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Patricia Krueger, Gianandrea Noseda and the TSO; Photo credit: Jag Photography
Review by David Richards
Toronto ON November 20th 2016
Last night witnessed a changing of the guard at the Toronto Symphony Orchestra. Retiring keyboardist Patricia Krueger performed for the last time in a featured role on Roy Thomson Hall’s Gabriel Kney pipe organ. She will retire in January from the orchestra after a lifetime of association with the TSO. In the same concert, pianist Stefano Bollani, a brilliant jazz artist with impressive credentials and fame throughout Europe, was the remarkable soloist in Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G Major. Of course, anytime the orchestra is led by the world-celebrated Italian conductor, Gianandrea Noseda, the audience is in for a very special evening.
The programme began with a work by Alfredo Casella, a little known Italian contemporary of Ottorino Respighi. Elegia Eroica, Op. 29 is a homily on the horrors of war. Written at the beginning of WWI, it was not received well at its premiere in Rome in 1917. Although the open hostility it generated then, even while the music was still being performed, was not evident last evening, one could sense that the disturbing dissonance in the work still conjures up a sense of unease. Despite the superb orchestration, stunning solos and ensemble playing in every section of the orchestra, and especially the haunting lullaby performed on the celeste at the end of the work, one could sense a restlessness in the audience. The music touched a nerve triggering all the emotion of our own wars of the 21st century and the uncharted political uncertainties that are all too present today. Noseda brought out violence, horror and sorrow in a gripping portrayal of Casella’s tone-poem.
Camille’s Saint-Saëns’ Symphony No. 3 in C Minor, Op. 78 is just the sort of major work that the TSO can deliver with stunning effect. Noseda is a master of bringing out not only the energy of the work, but all of its subtle colours. The strings spun beautifully long lines. The fugal sections of the final movement brought forth an energy that built from the chorale in the strings to a powerful climax with the full effect of cymbals, timpani, brass and organ. The organ played a central role in the work. Krueger added rich tonal colour with the deep bass of the 32 foot stops, and finally the huge chords with the full orchestra in the closing moments of the work.
This was Krueger’s solo swan song. She first performed with the ensemble in the time of Walter Susskind and continued even while teaching high school music in the late 60s and early 70s until she became a full-time member of the orchestra. She remembers working with such distinguished composers/conductors as Igor Stravinsky, Aaron Copland and Leonard Bernstein. She remembers her many tours, especially the Pacific Rim Tour and the Canadian Odyssey Tour to Canada’s Arctic.. She also ranks her selection by Seiji Ozawa to a ‘world orchestra’ for the Nagano Olympics as a special event in her life. Krueger was the only Canadian chosen for the very special orchestra.
When Krueger spoke before the concert, it was with a sense of pride that talked about of her return to the Arctic to introduce “Strings across the country” to native children in Canada’s far north helping to bring back fiddling with violinist Andrea Hansen. Music education came naturally to Krueger. Her father, Harvey Perrin, was for many years Director of Music Education for the Toronto Board of Education. She spoke about the tremendous influence he had on her life and about regularly meeting audience members consistently reminding her of the effect he had on their lives when they were students in Toronto schools.
When I talked with Krueger before the concert, she spoke with enthusiasm about her involvement with the symphony. She said that each of the conductors over the past forty years has had something to offer to help the orchestra grow through recordings, tours and its concerts here at home. During a week where she is featured, Krueger maintains that each of the musicians are in it together with her. She said that she is in awe of each of her colleagues and is grateful to the orchestra for all of the unique life experiences that the TSO has given her over the years.
In a week in which the Berlin Philharmonic may have stolen the classical music headlines, it is refreshing to hear Krueger speak with such hope and respect for the TSO. This concert was sold out and the audience left elated. As Krueger gets set to move on to a new chapter in her life, she leaves a legacy to be proud of.
TSO celebrates the past while looking to the future in a remarkable concert!
Ravel’s 1931 Concerto for Piano in G was a stark contrast to the opening work. Stefano Bollani entered in jeans and a casual shirt. The suddenly joyous music that ensued completely overcame the emotions evoked by Casella’s work. Bollani took hold of the jazz idioms in the score and put himself into the heart of its rhythms. He was not averse to foot stomping and contorting on the piano bench to eke out every ounce of intensity. He shaped the soulful melody in the second movement beautifully. Pianistically, he was brilliant in the demanding virtuosic sections. The orchestra responded with its own dynamic energy, wonderful solos and silken textures of sound. Indeed, Bollani and Noseda found the essence of this music and the audience responded ecstatically. In Bollani’s encore, his own solo arrangement of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah, Bollani once again won the heart of the audience.
Guest Conductor Gianandrea Noseda, Krueger and the TSO taking their bows
Gianandrea Noseda, Stefano Bollani; Photo credit: Jag Photography