It comes as no surprise that virtually every symphony orchestra is attempting to expand its audience base by extending its range of musical offerings to an ever more diverse public. This week, Principal Pops Conductor Steven Reineke led the Toronto Symphony Orchestra through a chronological sampler of repertoire from the musicals of Rodgers and Hammerstein.
The concert yesterday told the story of the work of the two renowned musical collaborators that began with Oklahoma in 1941 and ended with The Sound of Music in 1959. Hammerstein’s death in 1960 ended the string of hit shows before this remarkable wordsmith could fully know the overwhelming success of his final work.
As one entered the hall, the soft stage-lighting, microphones in the choir loft, lights on the music stands, and speaker systems and monitors all pointed to the nature of the concert. The acoustic curtains had been lowered, covering the wood panelling on the upper wall façade of the hall in an effort to reduce the resonance and give a clarity to the amplified sound. Reineke entered the stage waving to the audience like the showman he is.
The concert began with the orchestra performing the opening of Oklahoma with its rich film score, going through several of the well-known tunes. Percussion and brass were featured prominently as they would be in all of the music on this day. From this point onward, the two guest soloists alternately and together shared the stage with the orchestra and choir. Between numbers, Reineke's succinct and entertaining commentary gave coherence to the well-designed program.
Ryan Silverman, originally from Edmonton and now living in New York, has a rich baritone voice that can float easily into a head voice. His first song, O What a Beautiful Morning had an authentic ring. It could have been Gordon McRae singing in the film version of the show. Silverman was joined by Chilina Kennedy for People Will Say We’re in Love. Kennedy, originally from Halifax and Montreal is now, like Silverman, starring on Broadway. Her lyric soprano voice and relaxed acting style made every song she sang convincing.
The concert proceeded chronologically through selections from Carousel, State Fair, Allegro, and South Pacific with Reineke telling the audience just enough about each show to give context to the songs. The Amabile Choirs of London joined the orchestra and singers in You’ll Never Walk Alone from Carousel creating a climactic effect.
Toronto Symphony Orchestra takes on Rodgers and Hammerstein!
The hundred-voice choir from London, Ontario and trained by Carol Beynon, Mark Payne and Brenda Zadorsky was impressive, performing in many of the selections. It is the first choir I have witnessed in quite a few years in which the men actually outnumbered the women. An inter-generational choir, it appeared to be quite youthful for the most part, but with singers of all ages. The men were especially superb in There’s Nothing Like a Dame! Choir. Soloists Jack Spence and Michael Inman were both outstanding in their cameo roles. The choir's connection to the TSO stems from the orchestra’s principal oboist Sarah Jeffrey who was a member of the choir while growing up in London. She recently spoke about the choir's importance to her during her teens. This was the choir’s third appearance with the TSO.
Following intermission, the concert continued its chronology of musicals through the 50’s beginning with a newly arranged overture to the recent revival of The King and I which had a successful Broadway run and will be in Toronto next year. The concert concluded with several selections from The Sound of Music with the audience singing along to Edelweiss and an encore of Do a Deer. As the audience left the hall, one couldn’t help humming a favourite song. I look forward to getting Whistle a Happy Tune out of my head before I go completely insane.
Next year, the Toronto Symphony will offer concerts based on the ageless films The Wizard of Oz and Jaws as well as pops concerts entitled On Broadway and Love, Lust and Rock & Roll with Principal Pops Conductor Steven Reineke.
Chilina Kennedy, Ryan Silverman, Principal Pops Conductor Steven Reineke and TSO
Photo credit: Arkan Zakharov
Steven Reineke, Ryan Silverman, Chilina Kennedy, Amabile Choirs of London
Photo credit: Arkan Zakharov
Review by David Richards
Toronto ON April 20 2017
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