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Rarely does a concert leave me breathless as it did last night at Roy Thomson Hall. A pared-down Toronto Symphony Orchestra performed three works that all had linkages to nature. The meticulous attention to detail was clear from beginning to end in music that was as transparent as it was emotionally engaging.
Concertmaster Jonathan Crow curated and led the program of music by Carmen Braden, Aaron Copland and Antonio Vivaldi. Each work was a testament to the virtuosity of the ensemble. Crow selected twenty string players from the ranks of the orchestra and as each piece required, wind and keyboard performers. The group was made up of section leaders and included some of the newly hired musicians such as Associate Concertmaster Zeyu Victor Li, Principal Viola Victor Fournelle-Blain, Assistant Principal Viola Theresa Rudolph, and Principal Flute Kelly Zimba. It was abundantly clear that the newest additions have only improved an already great orchestra.
This was Jonathan Crow’s concert to be sure. It was a testament to him that the audience filled the hall including the top balconies and even the choir loft. Such is the regard for Crow as a musician and leader. From the outset, in which the orchestra entered together as a unit, without the customary tails and having already tuned off-stage, there was none of the formality and ceremony of most concerts. Crow was a part of the ensemble and entered with the others. He immediately introduced composer Carmen Braden to speak about her newly arranged composition.
Review by David Richards
Toronto ON November 17th 2019
Concertmaster Jonathan Crow and the Toronto Symphony Orchestra
Photo credit: Jag Gundu
Concertmaster Jonathan Crow, composer Carmen Braden and the Toronto
Symphony Orchestra; Photo credit: Jag Gundu
The Toronto Symphony Orchestra and Concertmaster Jonathan Crow combine for chamber music at its finest!
Braden’s work, Songs of the Invisible Summer Stars, which opened the program, originated as a set of songs depicting the disappearance of stars during the endless summer days of Canada’s north. In 2017, Braden was commissioned to write an extended version for chamber ensemble for the TSO Chamber Soloists. Last night we heard yet another new version, this time incorporating a string orchestra along with flute, oboe and horn soloists. The work took the melodies (which can be found on Youtube) and expanded them to describe the imaginative poetry of the texts. Whether the evocative horn and oboe solos over oscillating strings, the flute cadenza-like passages, horn fanfares, or the violin harmonics, the effects were magical. It was easy to imagine unseen comets flying across the sky, the colours of aurora borealis or the moon hanging “lonely in the blue sky”. Braden used the orchestra like a painter uses the palette, and the result was most captivating.
Sticking with the theme of nature, Crow led the orchestra, now consisting of a double string quartet, piano, double bass, flute, clarinet and bassoon, in the original version of Aaron Copland’s Suite for 13 instruments from the ballet score for Appalachian Spring. The work may not have been about spring or about the Appalachians, but the music has unmistakeable references to American folk music of pioneer times. The sweet clarinet solo introducing the Shaker tune, “Simple Gifts” was overwhelming. The barn-dance had the vitality that carried me off to a more joyful time in America. Once again, the orchestra played with precision and attention to detail. Tuning was impeccable. I didn’t need the story of the ballet to thoroughly enjoy this music.
After intermission, Crow was again leader and soloist in one of the best-loved works of the 18th century. Antonio Vivaldi’s Four Seasons for Violin and Orchestra, Op. 8 is a display piece for every virtuoso violinist on the world stage. Jonathan Crow demonstrated that he clearly belongs with best. He performed with both beautiful tone and exceptional dexterity while keeping the tempos right where they needed to be to deliver all the energy of the work. The association between the music and the seasons was found in the poetry that Vivaldi had written into the margins of the published score. In addition to having the sonnets in the program, Crow had members of the orchestra read the poetry in their own native languages.
The excellence in the music was unmistakable. The energy of this young core of the TSO bodes well for the future of the orchestra. The program is one not-to-be-missed. It will repeat on Wednesday November 20th at 8pm and Thursday November 21st at 8pm.