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THUNDER B AY, ONTARIO  ---   October 26, 2013  ----- “Any concerto, anywhere, on stage from memory”, is a quote from a Curtis Institute Pianist Katherine Chiof Music student that describes the expectation of the school’s students. Pianist Katherine Chi, was fully prepared when she received a call last week to come and play a Beethoven piano concerto in Thunder Bay, Ontario, SO’s opening Masterwork’s concert. In spite of not having played this concerto for several years and having only 5 days notice she was able to live up to the Curtis Institute’s expectation of its graduates. She arrived here from Germany in time to replace the renowned Anton Kuerti at the piano for the Masterworks concert with the TBSO. She played a stellar performance and received a rousing standing ovation for her efforts.

Anton Kuerti is an Austrian born pianist who has made his musical life here in Canada; living in Toronto he has travelled the world championing music by Beethoven and Schubert in particular as well as some lesser known composers such as Czerny. In Canada’s music world he is a legendary pianist and recognized as such world-wide. Of the music he plays, it is his performances of Beethoven that his reputation is built. Of his many performances here in Thunder Bay with the TBSO I likened him to a large black Mercedes sedan, confidently taking off from a stop light without fuss, extra noise etc and just leaving the other cars in its rear view mirror. He was that good as a pianist that when you heard him play you knew you had just witnessed something extraordinary.

Quoting from the Globe and Mail; “To see that happen to someone of his stature was very frightening and saddening”, in reference to Mr. Kuerti’s last performance in Miami Florida. In performance his programme began as usual but when he reached the rondo section of his sonata he began repeating elements of the rondo and soon became disoriented, after repeated attempts to continue he was eventually led off stage by a Music Professor by intermission he was in hospital in intensive care where he remains today.

The performance heard last night was worthy of anything that Anton Kuerti would have performed. Katherine has her own style and interpretation of the music of Beethoven, but she played with the same level of confidence and style you would expect from a great pianist. In Kuerti’s generation there were not as many truly gifted pianists and so it was easier for his to become well known. Today places such as the Glenn Gould studio in Toronto join established conservatories such as the Curtis Institute in churning out great performance ready musicians for our concert stages; as a result many Canadian musicians are able to build solid international careers in music.

It is not only the soloists on stage who have benefitted from the conservatory experience, many members of the TBSO have a background at one conservatory or another including the “Gould” for some of the younger members. It is this background that has helped the TBSO to become one of the finest community orchestras in Canada. For the most part the musicians are young, competent and full of enthusiasm when it comes to playing in “one of the best bands” in the country.

The piano concerto occupied only one third of the programme, but makes up about 90% of this story. I would like to say how much I appreciated the rendition of Beethoven’s third symphony. I am always amazed at how well this orchestra does at making 30 musicians on stage sound like they were 60! In part this is due to the fact that the orchestra consists of entirely professional players. Secondly conditions in Thunder Bay actually promote musicians working together as a team, and there is no player in this orchestra who would let their orchestra down. They all contribute to the sound you hear in the audience. In larger centres where there are more opportunities to perform many musicians find that competition with other musicians is a better policy in terms of getting more work, but this approach does not work so well at creating a uniform and tight musical ensemble needed for good orchestral performances because some musicians are always trying to impress. I find the entire TBSO truly impressive.

The three horn players in the Eroica symphony consistently played a great concert. Horns are the real power house in the orchestra; their sound is mellow enough that they can blend well with brass, woodwinds and strings. Because they add so much body to the sound on stage they must be played perfectly in tune and without error. Our horn players excelled last night and they are a big reason why our orchestra sounds as though there were twice the number of players on stage.

The string section was augmented for the first masterworks, featuring 6/5/4/3/2 meaning 6 first violins, five seconds, four violas, three cellists and two double bass players. The extra performers add to the depth of sound on stage and in another orchestra you could easily find twice their number. By tweaking the concert hall’s acoustics and making some small changes to the position and compliment of the TBSO this orchestra was able to produce a very convincing first Masterworks concert. I look forward to the balance of the season.

Bert Rowson
Arts Editor: LakeSuperiornews.com


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