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Guest Conductor Andrei Feher and RCM Orchestra​

Photo credit: The Royal Conservatory of Music/Koerner Hall; Lisa Sakulensky

Following intermission, the orchestra expanded to a full complement of brass, woodwinds and percussion including five trumpets, seven horns, two harps, two sets of timpani for the Mahler Symphony. It may not have been received well in its first performances over a century ago, but it is certainly a mainstay in this century. One couldn’t help but be enthralled by its exuberance mixed with sweet moments of melancholy. Whether the listener finds non-musical references throughout (the opening unmistakably alludes to the coming of spring) or considers the piece as absolute music as Mahler seems to have wanted, it matters little. In last night’s performance there was an emotional journey that led to a heroic conclusion.

Before the concert, as with every RC Orchestra performance, there was a Prelude Concert, this time a recital by pianist Alexander Malikov. Malikov is a native of Russia who immigrated to Calgary with his family. He has been studying in the US for the past eleven years and has joined the Artist Diploma program this fall in hopes of making application to international piano competitions. His Scarlatti was performed with clarity. His Liszt was performed with passion and power. The Schubert displayed a beautiful singing line, and his final work by Granados was a real showpiece of virtuosity.

The Royal Conservatory Orchestra concerts are always the first concerts I add to my calendar at the beginning of each season. The next performance, on Friday, February 14th, 2020, will feature guest-conductor Johannes Debus and percussionist Zuri Wells in a program that will include Strauss’s Don Juan, Keiko Abe’s Prism Rhapsody, and Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7

Guest Conductor Andrei Feher and RCM Orchestra​

Photo credit: The Royal Conservatory of Music/Koerner Hall; Lisa Sakulensky

Review by David Richards
Toronto ON November 23rd 2019

Cellist Mansur Kadirov and RCM Orchestra​
​Photo credit: The Royal Conservatory of Music/Koerner Hall; Lisa Sakulensky

Cellist Guest Conductor Andrei Feher and RCM Orchestra
​Photo credit: The Royal Conservatory of Music/Koerner Hall; Lisa Sakulensky

Last night’s amazing concert by the Royal Conservatory Orchestra at Koerner Hall must have been one of those life-altering moments for many of the Glenn Gould School’s aspiring professional musicians when the young conducting phenom, Andrei Feher came to lead the orchestra.

In 1968, a 39-year-old Russian cellist by the name of Rostropovich was on tour and during his stop in Toronto with the TSO, he decided he would like to work with the UofT Symphony. A concert was quickly arranged and he both conducted and performed Dvořák’s Cello Concerto. In rehearsal he would demonstrate how he wanted the bassoon to sound in a passage. He would play a flute phrase on his cello. His knowledge of the score was such that he could play any of the orchestral parts by memory on his cello. He established a rapport with the student musicians like I had not seen. The experience was a seminal moment in my own musical life. He embodied the music in a way that I had never witnessed.

Last night, a conductor 10 or so years younger than Rostropovich was in 1968, gave the RC Orchestra and sizeable audience an experience that neither will soon forget. Andrei Feher, who has in his very short career worked with some of the world’s finest orchestras and musicians was appointed to the Music Director’s position of the kitchener-Waterloo Symphony Orchestra at age 26, a position he gained by finding a magical rapport with the musicians while guest-conducting. He established that same immediate bond with the Royal Conservatory Orchestra in the week-l0ng preparation for this concert. One of the student musicians told me that “he embodied the soul of the music”.

Conductor Andrei Feher brings youthful vitality to the Royal Conservatory Orchestra

Feher took the orchestra through a demanding program of Dmitri Shostakovich’s Cello Concerto No. 1 in E flat Major, Op. 107 and Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 1 in D Major (“Titan”). His movements on stage reminded one of a dancer’s interpretation of the music. He communicated to the orchestra and accordingly to the audience as well with his whole body whether in the lilting ‘landler’ or the menacing moments of the storm in the fourth movement of the Mahler work.

The program opened with the Cello Concerto. The work, written for Rostropovich in 1959, has become a staple in the cello concerto repertoire. It begins with a four-note theme that recurs throughout the first movement and returns in the finale’s dynamic conclusion. The soloist, Mansur Kadirov, gave a flawless performance. I sat riveted to my seat. His energy and his virtuosic technique were remarkable, but what was more remarkable was the honest passion in his playing. The third movement “Cadenza” was as spiritual as it was powerful. The orchestra responded to Kadirov’s playing with brilliantly clear ensemble work. Principal Horn Ryan Garbett deserves special mention for his penetrating horn solos. As an encore, Kadirov performed Song of the Birds​ by Pablo Casals.

A concerto is a regular feature of each RC Orchestra performance. Soloists are selected from the annual Concerto Competition held in January. The four winners get the opportunity to perform during the following season. Kadirov, one of the winners in last January’s competition, is an Artist Diploma Scholarship recipient at the Glenn Gould School. A native of Uzbekistan, he has performed around the world