Highlights of 2010: Thomas Dausgaard's Sibelius Festival with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra
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.
10. Toronto Symphony Orchestra Sibelius symphonies in April with guest conductor Thomas Dausgaard and a planeload of guest soloists.
In my long chat with pianist Simone Dinnerstein a few weeks ago, we talked about the difference between a live concert and listening to a recording. In the latter, our attention can fade in and out as we invariably have to deal with other things, or pause the disc mid-piece. In the former, we are forced to confront the performer and music in a concentrated way.
Last season, the Toronto Symphony proposed that we face Jan Sibelius, whose fortunes as one of the 20th century giants has waxed and waned a bit, in one, big concentrated dose of all his symphonies, supplemented by a wide selection of other pieces, including his Violin Concerto.
Danish maestro Thomas Dausgaard has a knack for capturing the core of any music he conducts. And his Sibelius was no different, brimming with drive, fire and navigating that composer's strange, fine balance of serenity and darkness.
Hearing Finlandia in September and Symphony No. 5 in March is enjoyable, but the listening experience doesn't come with all of the links, associations and reflection that hearing a larger body of work brings. Think of the difference you feel in looking at one work by a master painter versus walking through an entire show of paintings spanning the artist's life.
You go from nodding acquaintance to somehow getting into that person's head, of finding an aesthetic or emotional bond that's impossible to leave behind at the exit.
Just so, the TSO's 10-day festival in April helped me hear Sibelius's progress as a composer and appreciate which strand of the hugely, messily frayed rope of early 20th century art music he represents. It helped me appreciate Dausgaard quiet authority. It also helped remind me of the incredibly capable group of dedicated professionals that are the Toronto Symphony Orchestra.
Here is Dausgaard leading the Danish National Symphony and violinist Christian Tetzlaff in Sibelius's Suite for Violin and Strings, Op. 117, recorded in 2002: