Toronto Symphony Orchestra
Toronto’s newly refurbished and vastly improved Roy Thompson Hall is not only home to the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, which is striving to fulfill its mandate with a broad range of public. Other famous orchestras and performers from all over the world come to this exquisite venue, which does not have a bad seat in the house anymore. It does not matter where one sits, even in the last row of the highest balcony, the sound travels without perceptible delay into every last crevice of the auditorium.
An earlier problem with fumes from the freshly installed wood panels seams to have dissipated and the hinges of the chairs must have experienced close contact with a drop of oil, because they do no longer creak at every turn or motion produced by the audience. Thus all there is left is the sound, glorious sound made by a very fine orchestra indeed.
We recently enjoyed several concerts in Roy Thomson Hall, but the one with Maxim Vengerov was one of the more memorable ones.
This concert proved once again that music knows no borders, sees no colours, and transcends all cultures. Right in front of me I located people from half the United Nations, including East Indians, people of various Arabic origins, Russia, and every European country imaginable.
On stage we could welcome as the conductor Japanese Eiji Oue, who displayed a spontaneity and much athletic verve, something he probably admired in his mentor Leonard Bernstein. Eiji Oue has conducted many renowned orchestras in some of the world’s best halls. Currently he is Chief Conductor of the Germany’s "Hannover Radio Orchestra", and also a Professor of Conducting at the Hochschule für Musik und Theater in Hannover. This month he is starting his position as Music Director at the Osaka Philharmonic, after ending 7 years of Music Director of the Minnesota Orchestra.
With his lively temperament he led the orchestra without the presence of a score (all night long!) through a four part program, starting with Hector Berlioz’ Roman Carnival Overture, followed by Benjamin Britten’s Violin Concerto, Op. 15. This is definitely the part why we went to that evenings totally sold out concert. Maxim Vengerov of Novosibirsk, Siberia, was the featured soloist. The only 28-year-old Vengerov already has a reputation as a one of the world’s most exiting violinists. Tall, dark and very handsome did he stand there in a newfangled old-fashioned coat, not the obligatory tails, looking quite like the Svengali that he is with his magical instrument, the "Kreutzer" Stradivarius. Orchestra and soloist became a complimentary tour de force under the direction of the lively conductor. Britten’s concerto, which he finished composing in St. Jovite, Quebec, in September 1939,before he went to New York, became a symphony fantastique, witty, full of ironies and parody, aggressively and rhythmically driven, undergoing many transitions through the three movements, culminating in a massive climax, with the violin ending in trills of F and F sharp, while the orchestra ended playing in the key of D Major.
Jascha Heifez had once pronounced this violin concerto to be unplayable, yet Maxim Vengerov played it as though it was his own, with a certainty and insight uncanny for one so young.
His honours are many and he has engaged himself in selfless pursuit of his music for the benefit of others too. Unicef appointed him Envoy Musician and he played for underprivileged children in many places, such as abducted child soldiers in Uganda, disadvantaged children in Harlem, drug addicted kids in Thailand and kids on both sides of the Kosovan divide. Much needed money was raised this way.
He plays all over the world with the finest conductors and orchestras, but he also teaches Violin at the Musikhochschule in Saarbruecken, Germany.
His concert ended with several ovations, until no one could applaud any more.
It was good that an intermission followed. This tour de force had to be digested to be able to listen to Piotr Ilych Tchaikovsky’s tragic and tortured Symphony no. 6 in B Minor, Op. 74, also aptly known as "Pathetique". And while it is always good to be reminded of this composer’s tremendous talent, this concerto does nothing to uplift an audience that just came from the heights of exultation; it rather left everyone subdued, but perfectly willing to acknowledge the orchestra and its fine leadership that night.
Our next concert will be on April 9th, with the
Quebec Symphony, which is on its first tour, and James Ehnes, Violin wonder
from the west of Canada. We are looking forward to this fine talent’s
offering. To find out what program might be for you go
www.tso.ca . You might be surprised what
you will find. If you are part of the young crowd then you will be pleased
to know that tickets can be had for as little as 10 dollars. And the youth
program has been extended with special prices for those that just turned 3o.
It truly does not have to be expensive to enjoy good music.
I went willing to be moved to tears and was not disappointed by this year’s Butterfly of the Canadian Opera Company. So far I have always managed to be emotionally touched by this tragedy. Especially the last act is designed for that purpose. While Giacomo Puccini’s music flows freely the sad story of old evolves into the much familiar ending of suicide for the heroin that was not meant to be. Soprano Xiu Wei Sun is a wonderful singer from China; but were she really excels is in her acting of the part. Especially in the extreme quiet moments, while waiting through the night for her husband to come to her, she proved to be capable of great performing depth.
Jorge Antonio Pita as Pinkertone was not what the audience expected in this day of type casting. He was altogether just a bit too muscle bound for this delicate Butterfly, even though his voice stood up nicely.
The other parts and characters were really well done. The simple staging and the costumes created an atmosphere of charming austerity in contrast to the rich musical sound of the orchestra, conducted by Elio Boncampagni. And a good campaign did it turn out to be for the conductor, who with his stars and singers garnered plenty of applause. Especially Xiu Wei Sun had repeated ovations.
Madame Butterfly can be seen until April 19 in the Hummingbird Centre. The website (www.coc.ca) also gives much more information on the opera’s program for the upcoming season and the groundbreaking ceremonies for the new opera building at York and Queen.
We can hardly wait to see it happen. Imagine! An opera house, just like back home and other metropolitan cities in North America! We shall keep you informed.
Until next time
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