La Scena Musicale

Saturday, 25 September 2010

Toronto Symphony Opens Season with Mahler Second

By L.H. Tiffany Hsieh

In a similar fashion it ended its previous season in the spring, the Toronto Symphony Orchestra opened its 89th concert season on Sept. 23 with a big orchestra, big choir, stunning vocal soloists and a lot of exhilaration in the air.

The single piece of work on display was Mahler’s Symphony No. 2, the Resurrection, which music director Peter Oundjian describes in the program as “the true successor to Beethoven’s Ninth”.

The lightning timpani strokes, the stormy and theatrical mood, the graceful calm, the magical and almost surreal voices combined — it was all there, one at a time, like a depressed schizophrenic monster on Prozac rising slowly and reluctantly from dark basement to earthly soil and into an orgy of spiritual om and eternal high.

The contrasts throughout the five movements were nicely played by the orchestra, with Oundjian managing to coax out some of the most impossible pianissimos ever written for a large ensemble. And just when you least expect it, Mahler gives you the pipe organ, bells, tam-tams, horns, trumpets, two harps, two timpani and everything else on stage (and some off stage). The performance overall could have had more life, especially in the hopeless first movement, but it was home run most of the way for Oundjian and his players. A well-deserved standing ovation broke out as soon as the last note ended.

The two soloists that gave the performance its juice were soprano Isabel Bayrakdarian and mezzo-soprano Susan Platts.

Platts, dressed in an elegant red evening gown, sang with a dark and creamy tone in Urlicht (Primal Light), one of the most arresting songs in the entire symphony. Her capable voice carried over the orchestra and the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir with good phrasing, intonation and clear diction.

Opposite Platts was Bayrakdarian in a black-and-white mermaid dress. With a commanding stage presence, Bayrakdarian’s subtle entry in the finale was done with skill and taste. She sounded a bit pressed in her first high rise above the choir, but showed off the range of her voice the rest of the way with superb control and deep understanding of the music.

The performance repeats at Roy Thomson Hall on Sept. 25 at 8 p.m.

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Monday, 20 September 2010

This Week in Toronto (Sept. 20 - 26)

Left: Soprano Isabel Bayrakdarian opens the TSO season in Mahler's Resurrection Symphony. Photo: Dario Acosta

While it is sad that the memorably sizzling summer is all but a distant memory, Torontonians can console themselves with the start of an equally hot fall music season. Several major music presenters start their season this week, chief among them the Toronto Symphony Orchestra on Thursday September 23 8 pm at Roy Thomson Hall with Mahler's Symphony No. 2, "Resurrection". Soloists are soprano Isabel Bayrakdarian and mezzo Susan Platts, two of the brightest lights in the Canadian musical firmament. Supporting them is the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir. TSO Music Director Peter Oundjian is on the podium. This concert is repeated on Saturday September 25 at 8 pm. For information and tickets, go to

Canada's premiere baroque band Tafelmusik opens its season on Wednesday September 22 7 pm with Lyrical Baroque, a mixed program of works by Handel, Vivaldi, Telemann, Fasch and Conti, under the direction of its leader Jeanne Lamon. Soloists are soprano Shannon Mercer in arias from Il pastor fido, and Eric Hoeprich playing the chalumeau, described on the Tafelmusik website as "an early clarinet". The concert takes place at its usual venue, Trinity St. Paul's Centre on 427 Bloor Street West. The concert is repeated on Thursday, Friday, Saturday all at 8 pm, with the last performance on Sunday at 3:30 pm. For details and tickets, go to

While the Canadian Opera Company's mainstage show Aida isn't due to open until October 2, its free concert series at the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre kicks off on Tuesday noon with Meet the Young Artists showcasing new and returning members of the COC Ensemble. The new singers this year include Ambur Braid, Jacqueline Woodley, Rihab Chaieb and Christopher Enns. I've heard all four of them - Enns in a recital at Heliconian Hall some months ago, and the three women at the COC President's Council Season Opening Event two weeks ago. All of them have lovely voices and are valuable additions to the Ensemble. Returning are Simone Osborne, Neil Craighead, Wallis Giunta, Adrian Kramer, Michael Uloth and Ileana Montalbetti. The noon hour concerts are free and extremely popular, so be sure to line up 45 minutes in advance to ensure a seat. Go to to download a pdf file of the program.

The Tapestry New Opera Works under the direction of its long-time leader Wayne Strongman opens Opera Briefs: a program of Opera Scenes by John Harris, Stephen Andrew Taylor and Gareth Williams. It takes place on Thursday Sept. 23 at 8 pm at the Ernest Balmer Studio, 55 Mills Street in the Distillary District. Soloists are Tapestry regulars Carla Huhtanen, Keith Klassen and Peter McGillivray. Joining them is mezzo Kimberly Barber in her Tapestry debut. This show is repeated on September 24 at 8 pm and on September 25 at 4 pm. For more information, go to