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Ludwig Van
Toronto Montreal

SCRUTINY | Stars Align For Toronto Symphony Season Launch

By John Terauds on September 20, 2017

Composer Mychael Danna and TSO Music Director Peter Oundjian introduce the world premiere of an orchestral suite based on the soundtrack of the movie The Life of Pi (Photo: Jag Gundu)
Composer Mychael Danna and TSO Music Director Peter Oundjian introduce the world premiere of an orchestral suite based on the soundtrack of the movie The Life of Pi (Photo: Jag Gundu)

Toronto Symphony Orchestra, Peter Oundjian, conductor. James Ehnes, violin. Roy Thomson Hall. Sept. 19.

Peter Oundjian launched his 14th and final season as music director of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra at Roy Thomson Hall on Tuesday night with verve and panache. Fourteen years may be a long time, but he and the orchestra are wearing them very well.

The program was a blend of the new and old, with all aspects of it offering something to satisfy the heart, mind and ears.

The headlining work was the world premiere of an orchestral suite based on the soundtrack of the movie The Life of Pi, by Mychael Danna, an ex-pat Torontonian who has made an enviable reputation for himself as a film composer.

His 20-minute score captured the essence of the movie’s magic, while also showing us how cultural fusion can successfully happen in the most traditional of classical forms. Few contemporary movie soundtracks have the breadth of form to sustain attention over 20 minutes. When their composers try to stitch the musical themes together for a recording or concert piece, they rarely display an emotional arc or a descriptive narrative. Danna’s Life of Pi is a wonderful exception, as are the very different scores of John Williams, which get their own showcase in the first of this season’s TSO pops concerts/

Oundjian conducted Danna’s score with assurance and grace, joined by a quartet of soloists that included Indian singer Bombay Jayashri, percussionist V. Selvaganesh and accordionist Joe Macerollo. The visitors were miked sensitively, allowing Jayashri to focus on the expressive beauty of her voice. The opening lullaby was mesmerizing, and it was great to hear one written with seven beats to the measure, as opposed to the Western standard of three.

After the requisite season-opening singing of the National Anthem, the evening began with the Toronto premiere of Élan by Acadia University-based composer and flute player Derek Charke. The engagingly energetic work joined the growing list of “Sesquies,” two-minute fanfares co-commissioned by the TSO in honour of Canada’s 150th.

The evening’s energetic theme was bookended with Igor Stravinsky’s 1919 version of the Suite from the ballet The Firebird, premiered in 1910. Music director Peter Oundjian led a tight, nuanced performance that caressed the audience one minute, and tried to blow the roof off the auditorium the next.

Violinist James Ehnes performs Ernest Chausson’s Op. 25 Poème for solo violin. (Photo: Jag Gundu)
Violinist James Ehnes performs Ernest Chausson’s Op. 25 Poème for solo violin with the TSO. (Photo: Jag Gundu)

Violinist James Ehnes showed off his many-layered skills in two French works: Ernest Chausson’s Op. 25 Poème for solo violin and orchestra, from 1896, and the ever-popular Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso for violin and orchestra, written in 1863 by Camille Saint- Saëns.

Ehnes always makes the music look so easy, even in the devilish virtuoso turns that both composers offer the soloist. I almost expected to see smoke coming from his Old Master violin at the end of the Saint-Saëns piece.

Oundjian talked up Chausson’s Poème, but the piece, inspired by Lisztian and Wagnerian ideals of conveying pure emotion in music without another descriptive agenda, would be a leaden, turgid affair without the virtuosic eruptions from the solo violin. The first one demands brain surgeon-like bowing technique, which Ennis demonstrated while still projecting the music into the auditorium.

Pianist Jan Lisiecki joins James Ehnes and the TSO for a surprise encore. (Photo: Jag Gundu)
Pianist Jan Lisiecki joins James Ehnes and the TSO for a surprise encore. (Photo: Jag Gundu)

Instead of offering up a solo encore, Ehnes called young Canadian piano star Jan Lisiecki from the audience up to the stage to play a high-energy Slavonic Dance by Antonin Dvořák.

The audience loved it as much as the performers appeared to — which is something that could be said for the evening as a whole. It’s a heartening way to start a new music season in the city.

#LUDWIGVAN

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John Terauds

John Terauds

John Terauds, the founder of Musical Toronto, is currently a Divinity student at University of Toronto and a church music director. He joined the Toronto Star in 1988, was the classical music critic from 2005 to 2012, and continues as a freelance critic for the paper. He is the co-author of Roy Thomson Hall: A Portrait, a book written with Toronto Star Colleague, William Littler.
John Terauds
John Terauds

John Terauds

John Terauds, the founder of Musical Toronto, is currently a Divinity student at University of Toronto and a church music director. He joined the Toronto Star in 1988, was the classical music critic from 2005 to 2012, and continues as a freelance critic for the paper. He is the co-author of Roy Thomson Hall: A Portrait, a book written with Toronto Star Colleague, William Littler.
John Terauds
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