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Ludwig Van
Toronto Montreal

CHECK IN | Is Urbański Still A TSO Maybe?

By Arthur Kaptainis on April 21, 2018

Krzysztof Urbański (Photo: Marco Borggreve)
Krzysztof Urbański (Photo: Marco Borggreve)

The Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra at the Kennedy Center in Washington: This surely ranks high among the events your average Canadian music-lover does not want to read about. But given that ISO sounded impressive last week in a challenging program of Lutosławski (Cello Concerto) and Penderecki (Credo) under a certain Krzysztof Urbański, the concert might be worth a footnote.

Some will recall a pair of guest gigs with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra by this young-looking Pole, now 35. The Ludwig Van review of the 2016 visit declared Urbański a credible candidate for the TSO throne (which will be vacated in a matter of months by Peter Oundjian). This, of course, was not long after the departure of CEO Jeff Melanson, a fiasco that did nothing to accelerate the TSO search for a new music director.

Noted for his balletics back then, Urbański showed a similar athletic flair in Orawa, a kind of minimalist slavonic dance by the Polish film composer Wojciech Kilar. At one point the conductor stepped from the podium to the rostrum that had been set up for cellist Alisa Weilerstein (who went on to play the demanding Lutosławski score of 1970 with much conviction).

The Penderecki after intermission involved warm, coherent strings, a big chorus, an impressive quintet of vocal soloists and many heartfelt Mahlerian instrumental solos, some issuing forth from the upper balconies. Urbański and his charges found the depth of this devout and neo-romantic score of 1998.

All of which is to say that this conductor looks like someone who, after seven years in Indianapolis, will be examined closely by other orchestras. Nothing in Urbański’s website biography suggests commitments other than principal guest conductor of the NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchestra in Hamburg (where Alan Gilbert is installed as chief conductor). Last year Urbański told Kyle MacMillan, writing for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, that he was relatively indifferent to the vicissitudes of career. (“…What’s going to happen is going to happen.”)

It would be easier to believe in Urbański as a TSO candidate if Sir Andrew Davis were not locked in for 2018-19 and the following season. Some musicians might be chilled by the housecleaning the young conductor undertook in Indianapolis. Who wants a boss who is apt to fire you? But the TSO is not in need of laundry services. And the ISO in 2018 is clearly in good shape.

The SHIFT festival was co-presented by the Kennedy Center and Washington Performing Arts. Also on the SHIFT docket was the National Symphony Orchestra, which sounded distinctly so-so on April 14 (the day after Indianapolis) under Gianandrea Noseda, a conductor once rumoured to be on Toronto’s dance card. A single concert (combining Stravinsky’s Pulcinella and garish transcriptions of Balakirev’s Islamey and solo piano works by Rachmaninoff) might not be much to go on, but Urbański struck me as the more inspiring conductor.

Arthur Kaptainis

Arthur Kaptainis

Arthur Kaptainis has been the classical music critic of the Montreal Gazette since 1986 and wrote for the National Post 2010-2016. His articles have appeared in Classical Voice North America and La Scena Musicale as well as Ludwig Van. Arthur holds an MA in musicology from the University of Toronto.
Arthur Kaptainis
Arthur Kaptainis

Arthur Kaptainis

Arthur Kaptainis has been the classical music critic of the Montreal Gazette since 1986 and wrote for the National Post 2010-2016. His articles have appeared in Classical Voice North America and La Scena Musicale as well as Ludwig Van. Arthur holds an MA in musicology from the University of Toronto.
Arthur Kaptainis
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