MRDe-music Review: The Hearer of the Music
2. The Two Audiences

The EspritOrchestra
Alex Pauk (conductor)

Jun. 1 2006 (Thurs.) 8 pm
Jane Mallet Theatre

Rea: Hommage a Vasarely
Louie: Imaginary Opera
Xenakis: Jonchaies

The Music-hearer muttered, "You ought to go quietly and you should go soon. Buy gas, since you're too dumb to plan far enough in advance to use public transit you idiot," as he left his benighted hovel in the toe-jam of the extremities of Toronto, headed for the smog-bound city.

Avoiding mushrooms, trees, singing old idiots on drugs, the crouching speeding cops (mere shadows of law enforcers), and pursued by dark car-riders who drove like idiots, and after experiencing the sight of a few horses and comely lasses likely not of elvish descent, he finally reached his goal and bought his ticket for the evening.

Wrong book, I know. Too bad.

Last night's audience for the Toronto Symphony Shostakovitch-fest reflects an interesting habit of the patrons of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra (TSO) (and, as I recall, the Canadian Opera Company (COC)) ... or is it a reality of TSO and COC concerts? There's a standing ovation for EVERYTHING ... so either these audiences are easily wowed OR every TSO and COC performance is superlative. I think the former, not the latter ... not to rip on either of these ensembles, but not every show is that good. Sorry.

Let's contrast with the audience at the Esprit Orchestra performance tonight. No ovations here, despite equally excellent playing. One could argue that the repertoire was less inspired, but I'd volubly disagree with that on the question of Xenakis at least (see my top 13 list ... he's pretty high on that, and I sadly relegated any of Shostakovitch's works, despite him being a skilled, moving and admirable composer, to a point after the top 13). John Rea's Hommage a Vasarely (which featured in Esprit's first concert of this season as well), isn't my favourite either in terms of Rea's output or compared to the other pieces on the show, but it's not a slouch and Esprit played it well, bringing out an element of intricate play that I suspect Rea intended. Alexina Louie's Imaginary Opera was an intriguing and contrasting treat; making use of only a chamber group, Louie's music was as sonorously interesting, dense and dramatic as the massive Xenakis work it preceded in the program.

Perhaps the Esprit audience is less appreciative of fine music? Well ... there were sure as $%#@#$ more composers, conductors and art administrators at this show ... although not as many as there perhaps should have been considering the inclusion of the Xenakis work.

Xenakis wrote several orchestral works for large ensembles, including Terrtektorh (for a group of 88 musicians dispersed throughout the audience), Nomos Gamma (for 98 players, again dispersed in the audience), Kraanerg (actually a ballet, scored for orchestra and 4-channel tape) and Jonchaies. Jonchaies, scored for 109 musicians, reflects the reasons this large works are rarely performed (or recorded). They're for large groups, the performance situation is unfamiliar to orchestral musicians, and the pieces are HARD, making demands on the instrumentalist's own technique and on ensemble precision. Those problems aside, these works are powerful, both noisy and exciting. Jonchaies isn't my favourite of these massive works (I'm a sucker for Nomos Gamma), but it's a great piece to hear live (flashing back to the massive, complex and exciting web of sound from trombones and percussion blaring ... or the final aural assault of a piccollo, closing the work) and is a good stand-in for all these pieces (despite the size of the orchestra, it's short, so the performance and ensemble issues are minimized).

Why such a relatively few people showed up to hear such a rarely performed and interesting work is beyond me. I'd conclude, given this, that the people in this audience do know their music better than most (arrogance, thy name is MRD).

Hmmm ... perhaps the Esprit audience knows that ovations are only called for in the most superlative circumstances?

I'd go with that. They gave an ovation at the last Esprit show I was at, not for any of the pieces played but for CBC recording engineer David "Stretch" Quinney, who had provided excellent engineering for concert recordings across Canada for many, many years (I can personally attest to his skills) and was retiring.

An ovation for years of outstanding work ... sounds right to me.

I think too many superlatives are bandied about when the COC and TSO are concerned. They might be the most obvious, heavily funded, patronage heavy and bloated artifacts of musical cultural in the smog-bound transit and traffic disaster that is the Burg of Toronto, but they are far from the crown jewels, and they attract an audience that for some reason are either too easily impressed or not particularly discerning.

All this said ... Esprit, keep up the fine programming. TSO ... play more Shostakovitch; cut down on Mozart.


Here ends the second part of the history of the Music-hearer going to concerts in Toronto in late May and early June 2006.

The third part tells of hearing the same damn symphony as in the first part again, and the end of the mission of the Music-Hearer in THE RETURN OF THE TENTH.

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