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SCRUTINY | The Royal Conservatory Orchestra Takes Manhattan

By Anya Wassenberg on May 8, 2024

L-R: Pianist Stewart Goodyear (Photo courtesy of the artist); The RCO at Carnegie Hall (Photo: Anya Wassenberg); conductor Peter Oundjian (Photo courtesy of the artist)
L-R: Pianist Stewart Goodyear (Photo courtesy of the artist); The RCO at Carnegie Hall (Photo: Anya Wassenberg); conductor Peter Oundjian (Photo courtesy of the artist)

Kelly-Marie Murphy: Curiosity, Genius, and the Search for Petula Clark; Ludwig van Beethoven: Piano Concerto No 5 in E-flat Major, Op. 73 “Emperor”; Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky: Symphony No. 5 in E Minor, Op. 64. The Royal Conservatory Orchestra, Peter Oundjian, conductor; Stewart Goodyear, piano. Carnegie Hall, New York, NY, May 7, 2024.

The Royal Conservatory Orchestra, made up of students at the Glenn Gould School, performed at New York’s Carnegie Hall to a full house on their very first appearance on the iconic stage. Accompanied by conductor Peter Oundjian and pianist Stewart Goodyear — the latter both RCM alum and current artist-in-residence — the orchestra played in top form, lit up by the lively energy of young musicians.

The Royal Conservatory Orchestra, with conductor Peter Oundjian, plays Carnegie Hall  on May 7, 2024 (Photo: Jennifer Taylor)
The Royal Conservatory Orchestra, with conductor Peter Oundjian, plays Carnegie Hall on May 7, 2024 (Photo: Jennifer Taylor)

The RCO is capable of both power and delightful subtlety, as the program revealed. It began with Kelly-Marie Murphy’s Curiosity, Genius, and the Search for Petula Clark.

In her own notes, the composer says, “For this piece, I wanted to explore the difference between the public perception of Glenn Gould (quirky, odd, ingenious, obsessive), and how Glenn perceived himself (a regular guy with many interests; possibly wearing a cheap suit).”

The work was commissioned in 2017 by the Toronto Symphony Orchestra with the support of the Government of Canada and the Glenn Gould Foundation in celebration of Gould’s 85th birthday, and incidentally, the 70th anniversary of his debut with the TSO. The name comes from a radio documentary where Gould detailed chasing radio relays, and Petula Clark’s hit song “Who Am I?” in Northern Ontario.

In keeping with its whimsical inspiration, the single-movement piece careens from effervescent to high drama on the turn of a dime. The orchestra kept up the pace, with a special mention to the enlarged percussion section (notably Parker Olson on timpani) that Murphy keeps busy throughout the piece.

The Royal Conservatory Orchestra, with conductor Peter Oundjian, plays Carnegie Hall  on May 7, 2024 (Photo: Jennifer Taylor)
The Royal Conservatory Orchestra, with conductor Peter Oundjian, plays Carnegie Hall on May 7, 2024 (Photo: Jennifer Taylor)

Next up was Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 5, called “the Emperor”, although the composer himself did not give it that epithet. After a rapturous greeting from the crowd, Stewart Goodyear acquitted himself with his usual combination of impeccable technique and vivid interpretation. The RCO was a worthy partner in the concerto, characterized by its heroic style and military elements. Of special note was bassoonist Jason Stephens in his conspicuous solo during the Adagio un poco mosso, and the entire orchestra for its fire in the final Rondo: Allego ma non troppo.

After intermission, the orchestra returned for Tchaikovsky Symphony No. 5 in E Minor, Op. 64, and was more than ready for both its lyricism and drama. The symphony showcases the RCO’s very fine woodwind and brass sections, with some notable mentions: Gillian Derer (flute), Tai Yokomori (oboe), Wolfgang Scheitinger (bassoon), and Santiago Oviedo-Reina (clarinet). The latter’s passionate performance was particularly memorable.

The brass section delivered the requisite power, with special mention to French horn player Katrina Dunkle and her riveting work as a soloist. The Finale, which ranges from the Andante maestoso (E major) to Allegro vivace (E minor) to Meno mosso (E major), gave the concert an appropriately monumental finish.

Throughout, conductor Peter Oundjian kept pace with the orchestra’s energy, an ever smiling and upbeat leader.

Special mention also has to go to the audience, which, typically for a student or youth orchestra, was stacked with boisterous family and friends. It’s the one time where it’s acceptable to whoop and holler in the hallowed concert hall. The energy of the concert was over the top, and contributed to a feeling of optimism in the room – along with a good old Toronto-style triple standing ovation.

The Royal Conservatory Orchestra, with conductor Peter Oundjian, plays Carnegie Hall  on May 7, 2024 (Photo: Jennifer Taylor)
The Royal Conservatory Orchestra, with conductor Peter Oundjian, plays Carnegie Hall on May 7, 2024 (Photo: Jennifer Taylor)

The trip was a special occasion arranged to mark the last season of Dr. Peter Simon’s tenure as President of the Royal Conservatory of Music. He’ll be retiring as of September.

The calibre of the orchestra, and the success of the trip, is a fitting tribute to his legacy in building the organization back into the internationally recognized institution it is today. The future of classical music in Canada is in very good hands.

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