I went to see the TSO last night because there was a Boulez piece programmed that I wanted to hear. It was a rather odd evening. It kicked off with Morawetz’ Carnival Overture Op.2. This was I suppose the designated Canadiana. It’s a roughly five minute piece that sounds like the Brahms of the Academic Festival Overture crossed with Dvořák. Too much brass and cymbals for my taste. Then came about ten minutes of faffing about reorganising the stage for the Boulez followed by Peter Oundjian coming out and making one of those cringingly apologetic speeches for programming something “difficult”. I hate this. If an orchestra, opera house or chamber ensemble is going to program atonal, serialist or what you will music (and they should) by all means explain how it works in a program note but don’t patronise the audience and, above all, don’t apologise. If it needs an apology why are you programming it?
Anyhow, I really enjoyed Le soleil des eaux; a setting of two poems by René Char (poet, rugby player, Résistant – I think we would have got on rather well). The first half; Complaint du lézard amoureux, is very sparsely scored with a very exposed soprano part beautifully sung by Carla Huhtanen. The second part; La Sorgue, chanson pour Yvonne, is denser, louder, more violent with lots of tricky work for the chorus (the excellent Soundstreams Choir 21). Yes, it’s twelve tone but it’s not difficult for anyone with even a passing acquaintance of music written in the last hundred years or so. It’s actually rather beautiful with real delicacy in the first half and some oomph in the second. It’s certainly more subtle than the Morawetz or the Rimsky Korsakoff which followed. So, by now we had been in our seats about half an hour and heard fifteen minutes of music so it was obviously necessary to take an interval. Got to keep the bar takings up I guess.
After the break it was Rimsky-Korsakoff’s Scheherezade. This should just have been a straight forward case of the TSO and Oundjian doing what they do best; bashing out standard rep classics, and it almost was. The orchestra sounded great, Jonathan Crow did a lovely job with the solo violin part and the various woodwind soloists sounded really fine. The problem was that someone in wheelchair row a few rows behind me was having trouble and his minders weren’t handling it at all well. I don’t want to seem exclusionary or ableist but if someone is unable to stay reasonably quiet during a performance the best thing for all concerned is to get them to where they can be looked after properly asap. What’s not a good solution is to call someone on your cell phone and have a conversation about what to do that lasts the whole performance. I’m glad it didn’t happen during the Boulez though, ironically, I could easily see Pierre or one of his mates recording it for use in a future work.
Sometimes a night at the symphony makes an R. Murray Schafer piece seem almost normal.
Photo of Carla etc courtesy of Nick Wons.