Incoming Music Director Gustavo Gimeno and the Toronto Symphony Orchestra
​Photo credite:  Stuart Lowe

TORONTO CONCERT REVIEWS

Music reviews of the finest concerts in Toronto and beyond!
- ​symphonic, choral, opera, chamber, jazz and period music​ -

Incoming Music Director Gustavo Gimeno and the Toronto Symphony Orchestra
​Photo credite:  Stuart Lowe

Concert master Jonathan Crow, Incoming Music Director Gustavo Gimeno and Toronto Symphony Orchestra:  ​Photo credite:  Jag Gundu

​​by David Richards
T
oronto ON June 29th 2019

Incoming Music Director Gustavo Gimeno and the Toronto Symphony Orchestra:  A preview of great things to come!

Following intermission was Sergei Prokofiev’s Symphony No. 1 in D Major, Op. 25 “Classical”. Here, I was struck by the light, delicate playing that Gemini was able to coax out of the orchestra. As a parody of Haydn’s “classical’ style, the work had humour and surprise. I was reading into his choice of works and thinking that Gemini is saying that he will go back to the classics, but there will be surprises along the way. Just as the themes often modulate to new unsuspecting keys, Gemini is looking to bring the unexpected to the orchestra. Once again, I noted that the orchestra was clearly engaged, playing together responsively to one-another and to the conductor’s indications resulting in crystal-clear textures. They were enjoying it all as was the audience.

The main event of the evening was Igor Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite (rev. 1945). The work is familiar to the orchestra, but not so much in the 1945 revision. Gimeno used this version to give the orchestra and audience a chance to get a new slant on the work. Once again, the orchestra balanced the solos in the oboe, bassoon, piccolo, harp, and piano letting them sing out over the accompanying figures. I was impressed by the clear staccato in the ‘Scherzo’. The horn solo provided a poignant moment in the music’s drama and then the oboe, clarinet and bassoon took up the moment. The ‘Infernal Dance’ made me shiver with its driving rhythms and tutti fortissimos. The shimmering strings at the end of the lullaby was magical, juxtaposed with the magnificent horn solo.

What an evening! What an introduction for TSO’s Incoming Music Director. The orchestra seems to have new life full of promise under Gustavo Gimeno’s direction. The concert will be repeated this evening, June 29, 2019 at 7:30pm and again tomorrow, June 30, 2019 at 3:00pm marking the end of the 2018-2019 season. Next season, Gimeno will be in Toronto twice to guest conduct, before taking over as Music Director in the 2020-2021 season.

On the eve of the first performance of the then unknown composer Igor Stravinsky’s ballet The Firebird, the famed impresario Sergei Diaghilev said, “Mark him well; he is on the eve of celebrity.” Last night at Roy Thomson Hall, there was irony in that prediction. The Firebird was the highlight of the introductory concert of Gustavo Gimeno, the new incoming Music Director of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra. His celebrity will no doubt explode with such a performance.  Judging by the overwhelming reaction of the full house including a five minute standing ovation, Gimeno (like Stravinsky in 1910) is on the eve of celebrity.

Gimeno has established an early connection with the orchestra, and for those who remained after the concert he certainly made a powerful human bond with the audience, answering questions along side Concertmaster Jonathan Crow and the TSO’s CEO Matthew Loden. Gimeno said that he fell in love with the city almost as soon as the plane landed on his first visit to Toronto and talked about working so easily with Jonathan Crow and the orchestra.

Earlier this week, I had a chance to chat with the new director. He said that he formed a connection with the orchestra in the very first rehearsal of his guest appearance in February 2018 when he led a performance of Dvorak’s Cello Concerto and Beethoven’s Symphony #4. The orchestra’s familiarity with the works did not get in the way of his ability to inject an energy and creative spirit that excited both orchestra and audience. The receptivity of the orchestra to his approaches impressed him. Not only was the orchestra disciplined and highly skilled, but it was open to new ideas.

I spoke to several members of the orchestra before last night’s concert, each of whom agreed that there was an excitement in the orchestra working with the new conductor. They concurred that in rehearsal he was highly skilled, concise and clear. One said, “We are having a great time with him; we all love working with him”. Jonathan Crow, in the post-concert chat praised his rehearsals saying that Gimeno prepared the orchestra so that “when we arrived at the concert, we were ready. He put the orchestra in a position to do our best.”

The program opened with Jonathan Crow in a performance of Jean Sibelius’ Violin Concerto in D Minor, Op. 47 (rev. 1905). The opening haunting theme that begins immediately over a shimmer of muted strings and reflected by a solo clarinet was breathtaking. Crow performed the dazzling, yet heartfelt cadenzas with increasingly stormy undercurrents in the orchestral passages, perhaps reflecting the composer’s own stormy personal journey with alcohol dependency. Crow played magnificently. The warmth of his tone in the melancholic themes was stirring. Indeed, the expressive melodies, the nuanced playing, the balance and the togetherness of the orchestra, soloist and conductor all seemed to demonstrate the beginnings of a real rapport between the TSO and its new conductor.