by Anthony Kershaw
Toronto Symphony Orchestra
Peter Oundjian, conductor
James Ehnes, violin
Verdi: Overture to La Forza del destino
Brahms: Violin Concerto
John Adams: Harmonielehre
Sept 20, 2012. Roy Thomson Hall, Toronto, ON — Tonight was the opening concert of the Toronto Symphony’s new season. Usually, these evenings are an excuse for a star soloist and popular, large scale repertoire. As such, throw in the chorus, too. What TSO Music Director Peter Oundjian chose to do was typically brave. The TSO’s loyal and musically intelligent subscribers received a Canadian ’star’ soloist, the wonderful James Ehnes playing the sublime Violin Concerto by Brahms and what is becoming a signature piece for all the hot, hip orchestras, the brilliant Harmonielehre (1985) by John Adams.
Nothing succeeds like success. I remember asking Oundjian a couple of years ago what was upcoming in his engagement diary. He was busy, for sure, but his rebuilding and improvement of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra is now getting major buzz. So much so, that orchestras are courting. He has already accepted a position with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra. Happily, he is maintaining his stewardship of our orchestra. Lucky us.
After a restful, languorous North American summer, travels, and dollops of chamber music, the orchestra members sounded in very fine form. Yet, I can’t imagine showing up for the first rehearsal and Harmonielehre is on the stand. It is a fiendishly difficult work, technically and musically for both players and conductor. Unlike the orchestra’s good performance last season, tonight’s was the more musical, the more beautiful and the more rhythmically assured. Much of this confidence was due to the orchestra’s belief in its helmsman. Oundjian was brilliant. His was a masterclass in orchestral control and architectural shaping of the long and beautiful melodies. I’m hoping they use these performances as the basis for a CD release on TSOLive.
Before the break, the orchestra performed brilliantly in Verdi’s overture to La Forza del destino. It had all the drama the best Verdi specialists such as Toscanini and Muti bring — it had both precision and incision. Fantastic.
Many people had come to hear James Ehnes and he did not disappoint. Thomson is always a difficult hall for fiddlers, yet he threw off these difficulties and produced the most glorious sound. I last heard him several years ago at his Proms debut playing Prokofiev. A very good performance. But, this was different. Ehnes is a quickly maturing artist that has greatness just on the horizon. His Brahms Violin Concerto in D major was at times elegiac, ecstatic, heartbreaking, thrilling, but always under complete control. And, his rhythms? Stunning. None more so than in his encore of a Gigue from a Bach solo Partita. He held 3000 people spellbound as his flawless performance echoed around the hall. It was a magical moment in a night brimming with them.
The concert repeats Saturday night (Sept 22nd).