Tonight’s concert, the latest in the month-long Toronto Symphony celebration of Peter Oundjian, was like a cross between a pops concert and a play reading, titled “Christopher Plummer’s Symphonic Shakespeare”. It was like “Shakespeare’s Greatest Hits”, a series of textual highlights delivered by Christopher Plummer, embellished with some of the famous music associated with each of the plays being sampled, and it was smooth as silk, effortless as if they’ve done this program a thousand times..
But it felt like an event. The fact that we watched The Great Man at work for a couple of hours felt very special. Plummer may be in his 80s, he may walk with a bit of a limp that he’s earned with years of toil onstage and onscreen, but he’s still capable of silencing a full theatre with his eloquence. We heard famous passages from several plays, as Plummer showed us the brilliance he still commands even now. Shakespearean magic was wound around the moments of appreciation for Oundjian, with whom he shared the stage & the adulation of a thrilled audience at Roy Thomson Hall. I wish I could tell you it’s to be repeated tomorrow but this is the only time, and I’ll never forget it.
We heard a relatively small sampler of the wonderful music Shakespeare has inspired (given that there’s such an enormous amount): yet it filled out the evening. Every nation’s music, every great composer has taken their turn, if not several turns either adapting Shakespeare (in opera, ballet or musicals), or writing music to accompany a presentation of a play or film adaptation. Over the course of this delightful program we heard from Wagner, Debussy, Mendelssohn, Berlioz, Korngold, Rota, Vaughan Williams, Walton, Prokofiev, Tchaikovsky, & Willan.
At times Plummer & Oundjian worked at the same time, the music underscoring a passage: for instance in the Walton “Passacaglia” from Henry V, as Plummer gave us first Falstaff and then the King answering.
But for the most part it was more of a give & take, the music and the text going back and forth, answering one another. In the end that’s the most natural thing, given that the text & music are part of a centuries-old dialogue, words inspiring the composition of music, the music inspiring the reading of the words. And again. Again.
It was magical.
At times Plummer would give us BOTH characters in a scene, offering a contrast in the voice & body language to differentiate for us, so we’d know Falstaff from King Henry, or Puck from Oberon.
At the end there was huge applause for both men and the orchestra as well.
All that remains for Oundjian of his tenure as TSO Music Director are a series of performances of Beethoven’s Ninth this Thursday, Friday & Saturday nights with soloists & the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir.