Highlight of 2010: Toronto Symphony Orchestra's celebration of Samuel Barber centennial
I've had to write a year-end best-of/worst-of article for publication in the Star. It includes a Top 10 Concerts list, with no explanation of what made each one so special, so I thought I'd fix that here, by counting down from 10 each day to Dec. 31.
When I looked at the finished list, I noticed that each performance on the list fulfilled a need I have as a concert- or opera-goer.
6. Toronto Symphony Orchestra October 6 concert celebrating the 100th anniversary of the birth of American composer Samuel Barber, with music director Peter Oundjian.
Richard Bradshaw's oft-stated goal during his Long March to the corner of Queen St. and University Ave. was to make opera the city's hot culture ticket. He succeeded, and then some. I don't even have to leave my email box for proof: Over the past four days, the Star's theatre critic, Richard Ouzounian, came asking for permission to write about Marriage of Figaro, which opens in a month, and our former visual arts critic -- now freelance contributor -- Peter Goddard asked if he could write about Nixon in China.
In the five-and-a-half years since I became music critic, I can't remember anyone at the Star showing the slightest interest in writing about a regular-season Toronto Symphony programme (or just about any form of classical music).
I wrote yesterday about how classical music is not dead nor dying. But the way it is presented and marketed may be, given how little of it filters out past devoted concertgoers.
Focusing just on the Toronto Symphony, I'm convinced to the core of my being that the orchestra needs to get out of Roy Thomson Hall as often as possible, or risk becoming an irrelevance. They're not about to find a record label or time on TV. But they can take matters into their own hands.
Now that the summer music festival idea in Niagara is dead, there is no impediment to considering concerts in the city's public places and spaces. And, if the conviction is there on the orchestra's part, the money to pay for it will follow -- as it always does when people really, really believe in something (see Richard Bradshaw, above).
I'm repeating this plea because the Toronto Symphony Orchestra is so good, these days. The whole city, not just 20,000 subscribers (I'm guessing at that number, by the way) should be excited about what this group can do. And the Samuel Barber birthday concert was an ideal example of everything this grand, old organization can do right -- from the programming through to the guests and the performances. Even more the pity that there were quite a few empty seats at Roy Thomson Hall on that night.
I'm excited by the Toronto Symphony Orchestra and I'd love to see my colleagues -- and the rest of the city -- get pumped, too.
Here is my review from Oct. 6:
The Toronto Symphony Orchestra's 100th birthday cake for composer Samuel Barber was a blaze of candles on Wednesday night at Roy Thomson Hall.
The evening, entirely devoted to the music of this American master, was a succession of Wow! moments from an intensely atmospheric beginning to a blazing end.
Superbly led by music director Peter Oundjian, this was our city's flagship orchestra at its very best. It served up impeccably rendered interpretations of a representative sample of Barber's work, spanning his early days as a composer in the 1930s, to the pinnacle of his success and popularity in the early 1960s. (He died in 1981.)
The evening's program was given additional heft and interest by two spectacular soloists: Canadian Jon Kimura Parker, playing the Piano Concerto, and American Gil Shaham, in the Violin Concerto.
The concert began with an intensely luminous reading of Barber's most famous piece: the Adagio for Strings, which he adapted out of the slow movement of his nearly forgotten String Quartet in 1935.
The orchestra and its conductor were equally impressive in the Symphony No. 1, created a year later.
The two concertos were equally captivating, thanks to magnetic performances from the two soloists. Parker tossed off the fierce piano part with panache and a big dollop of lyrical aplomb. Shaham used his bow as a light sabre, casting intense beams of sunshine on this already-luminous showpiece.
Here is a clip of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra trying to summon up Wagner's Valkyries outdoors last March: