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article imageLaunching a new classical season with flash and fury Special

By Cate Kustanczy     Sep 20, 2014 in Entertainment
Toronto - Who says classical music isn't exciting? The Toronto Symphony Orchestra launched its latest season in fine style this week, with superstar violinist Joshua Bell providing characteristic fire and drama.
The Toronto Symphony Orchestra opened its 93rd season with a strongly Latin flavour, one that featured a crowd-pleasing selection of melodious music. Roman Carnival Overture, by Hector Berlioz, Symphonie espagnole by Édouard Lalo, and Capriccio espagnol by Nikolai Rimsky Korsakov, made for a rousing opening night program.
The TSO, considered one of Canada’s leading cultural institutions, showcases both classical works as well as new composers, conductors, and musicians. Its Music Director, Peter Oundjian, is currently celebrating his tenth anniversary season on the podium, and he's worked to expand the orchestra's profile, so it now includes a self-produced record label as well as increased touring throughout North America, Europe, and Asia. Just before departing on the TSO's European tour in August, Oundjian told the Toronto Star that "(w)e represent the city. People think of us as highrises and hockey. We are saying, ‘Hey, there are other things to keep in mind about Toronto.’ ”
Thursday's opening night program began with Hector Berlioz' popular Roman Carnival Overture. Composed in 1844, the piece contains themes and ideas from Berlioz' first opera, Benvenuto Cellini (1838). Members of the TSO held a rehearsal of the program Thursday morning, where, in sharp contrast to their formal concert attire of black tie and tails (or dresses), they were casually outfitted, running through the program with every bit as much charm, energy, and verve as at a formal concert. The program had a distinct Spanish flavouring, with Lalo's celebrated, much-loved Symphonie espagnole and Rimsky-Korsakov's Capriccio espagnol.
Members of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra rehearse the program for opening night with MaestroPeter O...
Members of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra rehearse the program for opening night with MaestroPeter Oundjian.
Veronika Roux-Vlachova
The orchestra's August trip to Europe clearly gave its members some new vigor and inspiration. The tour, their first to Europe since 2000, featured acclaimed Canadian violinist James Ehnes, as well as German composer and clarinetist Jörg Widmann. Performing at summer music festivals held in Austria, the Netherlands, Germany, Finland and Iceland, the orchestra played venues considerably smaller, if more intimate, than their main home, the 2,630-seat Roy Thomson Hall. Longtime TSO timpanist David Kent commented to the Toronto Star before departing this past August that the experience of playing smaller venues a considerable shift. “The feel of the audience is really different," he said. "They sit where we have our choir loft and they are in your face. They can almost turn your pages.”
The Toronto Symphony musicians — including soloist Joshua Bell — wore casual attire for their op...
The Toronto Symphony musicians — including soloist Joshua Bell — wore casual attire for their opening-night rehearsal.
Veronika Roux-Vlachova
Contrasting this intimate experience is the grandiosity of Roy Thomson Hall, a grand venue that's been home to the Toronto Symphony since its inaugural gala concert in 1982. The TSO originally performed at Massey Hall, and has held occasional, one-off concerts there through the years. They also perform select Sunday matinee concerts at the George Weston Recital Hall, at the Toronto Centre for the Arts, but they are primarily based out of Roy Thomson Hall, a venue that is used not only for starry gala screenings at the Toronto International Film Festival every autumn, but has been used in numerous film and television projects, including X Men and FX series The Strain.
The acoustics of the hall were put to impressive use at the TSO's opening Thursday evening, when Rimsky Korsakov's dramatic, fiery Capriccio espagnol was performed as the final piece on the program. The piece, with its varied timbres and strong themes, is based on Spanish folk melodies, and has been used in a variety of films, including Pedro Almodovar's Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown and the award-winning Brokeback Mountain. Ending the concert with the Capriccio proved to be smart programming for the TSO, because it provided a complement, if not continuation, of Bell's dramatic, intense performance, one characterized by passionate facial expressions, jerking body movements, and furious, almost athletic bowing.
Joshua Bell is one of the foremost violinists in the world  and was named 2010 Instrumentalist of th...
Joshua Bell is one of the foremost violinists in the world, and was named 2010 Instrumentalist of the Year by Musical Americ. In 2011, he became the Music Director at the prestigious Academy of St. Martin in the Fields in London, England.
Veronika Roux-Vlachova
Bell has been a soloist with the TSO numerous times throughout his celebrated career. The American-born violinist got his start in music at the age of four; ten years later, he was performing with the Philadelphia Orchestra conducted by the renowned Riccardo Muti. Bell made his Carnegie Hall debut at 17, and has gone on to perform with many of the world's major conductors and orchestras. Along with classical works, Bell has performed modern works (he won a Grammy in 1993 for his recording of Nicholas Maw's violin concerto) and movie soundtracks, notably the movie The Red Violin, which received an Academy Award for Best Music, Original Score (by John Corigliano), in 2000.
The opening night of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra s 2014-2015 season included works by Lalo  Rimsk...
The opening night of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra's 2014-2015 season included works by Lalo, Rimsky-Korsakov, and Berlioz.
Veronika Roux-Vlachova
Bell is no stranger to Lalo's Symphonie espagnole; he's performed the work many times through the years, including a celebrated performance in 2009 at London's Royal Festival Hall. The piece has been a popular choice for virtuoso violinists since its Paris debut in 1875 when French composer Édouard Lalo composed it for violinist Pablo de Sarasate. The piece, with numerous Spanish-tinged motifs sprinkled liberally throughout the score, was part of a burgeoning trend at the time toward Spanish-flavoured music; Georges Bizet's celebrated opera Carmen premiered just a month after Symphonie espagnola made its debut. Many violinists have made it a staple of their repertoire, including celebrated violinist Isaac Stern, who recorded in 1967 with Maestro Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra.
Last season, Bell toured with Italian pianist Alessio Bax to five countries in South America, to much acclaim. Following his appearance with the TSO, Bell is set to continue touring with Bax; the pair will be performing at stops in the U.S. (October 24th to November 8th) and Europe (November 20th to December 17th), and their repertory will include works by Schubert and Prokofiev.
Bell is the recipient of the Avery Fisher Prize  and has also been honored in his home state of Indi...
Bell is the recipient of the Avery Fisher Prize, and has also been honored in his home state of Indiana.
Veronika Roux-Vlachova
As for the TSO, the orchestra has a wide variety of programs on offer this season, including concerts featuring Dvorak's much-loved New World Symphony, Vivaldi's crowd-pleasing "Autumn" and "Winter" from The Four Seasons, and selections from Gustav Holst's The Planets. Next week they'll be performing Beethoven's ever-popular Ninth Symphony, while December bring the time-honored tradition of Handel's Messiah. Longtime fans and symphony newbies alike are in for a treat.
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