Sunday, July 19, 2015

TSO: Saturday, June 14 2015

Conductor Earl Lee
The Toronto Symphony Orchestra was conducted by Earl Lee for this concert. He is an enthusiast of modern classical music, and was a perfect choice. The pieces were all by modern composers, and to bring out all the finer points, Earl Lee was eminently accomplished.

Torque by Gary Kulesha (b.1954) was the first item on the program. Kulesha is one of Canada's most prominent and busy composers. He works with the TSO, and also is on staff of the Faculty of Music of the University of Toronto. Originally designed as an opening piece for the TSO, Torque is delightful and carries the listener along in a rotating, twisting force that never lets up. The composer says he was in the market for a new car at the time of writing, and the image of rotating car wheels was what was on his mind.

Astor Piazolla (1929-1992) is noted for his revolutionary additions to the traditional Argentine tango. Oblivion, which we heard played this afternoon, is one of his most popular concert tangos. Originally written for a 1984 Italian film, it is a beautiful and exciting piece.

In 1942, Aaron Copeland (1900-1990), four years after he wrote Billy the Kid, wrote another ballet, Rodeo. A wild success, it premiered at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York. Today, we heard the four dance episodes Copeland extracted from the ballet and adapted for use as a concert piece. It consists of Buckaroo Holiday, Corral Nocturne, Saturday Night Waltz, and Hoe Down. Copeland uses actual US cowboy songs in his own inimitable style.

After the intermission, we heard The Cowboys, by John Williams (b.1932). Williams went on to be a highly successful composer of music for many blockbuster films. The Cowboys was written for a film with John Wayne, and Williams uses huge folk-inspired tunes to evoke the rugged character of the US Wild West.

The principal cellist of the TSO, Joseph Johnson, was the soloist with the orchestra for Concierto en Tango, Op. 110, by Miguel del Aguila (b.1953). Aguila, born in Uruguay, loves the tango, and this piece is inspired by the different styles of tango of the mid-nineteenth and mid-twentieth century. When first commissioned, del Aguila felt that the cello was the ideal instrument for the concerto, as its deeper voice has "the expressivity and intensity of a tango singer". It was obvious Joseph Johnson was enjoying using his instrument as it seldom is used. This added so much to his performance and the enjoyment of the audience. He brought out the wide range of the instrument, and this concerto certainly had an impressive Canadian premier.

The last item on the program was Huapango by Mexican composer, Jose Pablo Moncayo (1912-1958). This is his most popular work and is inspired by the popular music and dance of the Mexican state of Veracruz that borders the western side of the Gulf of Mexico. He has taken this folk music and woven it into a brilliant tapestry of lovely sounds.

This was a wonderful concert, and along with the standing ovations given to individual pieces, and the soloist, was greeted finally with a long standing ovation by an enthusiastic audience. The conductor commented on the international expertise of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, and congratulated them on their amazing performance of these unusual pieces. The reaction of the audience to his remarks illustrated their agreement.

We had been present at an outstanding performance, and were fortunate, indeed, in having Earl Lee conduct. His joy in modern classical music was evident and illuminated his work.

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