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I was in between American Express cards for awhile, but I got a new one just in time earlier this year to secure Front-of-the-line tickets to this year’s (or may be it was last year?) Coldplay tour. I then filed it in my calendar and promptly forgot about it until this week when they played the first of two nights at the ACC.

Mylo Xyloto was an ok album. I really liked the Every Teardrop is a Waterfall (#1 on my 2011 list) but the rest of the songs were only average. So I wasn’t really excited about the concert; but the good thing about Coldplay now is that they have a solid back catalog of hits – their concert ended up being about half the songs from Mylo Xyloto and then all their hits.

We got there a bit early, and caught both parts of both openers. We heard a few songs by Emile Sandé of which the last “hit” I had heard before (Next To Me). But I had never heard of the second opener, Maria and the Diamonds, before. She frankly sucked as it was mostly upbeat and weird pop music. I’m not sure why she was an opener, because I don’t think the (starting to age) fans of Coldplay enjoyed or will be interested in Alice Deejay-esque dance music.

Then Coldplay hit the big stage with their ~20 song set. They put on a show (lots of things in the air, and everyone was part of the concert with Christmas light wrist bands) and I can’t say that it was bad, but it wasn’t that great either. It really felt like Chris Martin was dialing it in, and his shout outs to the crowd were horrible (that was to be their “best” concert for the “best” fans). In fact, I think the only moments when he was sincere was the two times he messed up. I can’t really blame him though, after touring so many times and 75% through the current tour.

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.

I bought tickets to see Journey and some others earlier this year. It’s the same sort of “deal” which we used to see Rihanna and Ke$ha last year, although a bit more expensive ($22.11 this year). We missed the Glee concert, so this is probably the next best thing? (Although I only know like 4 Journey songs, and 1 Foreigner song…)

We showed up around 8 and missed all of Night Ranger which was by plan since we have no idea who they were. By then Foreigner was into their set. Fortunately, they played the one song I know, I Want To Know What Love Is later so I still heard that!

For $20, we got lawn seats as this was a popular (and sold-out) concert. However, instead of the lawn we were able to get a spot on the wall at the 400s. That was fortunate because by the time we arrived the lawn was full; and it had rained heavily earlier in the day so I don’t know if sitting on the lawn would have been a good idea.

Journey came on and played about 15 songs (I don’t think they played their full set list) which was good because it was pretty boring. One reason was because I didn’t know many of their songs, and neither did the crowd. The energy was really low for the whole show (even for Foreigner’s hits). There was only excitement for Wheel in the Sky, Don’t Stop Believin’ (last song), and Any Way You Want It (first song on encore). Second reason, and maybe personal, is because the lead singer of Journey is “new”. He joined the band in 2007 and is from the Philippines (which they mentioned a few times). It just seems weird that a Classic Rock band doesn’t have a white front man. Instead, it’s almost like watching a Journey cover band…covering itself.

I remember opera from my music history days – that I didn’t enjoy it very much. The singing didn’t seem natural (although it’s not like auto-tuned singing is really that natural nowadays) and it just didn’t sound too good. But I’ve never been to an opera live, so maybe it was different hearing it in person.

We’re also turning 31 soon, so we were running out of time to take advantage of the Canadian Opera Company’s Opera for a New Age program (kind of like tsoundcheck but for Opera). We solved both of these problems on Monday by going to hear Death in Vegas.

The reason we decided to go now was because there was a good deal where you could get any seat in the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts for the $22 Opera for a New Age price. We scored seats on the Orchestra level.

We’ve been in the Four Seasons Centre before, I don’t remember quite for what but it was probably a free concert (maybe it was a Doors Open thing) but we had never been in the R Fraser Elliot Hall. It is very nice and much better than Roy Thompson Hall. The seats are wide and comfortable, and there was more than enough legroom. That was important because the opera was a snoozer. The music wasn’t interesting and it felt like the pacing was super slow (maybe I’m just used to TV show pacing now). It didn’t help that I read about the story on Wikipedia beforehand, then heard it at the Opera Talk before the show, then read it in the program, so I knew what was supposed to happen.

The story itself is actually quite interesting. There is a constant order vs chaos theme, and the structure of the story is well done with foreshadowing and thematic parallels. It would do well in English class.

Here’s the Globe’s review and the Toronto Star’s review

Lexus put on an event over the weekend to promote their upcoming hybrid, the CT 200h (I think that’s the right combination of letters). It was held at the Distillery District and featured free concerts by a few somewhat known bands.

I didn’t hear about the event until Friday morning on the radio, when they said that The Stills will be performing for free. I never got around to seeing The Stills in concert, so we went down to see them.

There was conflicting information as to whether they started at 7PM or 8PM. So we arrived around 7:30 which ended up being halfway through their set. The played maybe 7 songs after we arrived, none of which I heard of before! Then I realized, that I learned about them and listened to their debut album way back in 2005. That was 5 years ago! And at that time, their album was already 2 years old! I haven’t listened to their newer albums, so it’s no surprise that I didn’t know their songs.

I think the event was lame. The crowd on Friday night was pretty sparse (although maybe Lexus expected a higher conversion rate from the more upscale audience). The Stills had no energy, and seemed to be just phoning it in. Lexus put together a couple of booths with information about their new car. Their hook was that you could win a new iPad, by playing a couple of activities on iPads. The activities were VERY lame. On one, you could superimpose your mugshot on a picture of the car. On another, you could sketch out a path within Toronto you wanted to travel upon, and a third one you could watch videos of the car in action.

Perhaps Lexus wasn’t expecting a technically savant crowd, and expected that the audience would be impressed by the use of an iPad. For me, the apps showed a lack of thought in creating an engaging activity that I would spread the word about. Although, in retrospect I guess they succeed since they get my criticism.

I’m not a big fan of Rihanna or Ke$ha , but when I saw a deal for $19.11 tickets to their show, I bought them anyways! Rihanna is an A-Lister right now (either her or Beyonce would be my pick for the most popular female artist right now) and Ke$ha is quite popular too, so to see both of them for not-yet-made-it-big indie prices is a RFD Hot Deal steal.

My $20 got me lawn seats. It didn’t rain, but they were very very far away (and we were at the front of the lawn too). You can’t make out anyone on the stage so you had to watch the screens. I don’t know if I would go to see another concert from the lawn at the Molson Amphitheatre again. But I can’t complain too much about tickets that cost less than parking…

Ke$ha was the opener, and even though she has blown up the charts this year, it felt like she was just your typical opener. We arrived a bit late so didn’t get to hear Blah Blah Blah, but the crowd only really got into it when she sang Your Love Is My Drug and Tik Tok.

And when I say get into it, I mean REALLY get into it. The crowd was about 95% white teen girls who would do a group karaoke whenever there was a song they knew the words too. They did this throughout the concert, and because we were so far away, the crowd singing constantly drowned out Rihanna/Ke$ha. I don’t know if that is conducive for the atmosphere though, on the one hand it is fun from a mob mentality point of view, but from where I was I couldn’t see or hear what was going on!

Rihanna actually has a lot of hits and she ran through them. I never realized, but she has a lot of songs where she only carries the melody and a male rapper does the rest (i.e., Umbrella, Run This Town, Hate That I Love You, Live Your Life, Love The Way You Lie) so she only sang bits and pieces of those songs. The best part of the concert I think was a medley she strung together with Love The Way You Lie, a cover of B.o.B.’s Airplanes (singing Hayley William’s part) and then Hate That I Love You. I was disappointed she didn’t cover Oasis’ Wonderwall for us though.

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.

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).

On Friday, we met up with Peter for dinner at Jack Astor’s down on Front St and it was like going to a Kylie concert because they had a bunch of Kylie hits on heavy rotation. That was rather premature because in fact we were going to the Kylie concert at the ACC after that! Kylie was touring as part of her For You, For Me tour which is Kylie’s first ever North American tour (and Friday was her first time performing in Canada). Suprisingly, this tour only visits 6 cities (with Toronto being the only Canadian stop) and has only 9 dates! Seems like a waste to choreograph an intricate show for such a short tour, but I’m not complaining.

Believe it or not, this was my first ever “pop” concert. I’ve seen lots of rock bands and such, where they walk around the stage playing instruments; but this was my very first Michael Jackson-esque entertainer spectacle. I was worried that we would see lots of lip synching and dancing, but surprisingly I was wrong on both accounts.

I think Kylie was singing live because her mic was a little unbalanced (too loud), and you can really hear a lack of vocal volume control when she punches through the high notes. Not that that’s a bad thing, live is great. The music was live too, including a brass band that came out for some songs. That’s such an odd thing to say for a pop concert.

But unlike Britney et al, she didn’t dance at all! She kind of just sashayed around the stage with her microexpressions on display on two very clear TVs to the side of the stage. In fact, it was a lot like a Celine Dion concert except there was a lot of disco and dancing GLBT in the audience.

Since I had seen the wiki page, I knew exactly what the setlist would be. That is good and bad, it ruins the surprise (especially interesting samples such as Madonna’s Vogue) but I knew exactly when to record the songs I liked. Even with that knowledge were still a couple of pleasant surprises. Instead of the dated original mix of Loco-motion she performed a cabaret version of it in Christina Aguilera style.

Then for the encore, she played a faux game of hmm what song should I sing for you guys. Well I could have done a Babe Ruth and called it but she surprised us on the last song. There was a request from the crowd for Your Disco Needs You since it contained some lyrics in French (and you know all Canadians are frenchies) and after some discussion with the band she actually sang it before finishing with Love at First Sight! Well it wasn’t entirely a surprise for the people that requested it because they knew she had it prepared after performing it a few nights ago in Chicago.

The only bad thing was that we were sitting quite far away which was a balance between Ticketmaster’s exorbitant fees and actually going to the show. We were able to watch close-ups using the TVs, but I was wondering whether it would be worth it to pay more to be in the first 10 rows and get a great view. Which kind of makes me want to just be able to buy a DVD of the tour.

A lot of the Canada Day activities were cancelled in Toronto but fortunately for us, there was one in our backyard! This was the first time we’ve actually walked around the city hall area and we’ve been living here for a year! There were activities all day, but we just showed up after dinner to watch Kreesha Turner. You may remember Kreesha Turner from hearing Don’t Call Me Baby on the radio, but what you may not know is that she’s part Chinese (and in away she’s a lot like Kristen Kreuk). We went to support the Chinese! (Ok, I just learned this now when I looked her up)

The concert wasn’t that great (her non-hits are pretty boring) but she was really promoting herself with new generation techniques. She name dropped her Twitter and filmed us on her Flip to be posted on to YouTube (we were right front and centre so hopefully we’ll be visible).

I bought a star filter a few weeks ago, and was trying it out. It kind of sucks in that you have to manually turn the filter so that the crosses are angled correctly. I thought it would be cool to take pictures of the fireworks so that they’re all stars, but in reality the filter doesn’t work like that. It needs some level of light in order to do the crosses, but if there’s too much light, it just gets messed up (see above).

For the fireworks, instead of fighting with the crowd, we headed up to the 38th floor of our building. I thought it would be cooler with a different perspective, but it wasn’t as neat as I thought it would be.

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.

I saw the Go! Team last year, but when I heard that they were coming to town again a few months ago, I bought tickets for them right away. It wasn’t so much that there concert last year was really great, but because their support was CSS! Two of the bands I’ve been listening to lately on the same bill? I’m so there. The only problem was that the date was August 5th, which is kind of when I was supposed to be on honeymoon. Fortunately, we hadn’t booked any flights yet, so we were able to delay going on our honeymoon until after the concert!

The concert was tonight, and it wasn’t as great as I thought it would be. There were actually 4 bands that night, but we arrived just in time to see CSS get on stage. I was a bit disappointed in their set for two reasons: 1) the sound wasn’t that great (it seemed too loud), and 2) they played every other good song except Patins!!

The Go! Team was also a bit of a disappointment (although it would be hard to top the previous concert). They had sound problems in the first half of the set, so the balance between the instruments were off to a point where I didn’t recognize some of the songs until their hooks. There also wasn’t enough energy on the part of the crowd to really get the place jumping. There was vibration but no standing wave effect.

I was catching up on my feeds last Thursday when I came upon a blog about the Beats, Breaks and Culture festival down at the Harbourfront this weekend. What caught my eye was a free concert by Ladytron on Friday night. I have their second latest album, Witching Hour and enjoy it – perhaps not as much as other electronic artists, but they are not bad.

What I realized though, through their almost hour-and-a-half set, was that their music is great in the background, but it’s not as interesting when it’s the star attraction. They played a couple of tracks from their latest album, Velocifero, but those songs were not as catchy as their previous hits. The concert wasn’t as fun as I thought, partly because Ladytron has absolutely no energy and the crowd wasn’t really into it either, but at least it was free!

I was looking over concert listings last weekend and noticed that Lykke Li (with El Perro Del Mar and Anna Ternheim) was coming to the Mod Club on Sunday. Fortunately for me, tickets weren’t sold out so Peter and I went.

I found out about Lykke Li on a music blog I subscribe to. She’s a female Swedish pop artist with a high-ish voice, and one of several Scandinavian pop singers who I have started to hear about in recent years (see also: Annie). I’ve put Little Bit on my latest compilation CD and have been enjoying that song, but I didn’t know much about the other two artists; although I did burn the latest El Perro Del Mar and listened to it in the car this week: it’s slow and moody and not really that interesting to me.

Since Lykke Li only has one CD (not even, in North American she’s only released an EP), her set was pretty short and I actually remembered set list. She came in with Melodies Desires in the background and immediately started with Dance Dance Dance, followed by Let It Fall. Then El Perro Del Mar came out to do a duet for My. This was followed by an energetic combo of three songs to end, Little Bit, Breaking It Up and I’m Good, I’m Gone. She also came out for an encore, doing Tonight, which you can download for free on her website (check under Secret Chapter). I video’d Little Bit, although the sound quality is ass. I need to find some way to limit the pickup of the mic.

Of all her songs, I like I’m Good, I’m Gone the best. It has a really catchy and driving beat — best played at high volume; which makes this acoustic/minimalist version of the song even more cool and cute:

Canadians were apparently a large proponent of Earth Hour and I played my part by turning out all the lights I could around me during the hour. Luckily for me, I wasn’t at home so the task was actually pretty easy. I couldn’t turn off any lights around me! Instead, I went to the Earth Hour celebration at Nathan Phillips Square. I didn’t actually go to support Earth Hour, but because Nelly Furtado was giving a free concert. There was a general confusion about the event because the start time kept changing and the performers kept shifting. The event was supposed to start at 6:45 but we arrived at the start of Earth Hour since apparently the main performers would only be on starting 8PM.

We actually arrived a bit late, because prior to this we went to have dinner at Salad King. I don’t know why I am (was) so favorable towards Salad King, but literally half the times I want to go there, it’s closed. The other half of the time, there’s a huge wait. For example, it took us over an hour to get a table for 7.

The concert was pretty lame. First, there were a huge number of people there, and we couldn’t get past the skating rink. Even there, we couldn’t see anything. Secondly, there were absolutely no lights save the stage. This is in keeping with Earth Hour, but if you can’t see the stage, then you can’t see anything in the dark. Lastly, Nelly Furtado only sang two songs – Say It Right and I’m Like A Bird, but apparently we missed Turn Out The Light which kicked off the event. The Philosopher Kings and Fefe Dobson were there, but it’s pretty boring when all you can see are black shadows moving about.

After the concert, we headed up to Victor’s place for his party. There was a lot of Smash playing, but the rest of us “social” people had a good time I think.

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.

Last Friday, I went to see Jose Gonzalez at the Mod Club. Jose Gonzalez is a Swedish folk guitarist (I know! I was surprised too that there are people in Sweden that don’t make ABBA-music) who is probably best known for doing some of the vocals on recent Zero 7 albums (at least that’s where I knew him). I saw him perform with Zero 7 a few years back at VFest (he also had a solo set but I was watching something else at the time).

The show was 19+ and an early show. An early show is generally good, because I would get home at a reasonable time for work the next day, but being schedule for a Friday, it didn’t make a difference. A 19+ show was good too, because there wouldn’t be teenage kids bouncing off the walls, although his music is much too laid back for that sort of thing. The concert consisted of Gonzalez sitting alone on the stage (no backing band), playing acoustic guitar with a single spotlight shining on him. So as you can tell it was a low-key and mellow affair. We had a nice view as we scored a balcony spot off to the side.

It wasn’t bad but couldn’t say it’s great because I wasn’t really into the music. I like my shows to have more energy. The opener, Cass McComb was even worse. His two bandmates, playing guitar and drums, looked as if they were stoned or were robots. There was also a lot of conversation during the concert, not from the bands though; McComb said nothing (!) to the crowd, and Gonzalez just said a couple of Hi-s and Thank You-s, but the crowd kept chatting so there was a indistinct but constant drone of conversation to the point that people in the audience were yelling Shh.

Gonzalez played for about an hour, with a three-song encore at the end and was all done by 9:30. It was short, but cheap, so I didn’t mind spending my time there.

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.

Several months ago, I downloaded a Go! Team single from iTunes as part of the Facebook Samplers. Junior Kickstart was a good instrumental track with a catchy melody and was my introduction to this band, whose style Wikipedia describes as “a mixture of action theme songs, cheerleader chants, guitars and early hip hop, with a hint of ’70s funk”.

Fast forward to about a month ago, and Ian recommends to me to download their new album Proof of Youth, which I did. I took a listen, but for some reason everything sounded lossy, as if it was a not-so-good MP3-encoding. Rather than re-download the whole thing, I went out and bought their album. That is the best DRM ever.

The Go! Team, in my opinion, is what Arcade Fire should be — a high-energy band with fun, catchy melodies. I’m kind of disappointed with Arcade Fire, because even with all the hype, they write really depressing songs which kinds of puts a hamper on their performance regardless of the tempo and drumming. The Go! Team is something that you can listen to when you want to feel pumped and excited about something.

Last night, I went with Ian and a couple of his friends to the Phoenix to see Go! Team. Originally the show was supposed to be on Hallowe’en at the Opera House, which would have been amazingly cool, but for unknown reasons it was moved. Actually, I didn’t know the date had changed until I asked what was happening on Wednesday, and Ian was like uhhh it’s not on Wednesday anymore. Good to know, because I had wanted to go to St John Passion last night too.

The tickets said 8, we arrived on time and scored great seats on the balcony which was direct centre to the stage. At something like 9:20, Spiral Beach came on and played their set. These guys (and 1 girl) looked like they were still in high school! I didn’t like their music, but apparently many in the crowd were familiar with them and liked it. I guess it was because they too were young (all-ages show), because when we left our seats to go down to the front of the stage for Go! Team we really felt out of place.

I also noticed a lot of Asian people, which was weird because usually at these events I stick out like a sore thumb (because I too am an Asian). The reason was clear when Go! Team came on stage at about 10:30, because there were two Japanese people in the band. There were also a couple of generic guys on guitar and “Ninja” was the lead vocalist. I thought the performance was great, and for the most part it was due to Ninja. She didn’t seem too effective at working the crowd, but it sounded amazing when she did her fast raps (much more effective live than the muted version on the disc) and her dancing represented the energy of the band.

They played a mixture of songs from their first and second albums, I could tell because I only know Junior Kickstart from their first one; and switched up the instruments quite a bit. One thing that I found severely lacking was that there was never anyone on synths/samples (or trumpets). Their music is heavy with samples (and trumpets) which just seemed to magically appear at the right time. Instead they had 3 or 4 guitars and 2 drum kits. I don’t even know what the guitars were doing half the time. One of the Japanese girls also had a couple of songs, but I found them weak mostly because she seemed shy and unsure of herself. She definitely didn’t have the stage presence of Ninja. Ninja was able to get the crowd into it, and combined with the high-energy music, the place was shaking. Literally. The floor was shaking as everyone was jumping in time with the music and a couple of thoughts went through my head:

  1. Hmm…this is what an earthquake feels like.
  2. Is concrete really supposed to go up and down like this?
  3. I hope this isn’t a standing wave…

Fortunately the floor didn’t collapse and I made it out alive to tell you about what a great show it was!