Tonight the Toronto Symphony joined forces with members of the Glen Gould School to launch the 21C Festival at Koerner Hall.
We heard six works including two world premieres to conclude:
- Terry Riley: “Half-Wolf Dances Mad in Moonlight” (string orchestra)
- Dorothy Chang: “Northern Star” from True North: Symphonic Ballet
- Dinuk Wijeratne: “First Winter” from True North: Symphonic Ballet
- Jocelyn Morlock: Nostalgia (string orchestra, I think..?)
- Emilie LeBel: They do not shimmer like the dry grasses on the hills, or the leaves on the trees (world premiere)
- Stewart Goodyear: “Ur-” (world premiere)
There were reasons to be enthusiastic at every moment of the program. I enjoyed everything although there was a great deal of variety.
I cannot deny that the main reason I attended was to hear the final piece on the program, not just composed by, but also played by Stewart Goodyear, a pianist I think of as one of the pre-eminent players in the world. He burst on the local scene with his awe-inspiring Beethoven Marathon. I am thinking too of Neil Crory who passed away earlier this week, who helped launch Stewart, as the producer of the phenomenal set of Beethoven sonatas.
Here’s an example.
So now that Stewart has shown us his ability with Beethoven (and writing some brilliant liner notes as well), with Rachmaninoff and his original piano transcription of Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker, perhaps he needed to show us something else. He is also a composer, with several commissions already to his credit.
Goodyear’s new piano concerto might be a bit of a reminder. The word “virtuoso” has lost much of its lustre, as the world doesn’t always remember that virtuosity in a player could be linked to great compositional ideas, from Liszt to Stravinsky to Messaien & Ligeti. One of the great questions has always been to ask: what are the expressive possibilities of an instrument? What are the limits? Watching –yes watching because one wants to see how he does it—the hands move over his Steinway, I wonder how difficult this concerto might be. We begin with some clusters up and down the keyboard, as I wondered about the tonality of what we were to hear. There was a lot of hand over hand movement with fast repeated notes, such as one sees in the closing section of Rhapsody in Blue (not the same sort of music, but a similar effect). At times I was reminded of 20th century piano music, for instance Khatchaturian or Stravinsky. The energy of the piece and the pianist raised the roof. No wonder I want to hear it again. I believe it deserves to be programmed.
There’s another thought I meant to include –but couldn’t articulate last night when I wrote this– that I am adding in a Thursday morning addendum (this paragraph). There’s a section about a minute or so from the end of the piece, full of energy but especially interesting as Goodyear creates a kind of pattern that might almost be called an ear-worm, but deliciously elusive, a back – and- forth that reminds me of the best moments of certain pieces, where there’s something you want to hear again, to hear it in more detail. Every now and then one hears something like this. And that especially –to repeat what I said in the previous paragraph– makes me want to hear it again.
Goodyear’s work was a total contrast to the piece immediately before it, from Emilie LeBel. The piece felt so much like anticipation, a rhetorical framework leading onwards, restrained and beautifully coherent from beginning to end.
The second half began with a fascinating piece from Jocelyn Morlock, “Nostalgia”. I was struck by how much she put into this short piece, so energetic in its first minutes, gradually slowing and becoming reflective and even a bit passive, as the title might suggest, putting me in mind of tone poems that become introspective towards the end, such as the Siegfried Idyll. We were at times self-referential, sometimes with suggestions of something old, perhaps a neo-baroque using the rhetorical devices such as phrasing and ornament to suggest an older sort of music-making. And at the end we were in a very abstract place indeed.
Tania Miller conducted all but one of the pieces heard tonight. Simon Rivard, newly appointed as Resident Conductor at the TSO, stepped forward for the penultimate work on the program.
To begin we heard Terry Riley’s ”Half-Wolf Dances Mad in Moonlight”, lovely string playing to begin the evening, from an older composer who has likely influenced everyone else on the program. Dorothy Chang’s “Northern Star” might have been a contemporary bit of impressionism – if you believe there is such a thing (there’s a controversy… I’ll write about it one of these days). We heard lucid solos emerging from extended harmonies that wouldn’t be out of place in the work of Debussy or the young Stravinsky. Dinuk Wijeratne’s “First Winter” employed ostinati (although I think everyone in this concert used some sort of ostinato, some more than others). These were tight little cells, sometimes to create a kind of sonic wash as though background. And then suddenly Wijeratne offered powerful bold statements from the full orchestra. I loved how sudden they felt, how he had sloughed off the template of the usual or the predictable, to make something crystal clear & as audacious as his subject.
Goodyear return tomorrow (Thursday) for more of his compositions, while Terry Riley will be back on Friday. Meanwhile the TSO are playing Mozart for the rest of the week at Roy Thomson Hall.