, 4 change in time signature
The "Rite of Spring" ending the evening in startling fashion.  Honestly I didn't know much about it other than the changes in time signature are legendary.  In the pre-concert chat I was reminded it was actually a ballet, the premiere of which was also legendary for "provoking the most notorious riot in twentieth century music" (as per the program notes).   I wasn't sure what to expect, but really wasn't expecting what it was or the subject matter (Part 2: The Great Sacrifice involves maidens performing secret rites with one doomed to die).  There were disjointed melodies that seemed to come out of nowhere and disappear without feeling complete.  Some of them were beautiful and lyrical while some of them were very dissonant.   The dynamic range was well varied.  I can now say I've seen and heard another of the classics.

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