Pinchas Zukerman leads the Toronto Symphony in a brilliant all-Mozart performance!

It seemed very fitting last night to be attending an all-Mozart concert of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra. For fourteen years, under former Music Director Peter Oundjian, the TSO held a Mozart Festival in honour of the composer’s January birthday. This year would have been Mozart 263 (263 years since Mozart’s birth in 1756) Alas, along with Oundjian’s departure in June of last year, the Festival also came to an end. And so it was with more than a little nostalgia that last night’s concert brought back fond memories. Just last year, Bernard Labadie conducted riveting performances with violinist Adrian Anantawan and pianist Charles Richard-Hamelin. The year before it was pianist Emmanuel Ax performing two Mozart piano concertos. This year’s concert proved no less compelling.

The first thing I noticed upon entering Roy Thomson Hall was that the top balcony had been closed off, making for a much more intimate atmosphere than one generally gets at RTH. While not as acoustically perfect as Koerner Hall, the sound seemed to ring with more clarity than usual without people absorbing the sound in the upper tiers. The orchestra was half its usual size with less than 30 strings. In fact, those not in this concert had been conscripted to perform at Koerner Hall’s 21C Festival with Tania Miller conducting the TSO and Stewart Goodyear performing his own concerto.  What choices we have in this city!

My own choice to attend the Mozart program came only after being called to a medical appointment at the last minute making the 21C concert on Wednesday an impossibility. Nevertheless there was no disappointment in the choice that was ultimately my only choice. The renowned Israeli-American violinist/conductor Pinchas Zukerman led a stunning performance of some of Mozart’s sweetest music. I reflected on how different an experience this was compared to the new music of 21C that I had originally planned on attending. Ultimately, one wants a balance between familiar and unfamiliar, between the old and the new. This balance can be found in contemporary music as well as in the music of Mozart. Listening to the Rondo of a violin concerto never heard before, one gets the repetition of a theme that becomes familiar as it is juxtaposed with episodes that are fresh and unfamiliar. This can happen in Mozart or the latest avant-garde composition.

In last night’s program, there was plenty of both familiar and unfamiliar. Opening with the Overture to The Marriage of Figaro, K. 492, the orchestra performed some of the most oft-performed music of the 18th century. The crisp playing of the strings and the vibrancy of the winds provided four minutes of re-assuring musical memories. The orchestra, with Mark Skazinetsky, concertmaster for this performance, had most of the principal players on board. Principal oboist Sarah Jeffrey made a notable impression with her fine solo work.

But this night belonged to Pinchas Zukerman. Without score and without a baton, he led the orchestra through two violin concertos and a symphony. His work in the Violin Concerto No. 5 in A Major, K. 219 and Violin Concerto No. 3 in G Major, K. 216 were especially impressive. His solo playing was impeccable, never overbearing. He spun Mozart’s beautifully crafted melodies with a rare sweetness in his tone quality that inspired the strings to play with the utmost sensitivity. I especially enjoyed the tender moments in the slow movements when he brought the orchestral volume down to almost nothing. Symphony No. 35 in D Major, K. 385 took the music to a level of intensity and drama that reminded one of the familiar music of Mozart's operas. The tremolos, trills, rapid scales and arpeggios of the final movement would find their way into operatic overtures within just a few years of its composition. This was Mozart at his finest, both the familiar and the less familiar.

The program will be repeated tonight, Friday, January 18 at 7:30 pm and tomorrow, Saturday January 19 at 8:00pm. On January 31 and February 2, the Toronto Symphony will be under the baton of Sir Andrew Davis in a program of Wagner and Berg. Soloists on the program will be Lise Davidsen, soprano; Simon O’Neill, tenor; and Brindley Sherratt, bass.​

Pinchas Zukerman plays Mozart; Photo credit: @ Jag Gundu


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Guest Conductor and soloist Pinchas Zukerman and TSO; Photo credit: @ Jag Gundu

​​Review by  David Richards
oronto ON  January 18th 2019