TORONTO CONCERT REVIEWS

Music reviews of the finest concerts in Toronto and beyond!
- ​symphonic, choral, opera, chamber, jazz and period music​ -

Friesen, a student of John O’Conor, and in the final year of his Bachelor of Music program at GGS, was a prize-winner in the school’s concerto competition this past January. He plays with a fluidity and ease without ever overpowering the music. His attentiveness to the orchestra was evident throughout. I was particularly impressed by his sensitive, soulful opening of the second movement where his extended solo gave me shivers. A friend remarked that she had tears. Wearing his signature bowtie, he is ever the confident performer. For an encore, he entertained with a virtuosic and fun arrangement of Gershwin’s I Got Rhythm.

For the second half of the concert, Tania Miller chose an orchestral tour de force in Serge Prokofiev’s Symphony No. 5 in B flat major, op. 100. Miller knows the capabilities of the orchestra. Returning for her third time, she embraced the opportunity of an intensive week-long process of preparation. Building community in the orchestra is as important to her as it is for the school. As part of the week’s training, a preview performance was given in Kingston at the Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts. Miller refused a private car and driver in favour of traveling on the bus with the students.

The orchestra was exceptionally well-prepared. The work is filled with demanding solo opportunities throughout the winds. The percussion plays a major role and perhaps has the largest bass drum part in the symphonic literature. The winds and percussion were magnificent. The work usually would have close to sixty strings, but the smaller number of strings may have enhanced their clarity and precision. The symphony embodies the “spirit of man” and “is meant to console and uplift, to encourage and exhort”. The performance was all of this and more. It was given a youthful energy that would be difficult to emulate. Miller brought out the lyricism evident in much of the music, the jagged edges of the scherzo, and the build-up to the tremendous climactic finale with passion. Prokofiev’s exquisite orchestration was accomplished with utmost lucidity.

The entire evening not only lived up to the excitement of the anticipation; it by far exceeded it. The concert was live-streamed and can be viewed here.The next Royal Conservatory Orchestra concert at Koerner Hall will take place on November 22nd at 8:00pm. The Guest Conductor will be Andrei Feher, Music Director of the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony Orchestra. The program of music by Shostakovich and Mahler will feature GGS Concerto Competition prize winner, cellist Mansur Kadirov. As usual, there will be a Prelude Concert at 6:45 by students of the Glenn Gould School.

Conductor Tania Miller, Godwin Friesen and the Royal Conservatory of Music
Photo courtesy of the Royal Conservatory/Koerner Hall: Photo by Lisa Sakulensky

​​Review by David Richards
T
oronto ON September 28th 2019

The Royal Conservatory Orchestra exceeds its high bar of expectations in its first concert of the season!

Conductor Tania Miller and the Royal Conservatory of Music
Photo courtesy of the Royal Conservatory/Koerner Hall: Photo by Lisa Sakulensky

It’s easy to get excited in anticipation of a Royal Conservatory Orchestra concert, but at the beginning of a new school year, with a new group of incoming students, the expectations run even higher. The Glenn Gould School has set a high bar for its pre-professional training orchestra. Would the orchestra live up to the standards set by its previous versions? Would the concerto soloist be up to the virtuosity required? 


Last night at Koerner Hall, in just its third week of the new school term, the orchestra, led by the Victoria Symphony Orchestra’s incredible director, Tania Miller, surpassed every hope. From the opening notes of Hector Berlioz’s Le carnaval romain, op. 9, the orchestra exhibited a fresh energy as well as clean playing that was enhanced by the marvellous acoustics of the world-class hall. Yet this was more than a concert, it was an event of celebratory proportions.

In the hour prior to the concert itself, early birds were treated to a Prelude Concert by one of the ‘Rebanks Family Fellows’. Soprano Sydney Baedke, with pianist Rachel Andrist, presented an exquisite program of music by Santoliquido, Rimsky-Korsakov, Rachmaninov, Liszt and Grieg. Baedke’s voice is luminously clear and round. Her solid musicianship was evident in her delicately spun phrases and dramatically powerful climactic moments. Her singing conveyed the emotional impact of a Puccini aria while her three songs by Liszt displayed as sweet and pure a soprano sound as I have heard in some time. Baedke has completed undergraduate and graduate level programs and is a two-time prize-winner of the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions.

As the audience gathered for the main event, the Associate Dean of the Glenn Gould School, Barry Shiffman, in conversation with host Gillian Storey, spoke about the tens of thousands of hours it takes to train classical musicians for a professional career. He pointed out the work of artist-teachers who train the orchestra, prepare sections, and coach individuals. Shiffman, reflecting the energy and commitment required in a musician, said that it is more expensive to train a classical musician than to educate anyone in any other field, an endeavour that on the surface is irrational, but that for each of the students, not doing it is not an option. He expressed confidence that students of GGS will receive the required training “to do whatever their dreams allow”. He also spoke about the emergence of women in the podium’s male dominance and how Tania Miller and others are penetrating the chauvinistic past.

The flurry of the strings and then winds at the beginning of the Berlioz, set the stage for an incredibly exciting musical experience by any standard. One immediately forgot that this was a student orchestra. The ensuing English Horn solo rang throughout the hall with clarity and beauty. The strings took over the theme followed by the bassoon, each in turn adding new colours to the orchestration. This overture, the most popular of Berlioz, set the tone for a joyful evening of music celebrating the human spirit.


The second work on the program, Maurice Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G major is one of the most popular twentieth century piano concertos, and certainly one of the most joyful. (It has been performed twice in the past two years by the Toronto Symphony.) Written at the tail-end of Ravel’s life following his trip to the US where he met with Gershwin and visited the jazz clubs of New York and New Orleans, the music reflects the jazz that he had been immersed in. Pianist Godwin Friesen was completely in control and rhythmically charged for a performance that was absolutely stunning! The first movement had an extraordinary driving energy.