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Last night at Roy Thomson Hall, the Toronto Symphony gave the second of three concerts in its 14th annual New Creations Festival. In his final year at the helm of the orchestra, TSO Music Director Peter Oundjian has curated this year’s festival and is both conducting and hosting each program. He has put together recent compositions from some of the world’s greatest composers. One didn’t have to be a fan of the avant-garde last night to enjoy the evening of new music. It was more than a concert. It began in the lobby beforehand with a performance by the Toronto Children’s Chorus, continued at intermission with a chat with one of the evening’s composers and two soloists, and then concluded with a post-concert party by the crazy-wild Lemon Bucket Orkestra.
The first half of the main-stage concert comprised two strikingly different works. The first by Canadian-Dutch composer Trevor Grahl which won the TSO'S 2018 New Creations Festival Composer Competition. The prize-winning work Screen Memories was never intended to invoke images from films as the title suggests. It was meant to search out memories hidden from consciousness. Nevertheless, it was easy to hear fragments of musical styles from Hollywood. At one point I could imagine a cartoon playing. There was plenty of excitement with big horns, a myriad of percussion and a loud bluesy-drunk trombone solo which passed from one trombone to the next like a hot potato. The lush, romantic sounds at times reminded one of Richard Strauss or Mahler.
Next came a far more complex work: Duo Concerto for Violin, Violoncello and Orchestra by the German composer Wolfgang Rihm. Written for violinist Mira Wang and cellist Jan Vogler who took the solo parts last night, it is a one movement concerto without the usual cadenza. It sounded much like a conversation both between the soloists and with the orchestra. Often the soloists were like another section of the orchestra rather than taking the spotlight out front. Like many conversations in a large group, it was at times as if people were talking over one another trying to be heard. As Wang indicated in the intermission interview, the work demands more than one listening to garner a full understanding of its complexity. The music deserves to be heard again.
The highlight of the concert came in the second half following intermission when the Toronto Children’s Chorus joined the Toronto Symphony for the North American première performance of Little Mass by the Scottish composer James MacMillan. The work was by no means “little”. Although it comprised only the Kyrie, Sanctus and Agnus Dei of the mass, nevertheless, it was a half-hour of towering music. The choir and orchestra each provided stunning moments of both beauty and drama. It was as if MacMillan poured all of his religious zeal into the music. Brass fanfares, percussive explosions by the bass drum and the monstrous metal thunder-sheet were interrupted by sudden silences. After the pulsating ecstasy of Hosanna in excelsis, the Agnus Dei began with a quiet chant-like theme in the first violins followed by dissonant entries by the other strings creating incredible tension. The Toronto Children’s Chorus demonstrated remarkably clear tone and accurate pitch in the demanding work filled with dissonances, wide interval leaps and difficult entries.
The Toronto Symphony’s New Creations Festival concludes with a final concert on Saturday March 10th at Roy Thomson Hall. In addition to the concert, there will be a pre-concert performance, an intermission chat, and a post-concert jazz trio. The pre-concert begins at 6:45pm.
Toronto Children's Choir, TSO and Maestro Peter Oundjian
Photo Credit: Jag Gundu
Review by David Richards
Toronto ON March 8th 2018
Abigail Richardson-Schulte chats with composer Trevor Grahl, cellist Jan Vogler and violinist Mira Wang.
Lemon Bucket Orkestra
Toronto Symphony’s New Creations Festival features the Toronto Children’s Chorus, two soloists and a funky band in a music-packed evening!
When the concert ended, a party began with the Lemon Bucket Orkestra taking over the lobby. The energy in this band of about a dozen instrumentalists and singers kept hundreds of audience members from heading home. They played and sang what sounded like Russian wedding music with the most upbeat vitality that one could imagine. No one wanted to leave. The band originated in 2010 as a street busking band in Toronto and soon after started touring the world. LBO has been nominated for several awards, heralded as ground-breaking by international media, and has performed at international festivals across the globe.
Toronto Children's Chorus with Artistic Director Elise Bradley
Violinist Mira Wang, Cellist Jan Vogler, Maestro Peter Oundjian and TSO
Photo Credit: Jag Gundu
As mentioned above, the evening comprised far more than the main-stage performance. Before the concert began, the Toronto Children’s Chorus, led by Artistic Director Elise Bradley performed for an enthusiastic audience in the lobby. Despite the acoustic, the choir demonstrated its ability to sing in a range of styles. I was particularly impressed by Clara Schumann’s lied, Er ist gekommen in which the choir sang with warmth and intelligent musical phrasing. Pianist Lara Dodds-Eden deserves mention for her sensitive collaborative work. The choir, now in its 40th season, continues to maintain the highest standards while training over 300 children in the art of choral music.