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A gala with variety and dash

Roy Thomson Hall
09/19/2017 -  
Derek Charke: Elan
Mychael Danna: Suite from Life of Pi
Ernest Chausson: Poème for Violin and Orchestra, Op. 25
Camille Saint-Saëns: Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso for Violin and Orchestra, Op. 28
Igor Stravinsky: Suite from The Firebird

Bombay Jayashri (vocalist), V. Selvaganesh (percussion), Jatinder Parkash (bansuri), Joseph Macerollo (accordion), James Ehnes (violin)
The Toronto Symphony Orchestra, Peter Oundjian (conductor)

J. Ehnes (© Jag Gundu)

Now that the Toronto International Film Festival and its attendant hoopla is over for another year, the city’s musical and theatrical establishments can claim some attention from those of us who still go out of the house for entertainment, uplift, enlightenment (enter preferred term here). Thus the Toronto Symphony Orchestra’s season opener, which usually features a big-name singer or soloist. This year, though, film fever spilled into the TSO program with the world premiere of Mychael Danna’s suite from Life of Pi, featuring Indian singer Bombay Jayashri, percussionist V. Selvaganesh playing a small drum called a kajira, accordionist Joseph Mazerollo, and Jatinder Parkash playing a woodwind, the bansuri.

The 20-minute work opens with “Pi’s Lullaby” to a Tamil text. The dreamy meanderings lead to a bouncy, rhythmic “triple concerto” episode (for kajira, bansuri and accordion). Later the orchestration swells gradually then menacingly into a mighty storm sequence. Vocals reappear in a dreamlike way, accompanied by orchestral richness and sweep, leading to a wistful ending.

It certainly is a pleasant piece and, as one would expect, marvelously well-crafted. One wonders if it will be taken up by other orchestras, given its unusual requirements. (I suppose it enters the category of “world music”.)

Adding to audience excitement was the presence of Ang Lee, the director of Life of Pi, for which Mychael Danna received an Academy Award for his contribution to the film. The TSO season will feature a new work from another Toronto-born Oscar-winner, Howard Shore.

If the Pi suite was the evening’s party-piece, there was still room for a top soloist, namely James Ehnes, who employed his immaculate technique to excellent purpose in two relatively short but representative works from the great age of the established repertoire, Ernest Chausson’s haunting Poème and Camille Saint-Saëns’ Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso, the bravura finish of which brought the capacity audience to its feet. (Like all North American audiences, those in Toronto give too many standing ovations. Some times, though, they are earned.)

This led to an unusual encore: pianist Jan Lisiecki (who performs in the orchestra’s next program) “just happened” to be in the audience, and he and Ehnes gave a sparkling performance of Antonín Dvorák’s Slavonic Dance, Op. 46, No. 8 on a piano quickly wheeled on to the stage. This was a special surprise for Peter Oundjian as he opens his 14th and final season with the TSO. (Another surprise: James Ehnes is more than decent playing the piano.)

The audience thinned out a bit at this point, which is a pity because those who departed missed a fine performance of Stravinsky’s suite from The Firebird (1919 version). Everything fell into place as Oundjian led the orchestra toward the carefully controlled, sensuous upswelling of the finale.

The evening began with the national anthem, followed by another brief “sesquie” commissioned to celebrate the country’s 150th anniversary, Elan, by Derek Charke, a piece with a vigorous pulse and a lot of contrast for such a short work.

All in all, a concert that bodes well for the season ahead, with its numerous commissions from Canadian composers and a lineup of major works from the core repertory as an extended gala conclusion to Peter Oundjian’s tenure.

Michael Johnson



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