Spring Renewal: Scarborough Philharmonic with Ventanas

If it seems as though spring has suddenly come back, thank Scarborough Philharmonic and Ventanas for their concert “Spring Renewal” on April 22nd.

The first half featured popular classical pieces.

We began with Rossini’s Silken Ladder overture, followed by Vivaldi’s “Spring” concerto from the Four Seasons including Concertmaster Corey Gemmell’s brilliant violin solos.

The first half concluded with music from de Falla’s El Amor Brujo featuring mezzo-soprano Veronika Anissimova. Although we recently heard a version of the same composition from the Toronto Symphony at Roy Thomson Hall (that seats over 2600), the SPO playing in the intimate confines of the Scarborough Citadel (whose seating capacity might be 500 or so) raised the roof in comparison, and no wonder. I’ve said before and I’ll say it again. While an ensemble like SPO or Kindred Spirits Orchestra may not have the virtuosity of the TSO, the trade-off is in the rich sound you hear in a tiny hall, immersing you in the music for a truly sensuous experience. The solos from Anissimova, from Gemmell, from Gillian Howard (oboe), Samuel Bisson (cello), and Anthony Reyes (trumpet) were overwhelming, stunningly passionate. Full marks to conductor Ronald Royer for his bold leadership.

The de Falla led easily to the multi-cultural textures we would hear in the second half from special guests Ventanas, the six-piece Toronto-based world music ensemble fronted by powerhouse vocalist and dancer Tamar Ilana, who took the stage for a series of world premieres.

Tamar Ilana

In addition to Tamar, vocalist and dancer, we listened to Demetrios Petsalakis (oud), Jessica Deutsch (violin and vocals), Derek Gray (drums/percussion), Tyler Emond (upright bass) and Benjamin Barrile (flamenco guitar).

The five pieces they played took us through a broad range of styles and dramatic possibilities. We began with a traditional Greek melody from Demetrios Petsalakis, then Benjamin Barrile’s new Columbianas, flamenco-flavored guitar music to which Tamar added dance. The orchestra sat out the first two, but returned for the fuller textures required in the next three pieces.

Ronald Royer (left) and Tamar Ilana

I understood from the spoken introduction that “The boat was empty” by Tyler Emond was a romantic tale of love and heart-break, although I’m just happy to have enjoyed the melodies and the complex textures he asked of the orchestra. Azadi from Demetrios with orchestrations by Ron Royer was an understated composition concerning the plight of women in Iran, that I found very effective. Aurea composed and played by violinist Jessica Deutsch, vocals by Tamar, was an intriguing piece full of energy with dense layers of sound.

Ventanas and the Scarborough Philharmonic Orchestra

We would happily have heard much more from this fascinating group and their committed music-making, whose music worked beautifully with the SPO.

I understand that the premieres we heard this weekend are only the beginning of an ongoing collaboration between Ventanas and the SPO. I’m hoping we will hear more either on record or in future concerts.

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