March 26, 2007
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.
But 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.