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I spent the day yesterday at Koerner Hall listening to the finals of the Glenn Gould School’s Concerto Competition. Each year about this time, the Royal Conservatory of Music’s professional training school offers its students an opportunity to perform a concerto with the Royal Conservatory Orchestra by holding this competition. Yesterday, seven finalists performed throughout the day. Only four of these seven will have an opportunity to perform with the orchestra during Koerner Hall’s 2019/20 concert season.

The competition began earlier in the week, when some thirty or so students performed in the first round. The finalists included two pianists, along with a trombonist, violinist, cellist, harpist and percussionist. I can’t imagine having to adjudicate such different instrumental performances. However, that is precisely what was required in a sort of apples vs. oranges comparisons.

The judges, all brought together from outside the school for impartiality, included violinist Timothy Ying, pianist Enrico Elisi, and clarinetist Alexander Fiterstein. Ying commented following the deliberations that the jury would have been comfortable with any one of the seven finalists performing with the orchestra, and that the preliminary round showed an astonishing depth of talent in the school.

Each of the performances had outstanding moments. I was thrilled especially by the final movement of Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 4 as performed by Jean-Luc Therrien. The warm tone and sparkling technique of Hillary Simms on trombone were displayed in Ferdinand David’s Concertino in E flat for Trombone, Op. 4. Benjamin Albertson displayed a total grasp of his instrument in a very musical performance of Alberto Ginastera’s Harp Concerto, Op. 25. He handled the breaking of two strings (no doubt caused by the extreme cold weather and no fault of his own) with professionalism.

I couldn’t argue with the eventual winners selected by the jury. Godwin Friesen performed Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G Major, M. 83 like a seasoned pro. He played with the jazz-rhythms and technical difficulties with utmost confidence. Likewise, Mansur Kadirov gave an inspired performance of Cello Concerto No. 1 in E flat major, Op. 107 by Shostakovich.

The most remarkable performances of the day in my estimation were Yu Kai Sun’s performance of Shostakovich’s Violin concerto in A minor, Op. 77 and Zuri Wells performance of Keiko Abe’s Prism Rhapsody for marimba and orchestra. Both performances displayed artistry well beyond their years and moved me incredibly. I can’t wait to hear each of the four artists performing with the RC Orchestra.

In a week in which Koerner Hall announced its preliminary schedule for 2019/20 complete with the names of the guest conductors of the four orchestral performances, it was fitting that we learn the names of the four soloists. Next year’s conductors are well known to Canadian audiences: Tania Miller, Andrei Feher, Johannes Debus and Gábor Takács-Nagy. Now all that is to be determined is the pairing of conductor and soloist. I can’t wait. As an aside, the Royal Conservatory Orchestra under the direction of Johannes Debus can be heard at Koerner Hall on Friday February 8, 2019 at 8pm

Students of the Glenn Gould School give remarkable performances previewing the 2019/20 season of the Royal Conservatory Orchestra

​​Review by  David Richards
oronto ON  January 31st 2019

Finalists of Glenn Gould School’s Concerto Competition: Jean-Luc Therrien, Yu Kai Sun, Mansur Kadirov, Hillary Simms, Zuri Wells, Benjamin Albertson and Godwin Friesen