Music reviews of the finest concerts in Toronto:
symphonic, choral, opera, chamber, jazz and period music
The main event of this first in the series of final concerts was Johannes Brahms’ Symphony No. 1 in C Minor, Op. 68. Oundjian’s first conducting experience had come in a masterclass by Von Karajan while a student at Juilliard when he was asked to conduct the third movement of this great work. In tonight’s performance, from the heart-wrenching opening with the repeated pounding of the timpani together with the chromatic scales, to the thrilling coda of the final movement, Oundjian and the orchestra took the audience into the depth of Brahms’ personal journey. Each of the principals was impressive in solo work and the entire orchestra played with conviction and wonderful ensemble. As often as one hears this symphony, it never becomes stale, at least not when played as it was last night.
Prior to the concert, Singing Out, Toronto’s choir from the LGBTQ+ community and allies, performed in the lobby. Under the direction of Jody Malone, it presented a variety of music from their spring concert, Love is Love. Their twenty voices, paired down from the choir’s membership of over a hundred, sang with confidence and a consistently fine blend.
There are nine TSO concerts remaining this month including a free concert on June 22nd. Last night’s program will be repeated this evening, June 14th 2018 at 8pm with a pre-concert performance by the TSO Chamber Soloists at 6:45pm. Toronto Concert Reviews will be reviewing concerts on Saturday, June 16 with pianist Daniil Trifonov, Saturday June 23rd with Emanuel Ax and finally, the grand finale on Saturday June 30th with the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir in Beethoven’s 9th. For a complete listing of all TSO events this month, click here. Keep the party going!
Peter Oundjian and TSO; Photo credit: Jag Gundu
Peter Oundjian has had a remarkable fourteen years at the helm of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, the second longest tenure of any music director in the orchestra's history. He has introduced innovative programming such as the annual Mozart and New Creations festivals and has been responsible for the hiring of two thirds of the outstanding principals and over half of the entire orchestra during that time. Major tours and recordings have cemented the orchestra's reputation among the finest in North America. Thus, for the season-ending finale of his tenure, Oundjian and the TSO have put together a two-and-a-half-week-long farewell party to celebrate the Music Director’s fourteen years with the orchestra with nine performances of five different programs, each highlighting music that has been significant to him.
Last night’s concert was the first of four to be reviewed here. It took us back to the beginning of Oundjian’s career when, while at Juilliard, he met up with Leonard Bernstein and Herbert von Karajan. Oundjian curated a program that allowed him to indulge in his fondest memories of those years. He remarked at the outset of the concert how living in New York and coming upon these musical giants was influential to his musical development.
The concert’s opening work, Three Dance Variations from ‘Fancy Free’ by Bernstein was Oundjian’s tribute to the composer. The energy and jazzy feel to the music had just the right spirit to get the party going. The music was just plain fun. It was Bernstein’s first collaboration with Jerome Robbins; it was easy to hear the rhythms, sonorities and style that later became On the Town and West Side Story.
Next came a work to suggest life in New York City. George Gershwin’s Piano Concerto in F continued with the jazzy spirit that opened the program. Pianist Jon Kimura Parker came bounding out to the piano in a rainbow coloured, striped shirt and vest as though he were about to play in a Vaudeville theatre. In every way, he became the spirit of the music. As a last-minute replacement for Jean-Yves Thibaudet, he gave the work fabulous energy, technical brilliance and style. For an encore, Parker gave a thrilling performance of Oscar Peterson’s Blues Etude. It was the first time I had heard him play jazz. He was clearly comfortable in the idiom. Parker’s fingers flew around the keyboard as if they belonged to Peterson himself.
It was interesting to hear that Parker and Oundjian were classmates at Juilliard and have maintained a close friendship since. Parker is one of Canada’s finest world-class pianists and has maintained a brilliant career of both performing and teaching.
Jon Kimura Parker plays Gershwin Concerto in F; Photo credit: Jag Gundu
Review by David Richards
Toronto ON June 14th 2018
Toronto Symphony Orchestra’s Farewell to Peter Oundjian: Let the Party Begin