Music at the Movies – Orchestre FILMharmonique, Francis Choinière, conductor. Roy Thomson Hall, Feb. 10, 2023.
Founded in 2015, the Montreal-based Orchestre FILMharmonique has been performing regularly in Place des Arts’ Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier, presenting programs of musical gems from the movies. It includes music composed solely for film, as well as classical music used in movie soundtracks.
This Orchestra fills a niche in concert programming by offering an alternative for those classical music buffs looking for the occasional lighter fare, yours truly included. After all, a steady diet of Mahler and Bruckner, however wonderful, does get a tad dreary — and I am only half joking…
Lest you think Orchestre FILMharmonique is a bit of a lightweight, think again. There is no compromise on the quality of its product. Based on the performance last evening, it’s a group of top class professional musicians playing at a very high level. Its principal conductor is 25-year-old Francis Choinière, who has won numerous awards, including being chosen by CBC as one of the “30 Hot Classical Musicians Under 30.”
He certainly lived up to the media hype last evening, both inside and out. I am referring to his appearing in the most flamboyant concert outfit I’ve seen on a symphony conductor. But more importantly, his conducting demonstrated in no uncertain terms that he is a musician of inner substance. He led the primarily string orchestra (plus a piano) with elegance, precision and flair, coaxing gorgeous sounds from the group of approximately 35 musicians.
They presented a substantial and attractive program, with plenty of chestnuts by famous film composers like Ennio Morricone, Henry Mancini, and John Williams. There was also Canadian content to be sure, with works by the prolific film composer Howard Shore, as well as two pieces by Francois Dompierre, who has recorded with OF. The program also included well known pieces by Massenet, Rachmaninoff, and Arvo Pärt.
I was particularly impressed by the Meditation from Massenet’s Thais, a guaranteed showstopper. The violin solo, played with ethereal beauty by Concertmaster Guillaume Villeneuve, was a complete delight. And, to top it off, an unannounced item was inserted into the printed program, and it turned out to be my desert island piece, the theme from Schindler’s List by John Williams. The playing of concertmaster Mr. Villeneuve was so beautiful that I had a lump in my throat.
The formal part of the evening ended with Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini — a perfect, and perfectly familiar — piece to bring the evening to a close. By then, the audience was cheering lustily, with repeated ovations. Choinière and the Orchestra offered a couple of encores, the names of which have since escaped my superannuated brain, but I do recall enjoying them.
It was a respectable crowd at Roy Thomson Hall, but far from full. I do hope Orchestre FILMharmonique will return to Toronto in the future. For those who missed the concert and are curious, OF can be found on YouTube here.
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