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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.

When I get lazy with blogging, I just post links to some neat stuff around the web:

When I start planning a trip in North America, I do a quick search of the city’s symphony orchestra site. Every single one of them has some under-30 program to get cheap tickets. The fact that ever orchestra has one indicates that there is some student-program flu going around amongst the music directors or there is some systematic reason that the under-30 demographic need to be targeted. As you may expect, it’s the latter!

I think that most people know that there is little interest in Classical music amongst the young people. And if people aren’t interested, they’re not going to shell out $40 – $100 for a ticket now, or later. In the past, people have grown into liking Classical music. I guess they spend too much time at the dentist or waiting on the phone. I always thought that the student programs aim to hasten the movement and get patrons paying the real ticket fees sooner. But maybe that isn’t even the case. The New Yorker published the results of a survey which found that Generation X-ers were not starting to attend to the classical performances even though previous generations eventually did.

Of course it’s too soon to tell, maybe Gen Xers need to get older before they start peaking (some generations peaked in their 70s!), but some how I doubt it. There are too many distractions in this age to fragment our attention and the orchestra will find it difficult to maintain a consistent turnout regardless of whether they “hook” us early.

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?

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.

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.

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.