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Review by Jeff Mitchell
Toronto ON November 12th 2017
The concert’s second half premiered the 35th of 40 “sesquies” co-comissioned by the TSO and orchestras across Canada to celebrate Canada’s sesqui-centennial anniversary. Last night’s work was composed by 34-year-old Jordan Pal of Toronto. Entitled Fallen, this exciting and colourful fanfare certainly evoked the furiousness of war.
The rest of the concert was given over to the Toronto premiere of an hour-long work entitled Afghanistan: Requiem for a Generation, by Vancouver-based composer Jeffrey Ryan, with text by Canadian poet Suzanne Steele, who spent time with the Canadian Light Infantry in Afghanistan between 2008 and 2010. Her “observations of a Canadian battle group’s road to war and that of their loved ones, before, during and after war”, as expressed through her vivid and graphic poetry, set the stage for the dramatic and visceral music composed by Ryan. The work is written for orchestra, vocal soloists, as well as adult and children’s choruses. Each of the soloists were exceptional, singing music that was not as lyrical or melodic as one often hears in a requiem but that was, at turns, percussive, violent, plaintive and emotionally raw, even at its quietest moments. The singers were Measha Brueggergosman, soprano, Allyson McHardy, mezzo-soprano, Colin Ainsworth, tenor, and Brett Polegato, baritone. The choruses included the 100-voice Toronto Mendelssohn Choir and the 60+ voices of the Toronto Children’s Chorus. This listener finds it difficult to capture in words the full measure of this intense work. It would take multiple listenings to internalize all that happens surrounding the basic requiem structure that emerges only through the occasional latin words sung by the choirs that correspond to the typical movements of a standard requiem. The text is in English, French and Pashto, and the screening of sub-titles was very helpful. Miller’s conducting was subtly balladic, and her gestures encouraged the musicians to feel the energy, tension and emotion of the music and sustain it over the entire performance. (The TSO would be wise to consider her as the orchestra’s next permanent Music Director when Andrew Davis concludes his interum term in 2020.) Certainly, it can be said that the work embodies how the sheer terror of war affects our soldiers in the moment and in those moments when they yearn for contact with loved ones, as well as the anguish of mothers and fathers whose sons and daughters are far away. The work is sonically explosive, and though there are tranquil moments, the listener is left with no doubt that the consequences of war are devastating. At its conclusion, the words “We will remember them. Je me souviens (Lest we forget)” were again displayed, but in the context of war being waged in our time, the message feels more urgent. This performance was recorded and will be available soon at www.tso/canadamosaic.
The Toronto Symphony Orchestra presents the TSYO Fall Concert this afternoon, Sunday November 12 2017 at 3pm and Oundjian Conducts Vaughan Williams on November 15 and November 16 2017 at Roy Thomson Hall.
The Toronto Symphony remembers...
The Toronto Symphony Orchestra, supported by season sponsor BMO Financial group, performed a memorable Remembrance Day concert on November 11th, entitled Afghanistan: Requiem for a Generation, featuring new works commissioned from Canadian composers intended to both honour Canada’s 150th birthday and all those women and men who have served our country in the wars of the past century up to the current day. Under the baton of outstanding Canadian conductor Tania Miller – in turns imaginative, sensitive and intense - the TSO beautifully captured the reverence and peace of remembrance as well as the anguish, turmoil and horrors of war.
Afghanistan: Requiem for a Generation; Photo credit: Jag Gundu
Concert Master Jonathan Crow; Photo credit: Jag Gundu
Guest Conductor Tania Miller; Photo credit: Jag Gundu
Setting this concert apart from most Remembrance Day concerts was the stunning programming and the sequencing and staging of that programming. The first half consisted of six selections played as one continuous elegy to the fallen, uninterrupted by applause. G.S. McLennan’s The Unknown Warrior opened the program, performed by four bagpipes situated in the mezzanine above and to the right of the stage. Corporals Billy Boulet-Gagnon, Jeremy Federico, Sean McKenzie-Mardell and Master Corporal Connor Cooper represented four regiments from across Canada, and while they played, the image of a solitary soldier standing over a lonely grave was projected on large screens. This was followed by Richard Diespecker’s Creed, a spoken-word testament to the noble causes that our soldiers choose to defend. This was delivered confidently by Trooper Melissa Frangella, of the Queen’s York Rangers, with a soft and quiet backdrop of melodic strings and images of soldiers projected on screen. This eased seamlessly into Vaughn Williams’ Lento (Mvt II) from A London Symphony, introduced by a solo passage for viola that set the tone for the meditative, somber and reflective mood of the movement, again accompanied by visual images of the destruction of London in WWI. At its conclusion, the lights dimmed, the audience stood and the spotlight shone on Corporal Jonathan Elliotson of the Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada, who was situated in the centre-right mezzanine to play the Last Post on bugle. His rendering of this traditional piece was sonorous and deeply moving. After a brief moment of silence, the bagpipers reappeared to perform Pipers Lament, which is the official lament of the Canadian Forces and always played in the funeral services for soldiers who have died in Afghanistan. Following another moment of silence, Corporal Elliotson concluded this moment of silent reflection with the playing of Revielle. This led to another spoken word tribute to those “who never grow old”, called For the Fallen, written by Laurence Binyon and respectfully delivered by Trooper Darlene Spencer, also of the Queen’s York Rangers. This led into the final work of this memorial, Vaughan Williams’ lovely The Lark Ascending for Violin and Orchestra, originally composed in 1914 but not performed until 1920, after WWI. Violinist and TSO Concertmaster Jonathan Crow appeared alone in a balcony section to the left of the stage, and the effect was magical. The program notes by Don Anderson describe how this “peaceful, pastoral musical idyll” contrasted with the state of world affairs when it was composed and how it represented perhaps “the innocent calm before the storm that followed.” Performed with deep feeling, beautiful tone and lyrical sensitivity befitting of the music, Crow and the orchestra made this the perfect final tribute, like a benediction, an elegy of hope that the souls of those who sacrificed their lives have found peace. As the piece neared the end, Crow calmly turned while playing and made his way out of the auditorium, allowing the music to fade as the door closed slowly behind him. On the screens above – “We will remember them. Je me souviens (Lest we forget)”. Spellbinding. Memorable.