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SCRUTINY | TSM Double Bill A Complete Experience For The Senses

By Jennifer Liu on August 5, 2017

Last Night of the Festival, Eh! (Photo: Jennifer Liu)
Last Night of the Festival, Eh! (Photo: Jennifer Liu)

Last Night of the Festival, Eh! Emily D’Angelo, mezzo-soprano; Kerson Leong, violin; National Academy Orchestra of Canada; Roï Azoulay, conducting fellow; Boris Brott, conductor. Toronto Summer Music Festival, Koerner Hall. August 4, 7 p.m.

TSM Late Night Encore. Emily D’Angelo, mezzo-soprano; Jonathan Crow, violin; Boson Mo, violin; Emily Eng, viola; Nicholas Denton-Protsack, cello; Kathryn Tremills, piano. Toronto Summer Music Festival, Koerner Hall. August 4, 10:30 p.m.

In music circles, there is much discussion about how to expand the classical concert culture to keep up with shifting listener trends. Viewed at a glance, the programme proposed last night by Toronto Summer Music was a multisensory experience whose innovative elements ought to be retained for future editions.

The first concert, Last Night of the Festival, Eh!, began in good taste, as the audience dipped into chocolates paired specifically with Maxime Goulet’s Symphonic Chocolates: Orchestral Sweets in Four Flavours. For a piece which was born out of the composer’s trip to a chocolate shop, the degustation did well to heighten the moods clearly articulated by Goulet and delivered “true to life” by the National Academy Orchestra of Canada.

The second half of the concert, however, raised questions about programming decisions: for one, violinist Kerson Leong and mezzo-soprano Emily D’Angelo seemed out of place in short selections that merely permitted a limited range of their musical expression. Both are young and are in the thick of active performance career development—in her case, at the Metropolitan Opera; in his, under Augustin Dumay’s mentorship and performing on a Guarneri violin. In short, their performances last night of miniatures like Salut d’Amour and “Villanelle” (from Berlioz’s Les nuits d’été) should have been left for encore performances in wholesome classical concerts, or as part of a complete song cycle.

Canada’s big birthday year continues to raise talking points of reconciliation with diverse peoples. Within this historico-cultural context, the inclusion of certain British patriotic songs with lyrics such as “The nations, not so blest as thee / Must in their turn, to tyrants fall… While thou shalt flourish, shalt flourish great and free / The dread and envy of them all” proposed an old view of nationalism, entrenched in a colonial mindset which is not representative of the young members in the National Academy Orchestra of Canada. While the inclusion of British patriotic songs was justified in TSM’s London Calling theme from last year, the Festival would do well to continue seeking Canadian elements while being more sensitive towards socio-political references.

TSM Late Night Encore (Photo: Jennifer Liu)
TSM Late Night Encore (Photo: Jennifer Liu)

After a rousing display of patriotism, Koerner Hall regained an intimate focus for the 10:30 p.m. TSM Late Night Encore performances of Schubert’s Death and the Maiden—first in its piano-vocal arrangement, then the complete quartet for strings. Pairing Emily D’Angelo and pianist Kathryn Tremills with violinist Jonathan Crow and fellows of the TSM Chamber Music Institute, its unfolding was a testament to the strength of the mentor-fellow bonds at the festival. While the quartet members erupted into a fireball of a start, the musical cohesion loosened by a horsehair as the performance continued, as players settled into their respective roles of mentor vs disciple. As would be the case in any elder-disciple partnership, contours set in motion by the lead musician risk wearing thin if not picked up seamlessly by others in the quartet. It was evident that all were listening attentively to each other, but at the elite level, musicians need to assume ownership of their toolkit (technical proficiency, knowledge of music history and performance practice, etc.) and dare to manipulate the ensemble’s ideas in-performance, and finally to commit to said musical ideas to the end.

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