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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Monday, 15 September 2014

Cette semaine à Montréal : le 15 au 21 septembre

Le retour de Tharaud aux Violons Du Roy
Pour son retour en compagnie de ses complices dans la série des Grands Rendez-vous des Violons du Roy, le pianiste Alexandre Tharaud interprétera Beethoven et Mozart. Du premier, le Concerto pour piano no 2, et du second, le Rondo en la majeur. Le choix du chef : Thomas Rösner. Maison symphonique, 17 septembre, 14 h et 20 h.
 - Renée Banville

L’Ensemble Caprice reçoit Shannon Mercer
Pour lancer sa saison, l’ensemble Caprice rend hommage à une époque méconnue, celle de la cour impériale de Rodolphe II qui s’est établie à Prague à la fin du XVIe siècle. Grand protecteur des arts, l’empereur a permis l’émergence de plusieurs compositeurs de la Renaissance.
Ce premier concert, intitulé L’Or en musique, fera découvrir aux auditeurs des œuvres vocales et instrumentales des compositeurs flamands Philippe de Monte, Jacob Regnart et Charles Luyton ainsi que de l’Italien Aurelio Bonelli. Matthias Maute, directeur artistique de l’ensemble Caprice, a fait appel à la soprano Shannon Mercer.
Présenté en avant-première d’un concert qui sera donné en janvier prochain au Metropolitan Museum of Art de New York. 20 septembre – Salle Bourgie du Musée des Beaux-Arts de Montréal.
 - Justin Bernard

Nabucco à l’Opéra de Montréal
La 35e saison de l’Opéra de Montréal s’ouvrira avec Nabucco, premier opéra à avoir véritablement lancé la carrière de Giuseppe Verdi. La première aura lieu le samedi 20 septembre 2014 et trois autres représentations sont prévues les mardi 23, jeudi 25 et samedi 27 septembre.
 - Justin Bernard

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Sunday, 14 September 2014

This Week in Toronto (September 15 - 21)

While we in Toronto lament the end of an all too brief (and cool!) summer, we can look forward to a real silver lining - the start of the 2014-15 musical season!  It's a pleasure to report that this morning (Sunday Sept. 14 as I write) it was announced that Canadian tenor Andrew Haji won the Grand Prize at the 's-Hertogenbosch International Vocal Competition in the Netherlands, and with it 5,000 Euros and a Trophy. Haji is also the winner of the Press Prize (1,250 Euros) and the Jury Prize (500 Euros).  The IVC (as this competition is known) may not be the richest in monetary value among the many competitions around the world, but it's extremely prestigious and this win really bodes well for Andrew Haji in his future career.
Andrew Haji about to receive his Grand Prize at Awards Ceremony (Photo courtesy of 's-Hertogenbosch International Vocal Competition)

2014 marks the 50th anniversary of this august competition, and many of the winners of the past have gone on to significant careers. All eleven finalists have beautiful voices and abundant musicality, so it's a real feather in the Canadian's cap to be awarded the Grand Prize.  It was a very high powered jury, headed by Dame Kiri Te Kanawa, as well as the great Heldentenor Siegfried Jerusalem, contralto Anne Gjevang, conductor Kenneth Montgomery, and former Vienna State Opera Intendant Ioan Hollaender. My warmest congratulations to Andrew Haji.  We can all look forward to his appearances this coming season as a member of the Canadian Opera Company Ensemble Studio.
Canadian tenor Andrew Haji with Chair of the Jury Dame Kiri Te Kanawa (Photo courtesy of 's-Hertogenbosch International Vocal Competition)

After a successful European tour - first in 14 years- the Toronto Symphony Orchestra kicks off its 2014-15 season on Thursday September 18th with the ever popular violinist Joshua Bell in Lalo's Symphonie espagnole.
Violinist Joshua Bell (Photo: Eric Kabik)

Also on the program are Capriccio espagnole by Rimsky Korsakov and Roman Carnival Overture by Berlioz. TSO Music Director Peter Oundjian conducts. Curtain is 7 pm at Roy Thomson Hall. On Saturday  8 pm at RTH and Sunday 3 pm at George Weston Hall, TSO's own brilliant violinist-concertmaster Jonathan Crowe is soloist in a mixed program called Arabian Nights, featuring the Firebird Suite (Stravinsky), Scheherazade (Rimsky-Korsakov), and the exciting Bolero (Ravel).

TSO Concertmaster Jonathan Crowe (

 The Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra's new season begins with four performances of Handel Fireworks with violinist Rodolfo Richter as Guest Director. The concert features works by Handel, Vivaldi, Corelli, Heinichen, and Telemann. Concerts at 8 pm on Sept. 18, 19, 20, 21 - this last a matinee at 3:30 pm, all at Koerner Hall.
Violinist Rodolfo Richter gives masterclass (

Maestro Richter will be giving a masterclass on September 20, from 1 to 3 pm at Room 330 Edward Johnson Building at the University of Toronto Faculty of Music. Admission is free with a suggested donation of $10.

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