La Scena Musicale

Friday, 19 September 2014

Toronto Symphony Orchestra's 2014-15 Season Opening Night (Review)

Joshua Bell dazzles in Toronto Symphony Orchestra Opening Night Gala

Joseph So

Violinist Joshua Bell receiving audience accolades (Photo: Joseph So)

Toronto Symphony Orchestra / Peter Oundjian, conductor
Joshua Bell, violin
Roy Thomson Hall / September 18th 2014 (Opening Night)

Berlioz / Roman Carnival Overture, Op. 9
Lalo / Symphonie espagnole for Violin and Orchestra, Op. 21
Rimsky-Korsakov / Capriccio espagnol, Op. 34
Encore: Bacchanale from Saint-Saens Samson et Dalila, Op. 47

Basking in the afterglow of a successful European tour, its first in some fourteen years, the Toronto Symphony Orchestra returned triumphant this evening to Roy Thomson Hall to open its 2014-15 season with special guest violinist Joshua Bell, in a Latin-flavoured program. The performance had an unusually early start time of 7 pm and no intermission, to accommodate an opening night reception afterwards.  While not quite sold-out, the audience made up for it with unbridled enthusiasm and vociferous applause, including some between movements of the Lalo Symphony. At the risk of sounding like a stuffy purist, this is something the TSO audiences have learned not to do a long time ago. But perhaps it was the occasion, or the presence of a "gala audience" made up of people who don't regularly attend symphonic concerts, but I'd like to think it's the dazzling virtuosity of Joshua Bell that brought on the spontaneous response. Anyway, it's the sentiment that counts!

Kicking off the proceedings was Roman Carnival Overture by Hector Berlioz, a rather musically light-weight, high spirited piece that the TS forces under the direction of Peter Oundjian played with elan and verve. It set the tone for the rest of the concert beautifully. This was followed by the centerpiece of the evening, Lalo's Symphonie espagnole with American violinist Joshua Bell. Though called a symphony for violin and orchestra, it really is a violin concerto, as the solo instrument dominates the work from beginning to end.  Bell, with his prodigious technique and trademark musicality, is an ideal exponent of this fiendishly difficult work. This evening he played with a remarkable mix of energy, bravura technique, touching lyricism, and last but not least - interpretive depth. Fleet of fingers and bow, Bell brought out beautifully the Spanish flavour of the work, capturing perfectly the dance-like swagger of the second movement. In the slow movement, his tone took on darker colours and a poignant air.  Altogether it was a real tour de force,          

Joshua Bell and TSO Music Director Peter Oundjian (Photo: Joseph So)

The final piece was the familiar Capriccio espagnol by Rimsky-Korsakov. Stylistically it was a perfect complement to the Lalo, full of life, joy and energy. TSO concertmaster Jonathan Crow got to play a few short bursts of solo, splendidly I might add.  (Audiences will get to hear him in full glory Saturday and Sunday in Scheherezade and the Firebird Suite) Also very enjoyable was the terrific castanet playing that really brings out the flavour of sunny Spain.  By 8:20 pm the formal part of the program was over. The audience was treated to an encore, something that used to never happen. In this case it was the Bacchanale, the ballet music from Saint-Saens's Samson et Dalila. With its rousing orchestration and 'exotic' harmonies, it brought the celebratory evening to a fitting close. This auspicious opening night performance makes one look forward to the many musical delights to come this season. 

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