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An unusual mix - that worked just fine

Roy Thomson Hall
06/13/2018 -  & June 14*, 2018
Leonard Bernstein: Three Dance Variations from Fancy Free
George Gershwin: Piano Concerto in F
Johannes Brahms: Symphony No. 1 in C Minor, Op. 68

Jon Kimura Parker (piano)
The Toronto Symphony Orchestra, Peter Oundjian (conductor)

P. Oundjian, J.K. Parker (© Jag Gundu)

This program was one of several in what amounts to a gala series to conclude Peter Oundjian’s 14th and final year as music director of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra.

The concert opened with Leonard Bernstein’s Three Dance Variations from Fancy Free, titled Galop, Waltz and Danzón, from his 1944 ballet for choreographer Jerome Robbins. The character of each dance was given full expression in an energetic, well-defined performance.

Jon Kimura Parker appeared was a last-minute replacement for Jean-Yves Thibaudet. In his previous appearances with the TSO he and Peter Oundjian have seemed to establish a notably friendly rapport (not unusual with this most genial of conductors), and for George Gershwin’s Piano Concerto in F there also seems a joint affinity with the piece. The orchestra played like the world’s most deluxe jazz band while Mr. Parker pounced on the work. The first movement rightfully earned applause, as did the big tromolo finale. The audience then found further delight with his encore: Oscar Peterson’s Blues Etude of 1966.

The final half of the program presented quite a contrast, with Johannes Brahms’s Symphony No. 1. The music of Brahms is often given a distinctly autumnal tinge, but this performance had a spring-like glow, reminding us that it was (at least at its gestation) a young man’s symphony. While the work’s various moods were fully expressed, for example the fourth movements mysterious opening, a welcome briskness was the overall impression.

This symphony holds a special place in Peter Oundjian’s personal history. In his prefatory remarks he recalled being was concertmaster of the Juilliard student orchestra when an eminent visiting conductor encouraged (or demanded) that he (Oundjian) should conduct the slow movement from memory - which he did. The visiting conductor was Herbert von Karajan. The young concertmaster went on the lead the Tokyo String Quartet before turning to conducting always, I am sure, with the memory of what turns out to have been an auspicious incident.

Michael Johnson



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