Review: The Toronto Symphony Orchestra’s ‘Beethoven Symphony 7: Chan Ka Nin: Sesquie for Canada 150’ (Friday May 26, 2017)

The Toronto Symphony Orchestra has partnered with orchestras and ensembles across the country for an unprecedented pan-Canadian celebration. Over 40 new works—including two-minute pieces called “Sesquies”— have been co-commissioned and presented from coast to coast to coast. Over the weekend, an audience and I celebrated, Chan Ka Nin’s, ‘My Most Beautiful, Wonderful, Terrific, Amazing, Fantastic, Magnificent Homeland: Sesquie for Canada’s 150th’.

This short piece with a long title reflects the composer’s enthusiasm for his homeland. Composer Chan Ka Nin immigrated to Canada in 1965.  He is grateful for what Canada has to offer – education, health care, jobs and a generally peaceful and safe environment.  This work captured the essence of being able to live in this most beautiful, wonderful, terrific, amazing, fantastic and magnificent country.

Renowned TSO Conductor Laureate Sir Andrew Davis then lead us into a globe-trotting program that included the famous of all Norwegian concertos and concluded in Vienna with Beethoven’s most exhilarating symphony.

The TSO Conductor Laureate Sir Andrew Davis and the Toronto Symphony Orchestra did a tremendous job washing the audience with the true ambiance of what it means to be Canadian. The music that was unveiled musically touched upon our diversity, inclusivity and strength of generosity in the performances that followed.

As the audience and I leaned into Edvard Grieg Piano Concerto in A Minor, Op. 16’ we felt the first movement which boasted one of the most familiar openings in the entire concerto repertoire. Much of its memorability springs from its very simplicity. The movement proper wears a rather melancholy expression, although warmth is amply present as well. A long, taxing solo cadenza near the end says about all there is to say, so Grieg follows it with only the briefest of summings-up.

The second movement, ushered in by muted strings, is a tender song without words. The Finale follows on directly, led off by an insistent, almost march-like theme. It is modelled on the springdans (leaping dance), a Norwegian folk step. The second theme offers strong contrast. At first, it has the character of as wistful and poetic a melody as Grieg ever penned. In the concluding pages, he demonstrated that it also has the capacity to become a grand, triumphant hymn.

Award-winning pianist, Jean-Efflam Bavouzet, whose 2016/17 seasonal highlights include performances with the BBC Philharmonic, Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra,BBC Scottish, Baltimore, and Toronto symphony orchestras, and Orchestre Philharmonique de Monte-Carlo, and a tour of Japan with Orchestra Ensemble Kanazawa under Ashkenazy.

Bavouzet’s performance on the evening was stunning, epic and injected with full on pianist drama. As I scanned the audience, I observed my fellow guests fixatedly mesmerized as Bavouzet channelled thundering depth into the Roy Thomson Hall.

By the time Ludwig van Beethoven Symphony No. 7 in A Major, Op. 92’s made an appearance we were ready.  His “heroic” style which also proved to be one of his most popular works, though it was also widely considered difficult and eccentric. A reviewer in 1827 wrote, “The whole thing lasts at least three-quarters of an hour, and is a true mixture of tragic, comic, serious, and trivial ideas, which spring from one level to another without any connection, repeat themselves to excess, and are almost wrecked by the immoderate noise of the timpani.” By one account, Carl Maria von Weber, on the basis of this work, pronounced Beethoven “ripe for the madhouse.” There are dark, strange, disturbing passages in this symphony, but ultimately it is a celebration—joyous, liberated, festive. Wagner famously dubbed it “the apotheosis of the dance,” and a powerful rhythmic momentum does drive every movement—even the Allegretto, which unfolds like a procession.

A gentle reminder to catch the remaining performances that are a part of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra’s ‘Canada Mosaic’ series. They make for a wonderfully meditative experience and an important Canadian infused cultural education as we prepare to celebrate Canada’s 150th birthday.


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