Thursday, October 31, 2013

Carmina Burana For Halloween

There were no witches, ghosts or goblins on the Roy Thomson Hall stage this October 31.  Just a group of people dressed up as musicians, with none pretending to be something they aren't.  This Halloween the TSO was more formal, performing three works that culminated with "Carmina Burana".  It seems like this has been programmed recently by all the other orchestras I follow, so I was anxiously awaiting the chance to hear it.  It was so good I tried to get tickets to go again, but the Saturday night was sold out.

The evening started with the audience being wished a "Happy Hallowe'en, if such a thing is appropriate" by maestro Peter Oundjian.  "Dances from Powder Her Face" by British composer Thomas Ades, received it's Canadian premiere to open the concert.  It had just enough lyrical bits to outweigh it being another odd contemporary piece.  It's one I could sit through again.  Oundjian mentioned in his introduction that it had some tango moments in the style of Astor Piazzolla which I was listening for.  There were a few near the end, although brief enough that just when you're looking forward to it going somewhere, it changed and disappeared.

Music by Benjamin Britten seems to be popular everywhere this season since it would be his 100th
Phan and Deland (Photo by Josh Clavir)
birthday.  Tenor Nicholas Phan (who would return again in "Carmina Burana") and TSO Principal Horn, Neil Deland, were the soloists in "Serenade for Tenor, Horn, and Strings".  The piece is sung in English to six poems by various writers including "Pastoral" by Charles Cotton, "Nocturne" by Alfred Lord Tennyson, "Elergy" by William Blake, and "Sonnet" by John Keats.  The styles varied and I really liked the opening and closing horn solos, which were played beautifully.

Finally after intermission, what I had been waiting for.  The Toronto Mendelssohn Choir filled the loft and launched into the opening "O Fortuna" with power.  How could you not with a full orchestra and two concert grand pianos on stage!  I hadn't read the text before and had no idea it was actually broken up into three segments (Spring, In the Tavern, and The Courts of Love) after the opening Fortune, Empress of the World.  The sections within the segments range from powerful and deep, to the somewhat silly "The Roast Swan Sings" (although maybe there's something profound I'm missing).  Phan added a few gestures that provided a humerous interlude to lighten what is otherwise a pretty serious piece.
TSO and soloists (
Joining Phan were soprano Valenina Farcas and baritone James Westman.  The baritone seemed to have the most to do and all had awesome voices.  Today we hardly bat an eye at some of the text regarding drinking and love, however I would think that in the 12th and 13th centuries when the manuscripts, from which the lyrics are taken, were written there would have been a different reaction.  Although a lot can get by in the name of art.

Hopefully the TSO brings this piece back again soon.  I know I'd love to hear it again!

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Symphony Meets Circus

A symphonic concert is typically meant to be a feast for the ears and less so for the eyes.  That wasn't the case on October 15 at the  opening concert of the Toronto Symphony Pops series.  Cirque de la Symphonie was in town and there was plenty of eye candy in addition to wonderful playing.  

Principal Pops Conductor Steven Reineke, looking classy as always, and the TSO opened the program with "Festive Overture" by Shostakovich.  I've seen this on multiple programs but have never attended those concerts.  Now I know why it's popular.  It has a great opening fanfare that fit the circus theme of the evening.  Perhaps what thrilled me the most though was hearing a very short transition melody in the lower brass about 40 seconds in that is identical to that used in a piece called "Christmas Prelude" (from the ISO Yuletide album) as a transition into "Deck the Halls".  No doubt musicians playing "Prelude" for the first time would get the in joke right away.  It may take me a while longer (ok, like 4 years longer) but I was excited to piece the two segments of music together.

The Cirque artists acts were set to classical pieces that one has likely heard, at least in part, before.  There were a few I didn't recognize but then ones like "Capriccio espagnol" by Rimsky-Korsakov (featuring Mark Skazinetsky with the violin solo) accompanied by Aloysia Gavre and Sagiv Ben Binyamin with an act that was a bit tango dance, balancing, contortion and hat swapping.

Aloysia and Sagiv (Photo by Matt Gade)
Aloysia reappeared to close the first half of the program with an aerial hoop routine to "Bacchanale from Samson and Delilah".  This was stellar!  She didn't just flip or hang from the hoop while suspended, she got is swinging!  The tight spin while hanging from the hoop and flying off the floor was dizzying and exciting to watch.
Aloysia (Photo by Matt Gade)

The second half opened with a no less impressive, but less death defying than flight, quick change act.  This featured the mime and juggler Vladimir, and Elena Tsarkov (who would later perform a lovely
Elena in Clair de lune
(Photo by Matt Gade)
balance/contortion segment with exquisite movements that fit the music of "Clair de Lune" beautifully).    

Then the evening really entered the acts with a major "wow" factor.  Sagiv started his aerial rope routine to "The Ride of the Valkyries" by hoisting himself all the way up the thick rope using just his arms!  He then hung, spun, twisted and even flew over the orchestra landing what looked to be very close to the cello section at one point.

Christine and Alexander
Alexander Streltsov and Christine Van Loo performed a duet on aerial silks to the "Valse" from Swan Lake.  Dressed in white with red silks they were impressive.  He flew over the orchestra and audience and she ended the routine by wrapping the material around her waist and slowly spinning back down to the stage.  That's always a crowd pleaser.

The most stoic act was the finale Jarek and Darek, the gold covered strongmen.  Set to "Finlandia", they walked out to a small platform centre stage and proceeded to demonstrate amazing feats of strength and balance.  They fluidly moved between hand holds and other positions including a single handed balance by one on the others head!
Jarek and Darek (

It was an exciting spectacle and I don't know how the orchestra was able to concentrate on what they were playing but it sounded as good as it looked!