Thursday, January 31, 2013

TSO Allows the Audience to Pick

For many months the Toronto Symphony posted polls listing pieces of music and inviting potential  audience members to pick their favourites.  After several rounds and finals the six top pieces were combined into an Audience Choice concert.  Not a lot of the music I voted for made the final list, but I was getting excited just listening to the orchestra warm up and hearing snippets from Star Wars!

The "Main Title Theme from Star Wars" opened the evening with a soaring brass section that let loose to great effect.  There's nothing quite like John Williams.  I was left wondering if it's the first time anyone in attendance had heard that piece live given that there isn't always a lot of crossover between people who favour classical concerts and ones who prefer the Pops series.  Maybe programs like this will help in the promotion of each.

Next up was the "long, short, short, long" movement from Beethoven's Symphony No. 7 (ok, technically movement 2).  The theme was introduced so beautifully by the strings and then got even quieter.   Wow, just lovely.

Ms. Rizikov
Rachmaninoff's "Rhapsody on a Theme by Paganini" is probably my favourite piano piece, and I'll admit to being cliche and name Variation 18 as my favourite within it.  That variation proved to be another winner and made the program.  We also helped to fulfill a dream of sorts for the young pianist.  Thirteen year old Anastasia Rizikov had told the conductor who announced to the audience that it was her dream to perform with the TSO.  She took to the stage looking every bit a polished young lady.  Raising off the piano bench at times to get the sound from the piano to counter the orchestra, she got the job done, and musically at that.  I expect this won't be her last time on the Roy Thomson Hall stage.

Next was Movement 4 from Dvorak's "Symphony No. 9: From the New World".  It was a good book end to the first half with the Jaws sounding opening and brass fanfare that could slip right into a John Williams movie score.

Resident Conductor
Shalom Bard (
The audience voting continued even during the concert as after intermission we were tasked with making a selection between "The Great Gate of Kiev" from Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition, or "Intermezzo" from the opera Cavalleria Rusticana by Mascangni.  The method of voting by was shouting the favourite phrase of the conductor for the evening, the TSO's new resident conductor, Shalom Bard.  No idea what it means but to me it sounded like "oy mon choi".  The brassy sounds of Kiev won.

Then a drastic change of pace for "Adagio for Strings", which was poignant as always.  I had forgotten this was in the movie Lorenzo's Oil, and while listening my mind wandered back to when I saw that movie in high school.

The evening concluded with the full "1812 Overture"!  Another smashingly exciting piece.  Particularly the finale that accompanies fireworks shows, yet I like hearing the whole thing in a concert setting, even if the real cannon fire is replaced with recorded shots.

But wait!  That ended up not being the end of the evening.  Letting those who lost the vote still be winners, "Intermezzo" was played as an encore.  It was my vote and I'm glad they played it.  The theme is likely to be known by many but it's not a piece I've ever heard in it's entirety and really had no idea where the melody that's so popular was from.  It was a wonderful conclusion.

I think the audience choice idea went over well and perhaps there will be more in the future.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Mozart @ 257 Festival

The TSO Mozart @ 257 concert series concluded last week.  I attended the final event which featured three works by the prolific composer.  Music director Peter Oundjian provided some opening comments and mentioned that we'd see the orchestra growing as the evening progressed.  He wasn't kidding.  The opening "Serenade No. 12 in C Minor" had only eight musicians, two each of oboe, clarinet, french horn, and bassoon.  It was nice to hear the more chamber size group and be able to pick out the instruments clearly.  I particularly liked the driving force of the 2nd clarinet part and the equality in timing and tone.
Teng Li (
The second piece, "Sinfonia concertante in E-flat Major for Violin, Viola and Orchestra" featured concert master Jonathan Crow and principal violist Teng Li.  Mozart apparently played the viola part when he performed it and why not?  He didn't relegate it to a supporting instrument but used it equally with the violin.  True it doesn't have the higher, easier to project tone, and when both violin and viola were playing, particulary with the now larger orchestral accompaniment, it was sometimes difficult to hear the viola part. However, when they alternated melodic lines, even switching seemlessly in the middle of the phrase, the viola shone through.  The ending had an alternating repetative part violin, viola, violin with embellishment, that was repeated again with the viola starting so it got the embellishment section.  That was a cool moment.
At intermission there was a lobby chat with William Littler and Teng Li.  He asked about the viola not getting the respect it deserves and shared a few viola jokes.  The first joke being if you see a crushed skunk and a crushed viola on the roadway what is the difference between the two?  Answer: There are skid marks in front of the skunk.  He ended the chat with one he'd been told by another viola player, why are viola jokes so short?  So violinists can understand them.  The listening audience and Ms. Li seemed to appreciate that :)
The concert concluded with "Symphony 40 in G Minor".  I tend to associate minor keys with dissonance and lack of melody.  Honestly I never really knew this symphony was in a minor key because it is so melodic.  The opening movement is probably my favourite, likely because I'm familiar with it from who knows where.  As Maestro Oundjian also commented Mozart's music is everywhere, even in elevators. As symphonies go it didn't feel very long, but was very full with lots for the ear to latch on to.  It was evident in all the pieces that Mozart's music is open, there may be a lot going on but each section, each part is exposed and can be honed in on.  Nothing sounded off or out of place so I'd say the TSO did a great job in their celebration of Mozart's 257th birthday.  Looking forward to 258!