Saturday, March 15, 2014

10th New Creations Festival

A many months late, Happy New Year!  It was a slow winter for my attendance at musical events, and the first concert I went to was the opening of the 10th annual New Creations Festival with the TSO.  The concert, titled Adams: Doctor Atomic, included the title work as this years featured composer was American John Adams.  Unfortunately he wasn't on hand to do the conducting honours, but was schedule to arrive in time for some of the later concerts.

I don't know what was different this year, but I found myself liking the music.   All of it, even the opening lobby entertainment by The Glenn Gould School of New Music Ensemble, was enjoyable.  "My Twentieth Century" the pre-concert Ensemble piece was different, sure, but the mixture of poetry and music worked for me.

Kevin Lau
The concert began with a new work by affiliate composer, Kevin Lau, "Down the Rivers of Windfall Light".  It's based off the Dylan Thomas poem Fern Hill, about a child escaping into their imagination. Maybe it was the premise or the fact I was listening to the cast recording of Alice in Wonderland on my drive down, but it reminded me of that story.  I didn't find it weird, but programmatic with an overarching story that was understandable.  The brass was exquisitely used and one five note theme reminded me of the theme from Close Encounters of the Third Kind.  It had some interesting instrumentation in the percussion section, even a rain stick.

Completely switching gears, Adams' "Doctor Atomic Symphony" was up next.  It's a 25 minute, single movement work based on his opera of the same name
about the making of the atomic bomb.  The scenes evoked are of the test site: the electrical storm that occurred a few hours before the test, a ritual "corn dance" by Tewa Indians, and the poem "Batter my heart, three person'd God" that inspired the naming of the site "Trinity".  At times it was bombastic and at others excruciatingly longing.  Andrew McCandless played the trumpet solo beautifully, as did the other brass soloists on the horn, trombone, and tuba.  In the percussion section were some things I hadn't seen before.  There was a huge set of chimes that had a set of stairs up to them, two thunder sheets, and cymbals being played by running a bow along the edges.

Magnus Lindburg
The last piece was "Piano Concerto No. 2" by Magnus Lindberg, featuring guest soloist Yefim Bronfman, who didn't look very much like his picture in the program.  Moments reminded me of "Rhapsody in Blue", and there's no doubt he's a powerful pianist.  Perhaps it was because of where I was sitting, but it sounded like the orchestra overpowered the piano at times.  The cadenza, written very late in the composing process, was impressive.  It was not my favourite piece of the night, but got a rousing ovation and multiple curtain calls.

For an analysis by a real critic, try the National Post.

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