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THE SCOOP | Toronto Symphony Orchestra’s New Recording Partnership With Hamonia Mundi Bears Fruit February 2, 2024

By Anya Wassenberg on November 16, 2023

Marc-André Hamelin performs as Gustavo Gimenso conducts the Toronto Symphony Orchestra in Olivier Messiaen's Turangalîla-Symphonie (Photo: Jag Gundu)
Marc-André Hamelin performs as Gustavo Gimenso conducts the Toronto Symphony Orchestra in Olivier Messiaen’s Turangalîla-Symphonie (Photo: Jag Gundu)

The Toronto Symphony orchestra has announced the signing of a new long-term recording partnership with independent label Harmonia Mundi. The deal represents the company’s first major agreement with an orchestra based in North America.

The first recording to launch the multi-disc agreement will be of Olivier Messiaen’s Turangalîla-Symphonie. That release will drop on February 2, 2024.

The next two recordings under the agreement have already been planned. They include Stravinsky’s ballet Pulcinella (together with a work by Canadian composer Kelly-Marie Murphy), and The Miraculous Mandarin (together with a work by Canadian composer Emilie LeBel). The Stravinsky/Murphy album will be recorded this season, and the Bartók/LeBel recordings during the next (2024/25).

“The Toronto Symphony Orchestra is very excited to be the first North American orchestra to partner with Harmonia Mundi. The inaugural recording of this partnership — the Turangalîla-Symphonie, among the greatest compositions of the 20th century — reflects the ebullient energy of today’s Toronto Symphony under the exceptional musical leadership of Gustavo Gimeno, while paying homage to our storied history,” said Beck Family CEO, Mark Williams.

The TSO has a distinguished recording catalogue of just under 100 titles that dates back to 1942. Their two most recent releases, Vaughan Williams in 2018 with TSO Conductor Emeritus Peter Oundjian, and Massenet’s Thaïs in 2021 recording under TSO Conductor Laureate Sir Andrew Davis, won JUNO Awards. Vaughan Williams: Orchestral Works also garnered a GRAMMY nomination. Both were released on the Chandos label.

Here’s a taste:

Harmonia Mundi

“I deeply enjoy my long-standing relationship with Harmonia Mundi, and am very inspired by this opportunity to bring that relationship to Toronto,” said Gustavo Gimeno. ​ “So when I was asked to select a work from the entirety of the repertoire, for my first recording with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, my decision was immediate. Not only is Olivier Messiaen’s Turangalîla-Symphonie historically significant to the TSO — as TSO Music Director Seiji Ozawa recorded it with the orchestra in 1968 — but it also embodies the sense of forward-looking intrepidity that characterizes both the orchestra and the label. This new artistic alliance is wonderfully apt, and I am thrilled to be a part of it.”

Formed in France in 1958, Harmonia Mundi has an extensive artist list. It is part of PIAS, a Belgian corporation specializing in independent music recording.

“I’m delighted to be starting this collaboration with such a prestigious orchestra as the TSO,” said Christian Girardin, Director of Harmonia Mundi. “Each new signing in the world of symphonic music takes on particular importance, especially in our case. The history of the label is intertwined with that of a certain form of interpretation, based on authenticity of purpose but also on genuine artistic sincerity. As far as Gustavo Gimeno is concerned, I want to say that I admire his blend of humility and virtuosity at the baton. The upcoming projects outline an exploration of the repertoire far removed from any form of routine. In any case, that’s my dearest wish: with an orchestra capable of drawing on a glorious history while constantly challenging itself, and a conductor attentive to the smallest details, I’m convinced we will do a great job! Thank you all for your confidence, and welcome to Harmonia Mundi.”

L-R: Nathalie Forget (Photo: Minori Matsuoka); Marc-André Hamelin (Photo: Sim Cannety Clarke); Gustavo Gimeno (Photo: Marco Borggreve)
L-R: Nathalie Forget (Photo: Minori Matsuoka); Marc-André Hamelin (Photo: Sim Cannety Clarke); Gustavo Gimeno (Photo: Marco Borggreve)

Olivier Messiaen’s Turangalîla-Symphonie

The recording was captured during the TSO’s 100th-anniversary season, and pays tribute to the orchestra’s GRAMMY®-nominated 1968 RCA recording of the same piece. Along with Maestro Gimeno and the artists of the TSO, special guest artists and instruments will add to the wow factor for the agreement’s inaugural recording.

Marc-André Hamelin, piano

To be fair, the title of virtuoso may be tossed around too frequently; when it comes to the technical gifts of Marc-André Hamelin, it hardly seems an adequate descriptor. He adds a superb sense of artistry and musicianship, and has become internationally renowned for his interpretive skills.

He has performed around the world, and developed a fearless reputation for taking on rare and exquisitely difficult works, including the music of Charles-Valentin Alkan and Godowsky, among others.

Nathalie Forget and the Ondes Martenot

Messiaen was one of the few champions of the ondes Martenot. The ondes Martnet, also called ondes musicales or musical waves in English, was one of the earliest electronic instruments. It was invented in 1928 by Maurice Martenot, inspired by the overlapping waves of sound from military radio oscillators.

It features a 72-note keyboard mounted on a rail, and vacuum tube or transistor oscillators which produce the sound. It sounds something like the theremin, producing waves of sound. Because of its wavering tone, it has been used in horror and science fiction films.

Messiaen’s sister-in-law Jeanne Loriod was a noted ondiste. That is also true of Nathalie Forget.

Nathalie Forget studied the instrument in Paris, where she was unanimously awarded the First Prize in ondes Martenot at the Conservatoire National Supérieur. Her degrees include a masters in musical philosophy, with a focus on Olivier Messiaen. She is an ondes Martenot professor at the Conservatoire nowadays.

Nathalie has performed extensively in Europe, along with the US and Mexico, and worked with noted conductors and ensembles, including the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra and NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchestra in Hamburg. Her previous recordings include Olivier Messiaen’s opera, Saint François d’Assise, conducted by Ingo Metzmacher and staged by Pierre Audi.

The recording will be dedicated to the memory of the late Hans and Susan Brenninkmeyer, a couple who were staunch supporters of the TSO through more than three decades.

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