THUNDER BAY, ON ----- October 17, 2009 ---- Each year with falling temperatures the water turns over in our lakes and, northerners slowly look for our hats, gloves, snow-tires and scrappers because it will likely get a lot colder before it gets warmer. Once we reconcile the change of season then we get into the mood for music. Thunder Bay has a great symphony orchestra, it is one of our best kept secrets, it baffles me that some people will make Toronto a destination city for culture, and at the same time not realize that our local professional talent is just as good, and you can hear them for less than the cost of the taxi ride from Pearson Airport to downtown Toronto. I suppose it would be even more amazing if people from the big city actually travelled to Thunder Bay to hear one of the provinces fine orchestras. We have one more convert in Tania Miller, the vivacious conductor of the Victoria Symphony Orchestra.
Tania has been in the city for a week guest conducting the Thunder Bay Symphony Orchestra.
When she accepted the invitation to open the TBSO’s season with its first Masterworks Concert a number of doubts must of run through her mind. What kind of orchestra is this? These are masterworks for orchestra, will one week be sufficient time to prepare the concert? She need not have worried. Tania opened the concert with the statement of how wonderful our orchestra is to work with, and she is impressed with the professionalism and warmth of the musicians.
Our orchestra has always responded well to guest musicians, and they make an effort to welcome them and give them a good musical experience. The obviously liked Tania’s approach to music because you could “feel every note” she conducted. Feel every note” is the slogan on this year’s website for the Victoria Symphony where she is full time conductor and music director. My favourite piece of the night was Mozart’s Prague Symphony (#38). Mozart one of history’s most gifted composers wrote extremely well for strings. He intrinsically knew what strings can do and how string players like to play. Our orchestra is essentially a Mozart sized ensemble so his music is a perfect match for our players. This is a feel good piece when played by the gifted musicians of the symphony, and true to her Logo Tania Miller delivered on every note.
In Beethoven’s time the orchestra has grown a little, so the two clarinet players rejoined the orchestra for a performance of Beethoven’s Emperor Piano Concerto. It was the first time I had heard David Jalbert play, and he was impressive on the Auditorium’s nine foot concert grand. Beethoven conceived this concerto as a tribute to Napoleon’s ideals, but it turns out he betrayed these ideals when he crowned himself as Emperor. Jalbert sums it up best by saying that the crown belongs to Beethoven. The concerto sums up the greatness and the struggle of all humanity, something that only Beethoven does so well. Beethoven changed the concerto from those of Mozart and Haydn. In this work the pianist is an equal to the orchestra, and this id felt right from the piano’s opening cadenza. When we are talking about the struggles of mankind, you must have equal and opposing forces. Mozart’s Prague Symphony by contrast is all about clear lines, accuracy, precise dynamic playing and over all a sense of order. Beethoven is the consummate performer and composer and he is driven by a greater purpose. Tania Miller and David Jalbert delivered a great performance of this piece.
That leaves the first piece on the program. It is a modern composition by Tony K.T. Leung , “In the Beginning”. Only in Canada could a man born in Hong Kong who moved to Toronto, write a piece for Chinese Orchestra, get a grant to convert this composition for western orchestra and have it played in Thunder Bay. The whole process took him about 8 years. Strangely enough Leung takes the biblical view of creation, so I suppose that makes it one more Canadian paradigm. Modern music needs to make its way out of modern music concerts and into the mainstream concert hall. I often regard modern music performances as ghettos for modern composers, so few composers ever make it outside those walls. Having achieved his first professional performance in a Masterworks concert is a major accomplishment. The piece is interesting and clearly reflects its Chinese origins. Increasingly the face of our orchestras and audiences in some parts of the country is looking more Asian and these orchestras will be under pressure to provide music which reflects their audience. This is a modern composition but I would be hesitant to call it a masterwork. Mr. Leung makes skillful use of all facets of the orchestra, particularly the percussion and flute players who had a workout tonight.
My last comments for this concert are about the audience. There were a number of young people present for this concert, and that is encouraging for the future of live classical music in the city. Some of the young people are university students. Unless things have changed music students at LU have to prepare a number of concert reports by professional groups each term throughout their degree program. This requirement will give them an eye-opening insight into the world of professional music. Classical music has some things in common with the Victorian novel, namely length. Most popular pieces we hear on the radio are just a few minutes in length. In classical music a short symphony is 10 times longer or more. Youth to-day are not exposed to musical ideas that evolve over a period of several minutes, so the musical language is completely different. Another observation is that many of these people are first time attendees and they are very observant of what is happening in the performance. When they see something new they feel free to discuss it with their friends, so during the Beethoven piano concerto I hear conversation during the piano cadenza. These people are soaking up a new experience and eventually they will figure out the etiquette. At least they were not texting or using their cell phones! Having young people present in a concert is a joy and I admire their curiosity about the performance.
I also came across a music teacher or two who brought along some of their piano students. What a great way to show them where piano studies can lead. I think it is great that music teachers would take the time to expose their students to good music, and make it a gift for life. Good things in life are meant to be shared, and there are no added calories to a symphony performance, so next time invite a friend out on a cool fall night and hear our wonderful orchestra!
Arts Editor: LakesuperiorNews.com