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We went to the TSO at Roy Thompson Hall last night. It’s been awhile since we’ve gone (only went once last season and this was the first time this season). I had scanned the season calendar in September and this one wasn’t on my list to attend, but we went because some of our friends were also going. I’m glad we went because it was pretty good and fun!

The theme of this concert was music from the Classical period (so Mozart and Beethoven). When the conductor, Edwin Outwater, came on stage, he spent a few minutes discussing why he put this programme together. He said that in the Classical time period, instead of the Overture-Concerto-Symphony format that we hear today, there would be a symphony split into two parts; then in the middle there would be a “variety show” of random pieces (and even single movements from concertos). That’s what we ended up hearing, with Hayden’s Military symphony split into two by a couple of pieces and an intermission.

I enjoyed the soloists more than the symphony itself. Beethoven’s Romance No. 2 performed by Marc Djokic was a bit hesitant at the beginning by was played beautifully. Nowadays, we marvel a lot at technical prowness and sheer difficulty of pieces but this Romance was the opposite of this. It did not seem like a difficult piece, but the elegance shines through. The Romantic period is known for its lyrical and emotional pieces, but I still enjoy the form and structure imposed in the Classical period as well as Beethoven’s transitional style.

Next up was the third movement of Beethoven’s 1st piano concerto. We lucked out this time as we got great seats (right beside stage on left side) and had a perfect view of the pianist. Although I would say that we were too close and couldn’t really see that much since the pianist’s body blocked us. I didn’t like Alexander Seredenko’s interpretation of this though. I felt the tempo was too fast, although he was technically capable of the speed. Although, perhaps it is because I am used to a slower recording of this piece. I also didn’t like his interpretation on some of themes as it felt that he was trying to make the piece more dramatic than it should be given its playful nature and Classical period setting.

After the intermission, there were two pieces from operas by Mozart featuring the sorprano Layla Claire. I was pleasantly surprised by these and enjoyed them (especially after a horrific Opera experience). From our vantage point, we could she that she really got into the music. She looked as though she was going to cry before Ruhe sanf and was extremely happy before Alleluja. There was also a piece by Mozart for English Horn, which was incomplete at his death. The soloist, Cary Ebli, came out beforehand to give some history about it and although I couldn’t hear/understand some of it, was pretty entertaining. Unfortunately, while the sound of the Cor Anglais was interesting, it is pieces like these which turn me off of listening to 96.3.

This was a memorable concert as the pieces were good and the conductor Outwater spent a fair amount of time discussing the performances before doing them. I think he did a great job engaging the audience and made it fun and enjoyable.

Apparently I hadn’t gone to the TSO this entire season until this week when we went to hear Liszt’s first piano concerto. It was performed by AndrĂ© Laplante who looks like a 70s hippie (still with ponytail but now with white hair). Looks aside, he performed the technically challenging concerto quite well (although it sounded like he lost a bit of concentration on the easier parts).

The evening was sponsored by VIA Rail and they were giving out chocolates prior to the concert and desserts (cookies, macaroons) during the intermission. After the intermission, we were treated to another instance of the Rite of Spring. It was about as interesting as the last time we heard TSO perform Rite of Spring. I think the piece does have talent in making such a dischord sound musical and not like noise.

The other noteworthy point is that the evening was conducted by Vasily Petrenko, who I learned from the programme won the 2010 Male Artist of the Year at the Classical BRIT awards. Maybe I don’t understand the influence of a conductor, but how are their contributions more spectacular than an individual instrumentalist?

Here is the Toronto Star’s four star review.

It’s been awhile since we went to the TSO, half of the reason is because it’s not that convenient for us to go, but it was always because there wasn’t much interesting that I wanted to hear (well there was one concert which was interesting, but it was over the May 2-4 long weekend).

We went this Saturday to hear Chopin’s 2nd Piano Concerto. It was performed by Argentinian Ingrid Fliter.

The concerto was bookended by Mahler’s first Symphony (“Titan”). The full symphony was played after the intermission, but the concert was started by Blumine which was actually the original second movement of the then five movement symphony. But Mahler decided that it wasn’t “symphonic” enough and removed it from the Symphony.

I think it’s an interesting practice to apply my new travel strategy to my home town, Toronto, and see what are the interesting things (at least to me) there are to do. Here is my brain dump in the order they arrived.

  • Pacific Mall and surrounding areas
    The best Chinese neighborhood outside of China (sorry Richmond). Even though Pacific Mall is a “Chinese mall”, I think its the epitome of Toronto’s multicultural nature, with visitors from all sorts of nationalities visiting the electronics and DVD stores. It’s only going to get more mixed when Remington Centre is built.
  • ROM (and AGO and OCAD)
    I think the ROM (and the AGO? I haven’t even been past there since it was rebuilt) is worth a visit; not for the content but for the architecture. The Michael Lee Chin crystal is either really obtuse or cool depending who you ask. I’m of the latter although I have a bias towards large man-made objects. Don’t forget OCAD either, because I don’t know of any other building in the world supported by pencils.
  • Niagara Falls
    This one is obvious, but if you can spend a day driving out to there and back, it’s worth it as the Falls are huge. Also, the one experience you can’t miss is Maid-of-the-Mist, but make sure you wear contacts if you can. Along the way you can go wine tasting, fruit picking, shopping, gambling or visit the quaint Niagara-on-the-lake to fill up your schedule.
  • Tsoundcheck
    If you’re under 29 and visiting for a few days during the year (i.e., not summer months), there’s probably a Toronto Symphony Orchestra concert happening which you can attend for only $12. Tickets usually only go on sale a week before the concert, so their semi-rush. I’ve tried showing up at the door to buy tickets, but that didn’t work

Not a big list eh? Well it is actually quite difficult thinking of things that I would actually want to do if I did not live in Toronto.

We haven’t gone to the TSO in a long time, but since we were going to be downtown this weekend, decided to go for the first time this season. The programme was Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto, an orchestral arrangement of Leonard Berstein’s Clarinet Sonata and Vaughan Williams’ Symphony #4. Reading the program, we thought we had heard the symphony before because of its war themes. But I think we were just confused with the theme and the fact that we did hear Vaughan William’s Symphony #5 before.

The programme was kind of weak, but I did want to hear the 2nd movement of the Clarinet Concerto. Perhaps you’ve heard of it?

I normally don’t enjoy the timbre of a clarinet but I really enjoy the phrasing and sound in this movement.

The soloist was the TSO’s principal clarinetist Joaquin Valdepeñas whom this year is in his 30th year as the principal clarinetist of the TSO! He doesn’t look that old either, so he probably started holding the chair when he was in his 20s!

Here’s The Star’s review of the concert (but I guess it was the Thursday one).

We hadn’t seen Mike and Maggie for awhile (since our wedding which feels like forever ago), so Mike suggested we meet up to go to the TSO along with Victor and Hannah. The performance that night was Holst’ The Planets and Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring. I think each piece on its own could be a feature piece of a concert, so it’s a good deal to see both on one night!

This time, we got seats directly behind the orchestra in the choir loft. We weren’t able to see the brass or timpani but had a great view of the percussion. The percussionists were very serious about hitting the snare drum, much in contrast with how I play Rock Band. We were also able to see Peter Oundjian as he conducted and he looked very passionate and engrossed in his conducting, with lots of face contortions. I suppose you need to be like that in order to be a great conductor.

I enjoyed The Planets more than Rite of Spring (here’s The Star’s review of The Planets). The guide had a quote about the premiere of The Rite of Spring where a patron beat on the head of the person in front of him, but neither noticed because they were so absorbed in the music. I have a hard time believing that, but it certainly was blasting.

For dinner, we went to the restaurant underneath the new construction on Queen St West, Nota Bene. It is somewhat upscale dining and actually looks like it would fit in the lobby of a hotel. We tried the rabbit and scallops which where neither amazing nor horrible.

Since we were already downtown on Saturday for Changing the World, we also went to the TSO. I wasn’t really interested in the programme, which featured violinist Christian Tetzlaff playing a violin concerto written for him, and Vaughan Williams’ Symphony No. 5. Here’s The Star’s review.

A bonus for going was that there was a Tsoundcheck party after the event. Our seats exited on the stage of the band for the party, so we were able to get seats. Although there’s really no benefit since all that was there was chocolate. In fact, it was really weird sitting there while people invaded our tabletop for chocolate.

Peter Oundjian made an appearance and I hoped to get a picture with him. That didn’t happen, but I did take a snap of him (a bit dark because I was trying out bouncing off a white card).

In fact, as I took the picture, Tsoundcheck person asked if I was the photographer from Eye Weekly. Nope – and then asked me if I was the friend of the other Tsoundcheck person – no again. Then they asked if I wanted to photograph the event. I guess they’re looking for volunteers?

The TSO is trying something new this year by introducing residencies with their guest artists, the first of which was Lang Lang this week. Lang Lang had 2 concerts with the TSO, a Q&A at the ROM and a solo recital at RTH. Because of Lang Lang’s popularity, I expected everything to sell out, but Peter W. pinged me on Tuesday late afternoon and said that tickets were on sale so I immediately bought 2 for the Wednesday night concert.

I would’ve preferred to attend Saturday’s concert since he’s playing Tchaikovsky’s 1st and Chopin’s 2nd, but that wouldn’t work out for me anyways (more on that later). I had to settle for the Canadian premiere of Tan Dun’s Piano Concerto No. 1 “The Fire” (which seems like an apt piece for the Chinese Fireballer to play). Lang Lang was last on the programme, which featured 3 other Russian pieces. Of the three, the Capriccio espangol was pretty enjoyable, and Peter Oundjian told a story of how his brother, the British skating champion skated to it!

Tan Dun is supposed to be one of the foremost composers of our lifetime, and he is probably best known (to me at least) for composing the score to Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Reading the guide, it said he combined Western and Chinese styles in his composition. Which is possible good, if it’s in the style of the Yellow River concerto. The Globe and Mail called The Fire a “fascinating and impressive” work. Although, I found it had some neat parts, I think I agree with The Star’s review that it was “a brutally dramatic end to a half-hour-long, three-movement work“. The crowd applauded with much zeal afterwards (of course), but I think had the piece ended in the languid manner that characterized much of the piece, people would have been less enthusiastic.

My primary reason for going is to see Lang Lang, the celebrity and rock star (hey, if you’ve appeared on the Grammy Awards, then you’re a rock star). Surprisingly (but my fault really), he does not look in person like the media photos of him. Unless his tuxedo was very thick. I scored great seats, we were on the choir loft directly behind him. If we were any closer, we would have been playing 4th violins! He also came out 4 (!) times afterwards without an encore. I guess you’ll just have to pay for his other concerts instead.

TSO has kind of fallen off the rader the last few months. I didn’t go much after the first few months of 2008, and they were off for the summer. I missed the Star Trek concert too which shows just how badly I ignored TSO (and how geeky I am for wanting to go). Anyways, I took a look through next season’s calendar to see what I would like to attend. It was not as amazing as last season where there were like 4 concerts I wanted to go to every month. My highlights for next season are:

Of course there are the usual sold-out Lang Lang and Yo-Yo Ma concerts as well.

I went to the TSO the night before I headed off to Paris. Originally, I was supposed to go with my parents, but because of the heavy snowstorm, they declined to go. Instead I invited Peter and Richard to come along. The night was titled Classical Legends and featured 6 pieces! However, the night was still short since there were no major pieces. Apparently The Star also thought the same way since they don’t have a review of the night online! Although they might have used the weather as an excuse.

I enjoyed the first piece, Smetana’s Overture to The Secret. It sounds like a “pop” Classical piece. Next up was Strauss’ first horn concerto. I was looking forward to this piece because I love the sound of the horn, however this and listening to the Mozart horn concerto’s again, I realized that the horn is not a good solo instrument. Mozart’s Symphony No. 32 ended the first part and even though it was a symphony, was only nine minutes.

Two Dvorak pieces were after the intermission. For The Midday Witch, the conductor, Charles Oliveri-Munroe, explained the themes to the audience by having the instruments play pieces of the themes. I found this really informative and it helped me understand the music. It’s too bad that other conductors don’t follow this example more often. Humoresque (the 7th) was the second piece, and I enjoyed this one as well; too bad it is a rather short piece. The evening capped off with Strauss’ Till Eulenspiegels lustige Streiche which was a weird and eventful piece.

On Thursday, I went to the TSO with Ben, Victor and some of his friends. I didn’t have this performance circled as one of my must-attends because it wasn’t a well-known soloist, nor was the program especially appealing. But it’s hard to say no to TSO!

The first piece was the Canadian Premiere of Chinese composer Chen Yi’s Momentum. The conductor, Ludovic Morlot and Yi spent a couple of minutes before the concert discussing the piece and it seemed like it would draw upon Chinese folk themes and melodies. The piece started and it was totally different. It was a very modern piece in a bad way, atonal and uses instruments to produce specific sounds rather than a melody. There were kids in the audience, probably on a field trip to experience orchestras and classical music. I can only imagine how traumatic this experience would have been, and how turned off from classical music they would be now.

The second piece before the intermission was a much anticipated Viola concerto by TSO Principal Violist Teng Li. I find listening to concertos by instruments other than Piano the same as any other piece because I don’t understand the technicalities and difficulties of playing the instrument. However, I felt the piece selection was lacking. It was a more typical classical piece but I noticed that there wasn’t a lot of orchestration which this review also picked up on.

After the intermission, there was finally a piece that I didn’t mind listening to. I’ve never heard Tchaikovsky’s 5th symphony, but it was composed firmly in the Romantic era and produced a refreshing sound after hearing the previous two more modern pieces. I liked the interplay between instruments, and the slow second movement. This is another one of those pieces I should pick up eventually.

I went to my first TSO concert of the year on Wednesday. Yes I know I’ve been slacking, and I probably won’t hit my total from last year. Wednesday’s concert was the TSO debut, and first of three consecutive shows by Chinese pianist Yundi Li. He has a variety of credentials to his name which you can look up on his Wikipedia page. He is by no means better or more renowned than say Emanuel Ax, but because he is Chinese and I am Chinese, it seems everyone I know (even my mom) knows who he is. So look at me, I saw him live in concert in his TSO debut.

Actually when I perused the TSO schedule earlier in the season, I didn’t know who the heck he was, but wanted to attend anyways because he was planning on playing the famous Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1. So I was disappointed when I went to buy tickets and saw that he switched to playing Prokofiev’s 2nd Piano Concerto in g minor. I was not familiar with this piece and was surprised by its impressionistic style (and four movements — good thing I have slow clapping reflexes). It was traditionally Russian, with large, heavy chords and jumps; which showed off Li’s virtuoso technique. But I still would have rather heard the more accessible Tchaikovsky. My pet theory is that Li has released a recording of the Prokofiev, so maybe he did not have the Tchaikovsky ready in time.

The bookends were Enescu’s Romanian Rhapsody, which was enjoyable and catchy; and Dvorak’s Symphony No. 6 — a refreshing and more Romantic piece, but otherwise forgettable. The conductor was Yannick Nézet-Séguin from Montreal whose most defining quality was his enthusiasm for conducting, although Li also had some eccentricities such as bringing and using a handkerchief fairly often.

Oh I forgot to mention, I got my best seats ever; on the floor in the raised box section on the right. It was preferable to actual floor seats because we were sufficiently high enough to see over the piano and see Li’s face.

Earlier this year, I was looking into purchasing a 4-pack subscription to the TSO in order to guarantee tickets for certain concerts. I had a several picked out, of which Emanuel Ax was one of them, but unfortunately due to some hemming and hawwing over dates, the Ax show was sold out when I went to buy. So I didn’t end up getting a subscription.

Fast forward to last week, and I saw that the tickets for Ax were available. I sent some emails to gauge interest, but when I went to go back tickets not even 48 hours later, the tickets were unavailable! I didn’t think he would be that popular, although I do have one CD where he plays the Chopin concertos (include the one I heard recently). As luck would have it, a friend from high school, Sophia, invited Pauline and I to go since she had extra tickets. So even with all my bad luck in trying to get tickets; I was still able to go.

The programme was a trio of 4th‘s. Beethoven’s 4th Piano Concerto sandwiched between Mozart’s and Bruckner’s 4th Symphonies. I was not familiar with any of the pieces, and for some reason it felt like winning the Chinese anti-lottery (we were one away from being spooky, as the concert happened on December 5th). This time I was sitting in the Mezzanine level behind the orchestra where the choir usually sits, right under my usual perch in R7 and right above the trombones/tuba. It’s actually really close and I could make out a lot of details with my naked eye (i.e., see the music they’re playing). I kinda wish I had my camera and telephoto.

Kids have short attention span, and since Mozart composed his symphony when he was 9 years old, it was only 7 minutes long! The first movement was pretty good though. Then Emanuel Ax came out to perform. I thought that I wasn’t familiar with this concerto, but I recognized the theme from the first movement so I must have heard it on the radio at some point. I’m not familiar enough to comment on his interpretation, but technically he was amazing. Listening to the orchestra, the first movement moved in an average tempo, but the piano parts were deceptively vivace (but perfectly played). The runs were amazing, it sounded like an artist dipping his brush into paint, and then flicking a canvas — only to have the seemingly random notes fall into a harmonic pattern that fit the picture the orchestra was drawing.

The second movement was the reverse, with the orchestra driving the tempo, but the piano was holding back by playing slow, solemn chords. The third movement was also entertaining although nothing particularly stood out. Again, there was no encore. I guess world-renowned artists don’t need to impress crowds even more; although I thought that there would be because after the third time they came out, the clapping was dying off and they still came out a fourth time! It seemed like they were just having a fun time, in fact when Ax wasn’t playing, it seemed like he was an audience member with the best seat in the house — mouthing and mock composing the orchestra.

After the intermission, we heard the 70-minute long Symphony No. 4 by Bruckner, “The Romantic”. It seemed interesting because the themes kept changing and new ones were brought in or replayed from earlier movements, although I spent most of my time reading up on the notes in my programme. I was disappointed after the concert that Ax didn’t stick around to sign autographs, I even brought stuff for him to sign! But then if I were really desperate, I would have stayed around the doors and stalked him.

I went to my second TSO concert of the week on Saturday. When I looked over the schedule for the season, this week popped out to me with two interesting programs. I enjoyed the DSO on Thursday and Saturday’s concert featured another piano concerto, this time Chopin’s 1st. The evening was titled A Star Is Born as it featured members of the Toronto Symphony Youth Orchestra as well as the winner of last year’s Toronto Symphony Volunteer Committee Piano Competition.

The evening started off with O Canada again, weird. Maybe this is a new thing they are trying, but at least it was on the program. After Oundjian said a few words, the TSO along with select members from the TSYO, played Nimrod from the Enigma Variations by Elgar. It was pretty good, although every time I hear Nimrod, I think of Green Day. Next was Chopin’s 1st Piano Concerto, and while I had bought the CD for it a couple of years ago, I wasn’t familiar with it, so I listened to it a few times before going. The concerto is better than I remembered, although the first movement is structured a bit weird. The second movement also starts off with a very lyrical theme.

The soloist for the Chopin concerto was not as well known as Kuerti on Thursday obviously, however from her bio it was fairly obvious that she is one of those whiz kids that excel at everything. In addition to winning variety of musical awards, she’s won a bunch of medals from the government(s) for excelling in school. She played well for an amateur but she had some technical mistakes with slightly inaccurate jumps and what sounded like tempo (speeding) issues.

After the intermission was Mussorgsky’s Pictures From An Exhibition as arranged for orchestra by Ravel. This seems like one of the TSO’s signature pieces as I’ve seen it on various nights in the season. They were recording it that night too, no doubt it will appear on next season’s TSO CDs.

Last night I went to see Peter Oundjian, the music director for the TSO, conduct the Detroit Symphony Orchestra (where he is the principal guest conductor). Of the many times I’ve gone to the TSO, this was the first time that I’ve seen Oundjian conduct! That was one of the reasons I wanted to go. Another was because the programme was pretty good, centered around Beethoven’s 5th Piano Concerto and Tchaikovsky’s 4th Symphony.

We got seats in R7 again. I swear that the TSO should put my name on a gold plate and affix it to one of the seats there because this is maybe the 4th or 5th time that I’ve sat there. I mean it’s interesting to see what the conductor and the orchestra is doing, but some variety would be nice. Also, it was not as good this time because they opened the piano towards the audience, so the sound was a bit muted for us.

The night started off with Oundjian saying a few words and then jumped immediately into a surprise playing of O Canada!, after that was done, we started sitting down; but they moved on immediately to the Star Spangled Banner. I felt like I was at a hockey game. But the real reason was that there were a lot of Canadian and American dignitaries in the audience that night. This was followed by Joan Towers’ For An Uncommon Woman. It’s a short, modern piece.

This was followed by the “Emperor” concerto. I remember trying this out when I was picking which concerto to play, although I would have preferred playing Beethoven’s 1st because I was more familiar with it. But my piano teacher said “Emperor” was better so I tried the first movement out a bit. I wasn’t really impressed with the themes (he needs to write better hooks) so I moved on to other pieces. It was the same way last night, while there were sections that had a lot of imperialistic fanfare, it wasn’t as engaging as I thought Beethoven’s most famous piano concerto should be.

The soloist was Anton Kuerti. I recognized his name, although I wasn’t sure where I heard it before. I looked up his bio beforehand, and aside from being a world-class pianist, he ran for parliament as a NDP candidate in 1988! Although I was probably too young to remember his name from there. It wasn’t until I heard him play the second movement that I really started enjoying it. I suspect that the first movement called for a lot of pedal, and combined with the orchestra created a sonic cornucopia; but in the second movement, there was enough clarity to really hear the control and interpretation of Kuerti’s Beethoven. Case in point, there was a maybe 16-bar long, perfectly balanced trill during which there was a constant linear crescendo. It was incredible and amazing! I also liked the third movement better than the first, but perhaps it was because I had finally caught onto how good Kuerti was!

After the concerto, he closed the grand piano and walked off the stage. Although he came out for several more bows, he didn’t bother playing an encore. I guess he really didn’t want to play anymore, because he is pretty prolific, and I could bet he wasn’t tired as he has performed all 5 Beethoven concertos in a single concert before.

Tchaikovsky’s 4th was after the intermission. It was a contrast from the Beethoven as Tchaikovsky used a lot of Russian folk tunes. I wasn’t familiar with this piece but it was alright, there were some interesting sections, specifically the pizzicato third movement and a theme in the first movement that involved running scales echoed by various instruments.

The 07/08 TSO season has recently started and I went to my first concert of the season on Thursday. It featured Vadim Repin playing Prokofiev’s 2nd Violin Concerto and Ravel’s Daphnis et Chloé. I was not familiar with either of the pieces, but the tickets were half their normal price so it was hard not to go (hey I’m Chinese).

Of the two, I was more interested in the violin concerto. The first movement was pretty standard, I enjoyed the second movement which started off with the strings playing pizzicato in unison to serve as the accompaniment to the melody. The third movement started incorporating some post-modern dissonance which I am not a huge fan of. Afterwards, the audience demanded an encore, so Repin came back out. He instructed the strings to repeat a simple melody (pizzicato again – yay!) while he played what seemed like a theme and variations on Russian folk music. I was not familiar with the piece, but it was pretty cool and showed off his virtuosity. This was probably the highlight of the evening.

After an intermission, we returned for Daphnis et Chloé. This was a 50-minute ballet, but instead of dancing we had the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir. I didn’t enjoy this as it was long and unfamiliar. This is one of those pieces that the DJ puts on and then goes to take a washroom break, have lunch, buy some groceries, and fill out a prescription. It seemed like it might be interesting as there were hints of impressionism at the beginning, but then I lost interest amidst the generic instrumental melodies. The choir didn’t add much interest either because they sung tones and acted like an instrument. One interesting moment was when a third of the choir disappeared. We found out the reason a little while later as the lights dimmed (this would have been a bad time to be playing Tetris) and the missing choir members sung off stage. This was the second time I had seen an on/off stage interplay like that, and I guess you wouldn’t be able to experience that on CD.

I got an email from tsoundcheck saying that my tsoundcheck number had changed from my former, easy to remember, number to a new random combinations of other numbers. Does it not seem weird that they would update everyone’s membership number? Well I have the scoop.

A couple of weeks ago, when I went down to the box office to buy tickets, they scribbled on my orange tsoundcheck card my “TSO” number. I guess they keep track of everyone who has ever bought tickets for the TSO and assigned them a number so they can be hit up for donations later. Anyways, that number matches my new tsoundcheck number, so it seems like they’re just switching everyone over to the main TSO system. So there you have it. No conspiracies of tsoundcheck getting hacked and having to restore everyone from backups are necessary.

On Thursday, Victor, Peter, Ben, Harriet, and me met up after work for dinner at Sushi Time on Queen St W for a quick dinner and then it was off to Roy Thompson Hall for the TSO again. Yes, that’s the third time I’ve gone in the last month; I think this has turned into a hobby. Actually I lied, we didn’t go to listen to the TSO because they are on a 3-city tour. A couple of Canadian orchestras are doing city-exchanges so the night’s concert featured the National Arts Council’s Orchestra with Pinchas Zukerman conducting and playing the violin.

The program started with Bach’s (fourth?) Violin Concerto in E-Major. Apparently everyone was familiar with this piece except for me. I thought it was alright, and listening to it, I was thinking how close this piece was to the style of the Classical period. If you removed the harpsichord, it sounds like something the a court string quartet could be playing.

The next piece, Transfigured Night by Schoenberg was a clunker. No one liked this piece. I remember Schoenberg from my music education as being a contemporary composer experimenting with atonal and dissonant music. I was afraid that this piece would be in that style, but fortunately it was from the period before he went all inaccessible. However, I still didn’t really enjoy this performance because the source material was too Romantic (ultra-Romantic is an accurate term).

After an intermission (aside: why do we always walk down to the washrooms during intermission…and then walk back up), we heard Schumann’s fourth symphony. This was necessary for me to continue my symphony streak — I’ve heard a symphony at every TSO concert I’ve attended. I liked this piece, although it seemed like a 29-minute first movement. Apparently the basis for this symphony was a symphonic poem so all the source material was presented early.

I missed 3 important hockey games to attend this concert, so I was glad when the conductor came out and announced that the Senators had made it to the second round. The second thing that surprised me is that after the programme was complete, there was an encore of the Overture from Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro. Finally, a piece I am familiar with. Actually, in retrospect, I shouldn’t be surprised that there was an encore, because this was a touring orchestra, not the TSO.

I went to the TSO again on Saturday, this time to hear Mahler’s Symphony No. 2 “Resurrection”. I had never heard it before, now was I a fan of Mahler’s works. I think I had a record (yes, vinyl) of one of his compositions back in the day, which I didn’t like too much.

This time we tried a different strategy. Instead of buying tickets in advance, we showed up two hours early and bought tickets at the box office. But, unfortunately for us, we couldn’t get floor seats. Maybe it was because we went on a Saturday (last time was a Sunday) and there was more demand, but even the balcony seats were almost sold out by then.

We ended up with seats to the left of the orchestra, above the trumpets, trombones and bass singers (of the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir). For the orchestra enthusiast, these are probably the worst seats in the house; but for a budding aficionado of the TSO, it was pretty neat. I was almost behind the orchestra and could see them in action, including the crazy antics of the conductor. I suppose the sound suffered because the instruments were pointing away from me, but I can’t tell (yet?).

The piece itself was not so entertaining as I wasn’t familiar with it. It helped that the programme had a description of the piece, particularly when several percussion, trumpets, and french horn musicians quickly left the stage. They were to play, from off stage, a counter-orchestra to the main one; which to the casual observer would have been quite confusing!

In the back of my mind, I’ve been wanting to go see the Toronto Symphony Orchestra for awhile now; but also on the backburner was motivation to actually plan the event. I’ve only seen the TSO once in my life, which was in grade school so far back I can’t even remember when, who or why I went there. I *think* it may have been in grade 8 as part of band class, but I’m not sure. All I really remember was that we were sitting in a right angled corner, which seemed weird for a concert hall. Anyways, while surfing around on the TSO site, I saw an upcoming performance with a mildly interesting programme: Tovey Conducts Beethoven, so we went.

a Moulin RougeBut first, dinner. Pauline and I, Peter, Rishi, Horace, Janet, Nelson, Kitty, and the 2 Victors showed up, along with Ben who came to crash dinner but ended up getting tickets and staying. Rishi suggested the Brasserie Frisco. I had never been there before, but had almost went there with ZMP before being turned off it for some reason. So now I had second chance to try it out. The hostess sat us in the bar area, even though the place was dead (being a Sunday and early). That was the beginning of my bad impressions of the place. I had scheduled an hour and 45 minutes for dinner, which I thought would be sufficient given that people generally ran late. We ended up having to rush, because the food took awhile to arrive! I suppose the kitchen wasn’t expecting such a large group on a Sunday, although it wasn’t as long as the crazy waits at East Side’s. Pauline and I both ordered pastas, and they were both pretty bland; I would have ordered something more interesting but I didn’t really see anything special on their menu. Although Victor ordered a burger which looked pretty good in retrospect. Come time for the bill, we asked for it but it took like 15 minutes to arrive, even though the place was empty! On top of that, they charged us 2 extra mojito‘s that Ben ordered but they couldn’t make. So overall, it wasn’t a good experience at that restaurant. Although to be fair, we were an annoying table due to Rishi’s attempt to order a “fruity” drink, Peter’s questions about martini’s and coasters, and the waiter having to take Horace, Ben and Nelson’s food back into the kitchen to reheat as they were off buying tickets.

Off to Roy Thompson Hall. Ben realized that he couldn’t find his car keys so we had to split up for a bit. We retraced the steps that he took to/from RTH when they went to get tickets, but didn’t see his keys. Fortunately, Ben had locked them in his car, and also knew how to break into it. We made it to our seats just in time. We had to buy our tickets separately, which meant that we were all sitting in different locations. Nelson, Kitty, Ben, Rishi and Peter lucked out because they were sitting in the fourth row! in front of the Stephen Chatman, the composer of the first piece. Tovey spoke for a couple of minutes before the start of the concert, including a short interview with Chatman. Tovey was actually pretty engaging, not what I thought a conductor would be like; although the audience seemed to be on a laugh track because they laughed at every joke — no matter how corny.

The first piece, Over Thorns To Stars, was comissioned by the CBC to commemorate 9/11. It was arranged for strings and french horn from its original version. I thought this would be the weakest of the 3 pieces, but it was not that bad. I was amazed when the conductor raised his baton and the crowd became dead silent in anticipation; you could literally hear a pin drop. Then the strings came in with a beautiful, full sound, complete with overtones, that just can’t be duplicated in a recording. Wow. It sent shivers up my spine, it was that good.

The next piece was Beethoven’s fourth piano concerto. I am familiar with his 1st and 5th, and I am generally appreciative of Beethoven’s music since he was on the cusp of the Romantic era. Ironically, while Beethoven was the draw of the concert, it was the weakest piece in terms of entertainment. I found the first movement to be too much of a classical style for my tastes, although the second and third movements were better.

After the intermission, the crew up front got tired of looking at the musician’s feet so they moved up with us. An organ was brought out on stage for Saint-Saëns’ “Organ Symphony”. This was the most entertaining piece, and featured a (full?) brass section, dual pianists and various percussion instruments. It was actually a bit weird because aside form the timpani, the percussions instruments were used very sparingly, so they spent most of the piece sitting around looking bored. The organ was quite grand, and again an effect that you can only appreciate live.

I tried to locate where I was sitting when I came as a school kid, but I couldn’t quite remember. Roy Thompson Hall is actually smaller than I thought it would be, maybe even smaller than the George Weston Hall at the Toronto Performing Arts Centre. But it was a good experience, and I wouldn’t mind going to the TSO regularly.