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Review by Paul Merkley F.R.S.C.
Toronto ON November 24th 2019
The TSO performed a program of all modern American music yesterday evening. Leonard Slatkin, former conductor of the St. Louis Symphony, who has appeared with many major orchestras, took the baton and led the orchestra expertly.
First on the program was Double Play for Orchestra, a work by Texas composer Cindy McTee. The first part was modelled on Charles Ives’s transcendental work The Unanswered Question. McTee’s piece, wittily called The Unquestioned Answer, is structured similarly to that of Ives, with the soft strings in the background representing the elements of nature that were here long before man, then two opposing instrumental groups, one representing the question (or answer) and the other resisting it. The second part of her work, Tempus fugit, is rhythmically complex, and features counter-rhythms in various percussion instruments. The orchestra performed the work to good effect.
Next was Barber’s Piano Concerto, written in 1962 for the inauguration of the Lincoln Centre. The outer (fast) movements treat the solo piano (dextrously performed by Jon Kimura Parker, very well known to Toronto audiences) as a percussion instrument. The slow movement, which originated earlier, is more expressive, and the orchestra did it justice. Parker pleased the crowd by playing Elton John’s song Benny and the Jets as an encore.
Guest Conductor Leonard Slatkin and Pianist Jon Kimura Parker
Photo credit: Jag Gundu
Guest Conductor Leonard Slatkin, Pianist Jon Kimura Parker and TSO
Photo Credit: Jag Gundu
After intermission the orchestra played Bernstein’s jovial Overture to Candide, written in 1956 alongside Westside Story. Throughout the evening conductor and orchestra were rhythmically precise.
John Corigliano is probably best known as the composer of the score of the film The Red Violin. His Elegy (1965) was featured next. Corigliano developed the work from music he had written for an off-Broadway play on Helen of Troy. The music is languidly expressive, harmonically in the mainstream of American music, not unlike much of the music of Barber in its careful use of dissonance to colour the discourse. Beautiful solos played by oboist Sarah Jeffrey stood out against the backdrop of strings.
The final work on the program was the renowned tone poem An American in Paris, written in 1928. Gershwin’s original score for two pianos remains unpublished; the published orchestral version was arranged by F. Campbell-Watson. Here the musicians were at their finest, Slatkin keeping a gentle flow to the music, and the orchestra playing the melodies according to the idiom. Special mention must be made of Steven Woomert, trumpet, whose forthright playing conveyed the relaxed, lyrical sounds to a T, and Jonathan Crow, the invaluable concert master, whose solo playing rounded out the performance beautifully. In another year of guest conductors, it is Crow who holds the orchestra together, and makes fine music out of the occasions on which guest conductors fly in for short rehearsals.
All in all it was an enjoyable evening, a banquet of modern American compositions.
TSO will present All Tchaikovsky at 3pm on November 27th, 28th, 30th and at 3pm on December 1st at Roy Thomson Hall.
An American in Paris in Toronto: TSO plays Gershwin