Electrifying opener for Gimeno and TSO

Tonight’s concert by the Toronto Symphony was a fitting beginning to their centennial season, a genuinely celebratory evening.

The program message from Music Director Gustavo Gimeno is very promising:

The creation of contrast is at the heart of what I believe about concert programming—the coming together of past and future, masterworks side by side with new commissions, old friends and new faces on the concert stage: all manner of refreshing or startling juxtapositions.”

Tonight for example they put Chopin’s lyrical 2nd piano concerto and Rimsky-Korsakov’s epic Scheherazade, alongside two new pieces, namely Kevin Lau’s The Story of the Dragon Gate, a brief prelude to open the concert and Lera Auerbach’s Icarus.

And while the music was exciting there’s the remarkable discovery I made, that I was completely surrounded by persons younger than myself at Roy Thomson Hall. Need I mention: this is the goal, to bring a younger crowd to classical concerts. You have no future when your subscribers are all seniors.

Clearly somebody is doing something right.

Kevin Lau grabbed the stage fearlessly for three minutes of enthusiastic melody that sounded a bit like a John Williams film-score, his heart on his sleeve employing the full range of orchestral colour. It’s a bit hard to follow, although Auerbach’s Icarus took its turn, syncopated and even more energetic than what Lau gave us, seguing to something more subdued, sweetly lyrical.

Pianist Bruce Liu gave us an understated reading of the Chopin, often playing notes softer than usual with perfect clarity. Liu has an original approach, sometimes teasing us with his rubato, while articulating every note. As his encore we were treated to the Etude Op 10 #5 in G-flat, the so-called “black – key” Etude, a perfect exercise for showing off his flawless technique.

After intermission we encountered Rimsky-Korsakov’s vibrantly ethnic Scheherazade, a brilliant study in story-telling. The work has been a TSO signature piece, especially with Jonathan Crow playing the violin solo passages, as he did on the 2014 Chandos recording conducted by Peter Oundjian. If anything Gimeno seems to be pushing this orchestra to greater heights, taking some sections faster, bolder than before. I think the climaxes seem bigger because Gimeno carefully restrains them to begin the crescendos, super soft building inexorably. They sound like a virtuoso ensemble, offering a series of eloquent solos from every section, ready for anything Gimeno asks of them. The chemistry is palpable. The Chopin-Rimsky program repeats Thursday and Saturday nights.

The anniversary season exploiting contrast continues Thursday, Saturday and Sunday of next week, mixing Mendelssohn’s Hebrides overture, Chausson’s Poème for violin & orchestra, Saint-Saëns’s Symphony #3 and Samy Moussa’s violin concerto.

TSO Music Director Gustavo Gimeno
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