Vivaldi’s Four Seasons: A tour de force for Jonathan Crow and the Toronto Summer Music Festival’s Academy Fellows!

JJ Tui and Eric Guo


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Artistic Director Jonathan Crow

Young pianists Eric Guo and JJ Tui sparkle in a Shuffe Hour concert.

Artistic Director Jonathan Crow and Festival Academy Fellows
Photo credit: Gord Fulton

​​Review by David Richards

Toronto ON July 26th 2018

Arriving in town early for the evening concert allowed us to enjoy a sparkling performance by two students of the Royal Conservatory’s Phil and Eli Taylor Academy for Young Artists. Eric Guo, age 14, played an all Chopin program as he prepares for a Chopin competition in Russia in two weeks. JJ Tui, age 15, played a program of Ravel, Beethoven, Liszt and Prokofiev. Both displayed mature artistry and flawless technique. The dedication to their learning was evident as was the quality of instruction they have been receiving. It was an outstanding hour of delightful music. The concert at Heliconian Hall was one of a series of 5 o’clock free concerts in the Toronto Summer Music Festival.

The Toronto Summer Music Festival continues through Saturday August 4th with concerts and special events daily.

Last night’s performance was a tour de force for Crow, who had performed with the New Orford String Quartet the previous evening and will again tomorrow evening. He and seventeen string players along with harpsichordist Christopher Bagan provided convincing depictions of the birds, waves, lightning, thunder, wind, hunters, and blinding cold. Crow combined the roles of orchestra leader and soloist with equal commitment. I loved his energetic tempos. The robust gaity of the opening movement of Spring with its contrasting portrayals of storms and birds was delightful. The lyrical beauty of Crow’s solo violin painting a musical picture of a sleeping goat herd, interrupted by the barking dogs (viola) in the second movement was sublime. Each of the other three concertos (Summer, Autumn and Winter) told the story and emotional reactions to the respective seasons. The beauty and excitement created by Crow and the ensemble was breathtaking.

Preceding each concerto was a reading of the sonnet published along with the music. These sonnets, no doubt written by Vivaldi himself, form the basis of the music. They were read by four members of the orchestra, first violinist Katya Poplyanski, violist Julia Swain, cellist Rebecca Shasberger and cellist Emma Schmiedecke. The readings set the stage for the music to follow.

Before the Vivaldi, the opening work of the program gave the Festival  theme’s needed reference to war. Battalia à 10 for Three Violins, Four Violas, Two Cellos and Harpsichord by Heinrich Ignaz Franz von Biber is a programmatic work depicting the aspects of the battle in four short movements. The strange instrumentation was just the beginning of a most interesting piece of music.The sound effects including foot-stomping; a battle drum (cellists Tim Paek and Emma Schmiedecke playing with paper under the strings); the dissonant cacophony of various pop songs performed simultaneously depicting drunken soldiers; and the guns (pizzicato cellos) added realism and scornful humour.  The lament for the fallen soldiers revealed Biber’s feelings about war. Violinist Samuel Park led the group very capably through the rarely heard, yet entertaining score.

The summer music festival season is flying by and last night’s concert at the Church of the Redeemer was a reminder. If in a span of forty-minutes we could be whisked through an entire year in Vivaldi’s famous Four Seasons, how quickly will the last few weeks of summer music festivals soar by? Jonathan Crow, Artistic Director of the Toronto Summer Music Festival led a chamber orchestra made up of the Festival’s Academy Fellows in a spirited and dramatic performance of the masterpiece.

As much as I looked forward to this familiar music, I wondered how it related to the theme of the TSMF, Reflections on Wartime. In the year in which Antonio Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons for Violin, Strings and Continuo Op. 8, No. 1-4 was published in Amsterdam, 1725, there was no European war taking place. There were treaties signed in Vienna and Hanover that year, but no fighting that I can find by googling the year. Perhaps, the poem from the Book of Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 “To everything there is a season” provides a link to the theme if one is really searching for one. Its last line reads “A time of war and a time of peace”.

Every major celebrity violinist has performed or recorded the Four Seasons. It goes along with those by Beethoven, Brahms and Tchaikovsky as the most popular in the repertoire. One can find countless recorded versions on Youtube. Jonathan Crow’s work fits right in with the best of the Vivaldi interpreters.​