Toronto Mendelssohn Choir Makes Handel’s Messiah Shimmer With The TSO

Arthur Kaptainis, ludwig Van Toronto. The Toronto Symphony Orchestra presents Handel’s greatest hit every December, generally with a new conductor. Our Messiah maestro this year is both familiar and surprising: Johannes Debus. On Monday, the music director of the Canadian Opera Company oversaw a performance in Roy Thomson Hall that was agreeable in particulars but lacking something in drama. The stars of the show, numbering about 110, were in the loft. Clearly, the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir has not lost interest in this annual assignment. “For unto us a Child is born” was exuberant and the stresses of “Let us break their bonds asunder” were spot-on. Sections were perhaps not of exactly equal strength — we all know which letter comes first in SATB — but counterpoint was vigorous and the tone was lucid at all dynamic levels. This great institution seems to be thriving under the interim supervision of David Fallis.
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Categories: 2018-2019 Season and Media Reviews.

Coming Together through Toronto’s Beloved Messiah

Brian Chang, Choral Scene, The Wholenote. Toronto Symphony Orchestra CEO Matthew Loden and I are chatting about the beloved cultural phenomenon that is Messiah in Toronto. Sitting in his office overlooking Roy Thomson Hall, I can see the iconic webbing of the edifice, a physical nest that cradles the music hall. In a few weeks, the Toronto Symphony Orchestra and guests, under the baton of Johannes Debus, will present a major six-performance run of Handel and Jennens’ masterpiece.. (Full disclosure: as regular readers of this column know, I sing in the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir and will be on stage for these performances.) “We live in a very disjointed and fractured time right now. I think that the human condition is to long for a kind of togetherness, to find your place with people,” says Loden, speaking about the need for a space for an event like Messiah. “Increasingly, we keep finding ways to disintegrate relationships. When you have a moment where you can come together collectively and still have an individual experience while feeling the music coming off the stage with a couple thousand other people – that is really powerful.” With these TSO performances alone, 15,000 people will experience the majesty of the most iconic of Toronto classical-music traditions.
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Categories: 2018-2019 Season and Media Reviews.

“Catharsis” is the wrong word: Britten’s War Requiem

Jenna Simeonov, Schmopera. There was a moment of particular vitriol in Bramwell Tovey's brief remarks before giving the Toronto Symphony Orchestra its downbeat for Britten's arresting War Requiem. He said, "When the sun goes down, and when the sun comes up - and in the rain - we shall remember." It was a pointed, verbal bite directed at a US President who, 100 years after the official end of WWI, was too small and weak to pay an in-person visit to an American military cemetary outside Paris; he cited rain as his excuse, which is in horrific taste even as it is thinly-veiled code for pouting and narcissism. There was bile on Tovey's tongue that rang into Roy Thomson Hall, and its effect lingered long enough to dovetail into the first bars of the War Requiem. I have always found something magnetic and charismatic about Tovey, and as silly as it may sound, to hear him indulge in a brief moment of personal feelings about the meaning of war and commemoration felt akin to hearing a friend's firsthand experience with tragedy.
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Categories: 2018-2019 Season and Media Reviews.

Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem: A monumental commemoration of the WWI Armistice, November 11, 1918

David Richards, Toronto Concert Reviews. Amid the ominous chimes cutting through the languid sounds of lower strings and percussion, came the words of the Latin mass for the dead, “Requiem aeterna”. The unmistakable musical reference to  death and destruction was palpable. As the intensity of the orchestra and voices increased to a climactic cry of pain, an angelic choir of children sang out a prayerful warning “Te decet hymnus…” Such was the beginning of the powerful War Requiem by Benjamin Britten. The Toronto Symphony Orchestra, Toronto Mendelssohn Choir and Toronto Children’s Chorus, over 300 performers in all, came together for a monumental production of Britten’s 1962 masterpiece of remembrance of the horrors of war. Conducted by Bramwell Tovey, it featured soloists well-prepared for their roles, each having performed it with major orchestras and choirs recently. Indeed, the vision of Britten in having Russian, German and English soloists share the same stage was brought to fruition in this performance, something Britten himself couldn’t quite accomplish for the work’s première when soprano Galina Vishnevskaya couldn’t get an exit permit from the U.S.S.R. In last night’s performance it was the Russian soprano Tatiana Pavlovskaya, British tenor Toby Spence, and Canadian/German baritone Russell Braun. .... The Toronto Mendelssohn Choir for its part had some exemplary moments of great drama as well as reflective singing. The a cappella singing of “Pie Jesu Domine” was riveting.  “Libera me” with tenor drum and rumbles from the slow march of the bass drum began as a sorrowful lament that built to a frightening vision of judgment by fire. 
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Categories: 2018-2019 Season and Media Reviews.

Toronto Symphony Remembers With A Moving Tribute To The Wastes Of War

Stephan Bonfield, ludwig Van Toronto. Britten’s War Requiem: Toronto Symphony Orchestra, Toronto Mendelssohn Choir, Toronto Children’s Chorus, and soloists. Bramwell Tovey, conductor. Roy Thomson Hall. Nov, 8. Repeats Nov. 10. The Toronto Symphony Orchestra presented its annual Remembrance Day concert Thursday night at Roy Thomson Hall and, as always befits these solemn occasions, gave another moving tribute to those lost in a century of war and senseless conflicts. Last year it was Jeffrey Ryan’s immensely successful and evocative Afghanistan: Requiem for a Generation, but its model might well have been Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem, a pacifist’s prime exponent of music mourning the casualties of young lives lost amid the senseless wastes of war. Thus, with this year being the 100th anniversary of Armistice Day, the end of the Great War, it was an excellent choice to perform Britten’s masterful six-movement setting of the traditional Latin Requiem text and Wilfred Owen’s eight poems that Britten used to commemorate the man who died one week before the official armistice took effect. Owen’s writings, by his own admission, were less concerned with inherent poetic quality (they are brilliant regardless) and were rather more reflective about the war itself.  Owen superimposed his own deeply personal faith upon his psychologically harrowing experiences, and his extant writings inspired Britten’s polished and eruptive score, abounding with sumptuous depictions of Owen’s inner state as proxy for our collective horrified response to war’s ludicrous devastations.
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Categories: 2018-2019 Season and Media Reviews.

TSO Lets Berlioz Do The Talking In Season Opener

Paul Robinson, ludwig van Toronto. Then came a rarity: an excerpt from Berlioz’ Lélio, ou Le retour a la vie (The Return to Life), a sequel to the Symphonie fantastique. Lélio is a mishmash of music and declamation and not among the composer’s masterpieces. Sir Andrew chose to give us just one musical excerpt, a Fantasy on Shakespeare’s The Tempest for chorus and orchestra. As usual with Berlioz’s orchestral music, the instrumentation was clever and original. But even with an impressive Toronto Mendelssohn Choir on hand, this brief excerpt seemed too long for the quality of its inspiration.
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Categories: 2018-2019 Season and Media Reviews.

Peter Oundjian Has Left The Building

Arthur Kaptainis, Ludwig Van Toronto. The 140-strong Toronto Mendelssohn Choir, on stage rather than in the loft, could hardly have failed to make an impact throughout the hall in the great climaxes, including the high-altitude fugue. These choristers know the music and love it. Strings in the instrumental fugue reminded of us of the calibre of playing we have become accustomed to during the Oundjian years.
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Categories: 2017-2018 Season and Media Reviews.

Peter Oundjian’s triumphant finale to his fourteen-year tenure with Toronto Symphony!

David Richards, Toronto Concert Reviews. Not many people get a goodbye celebration at Roy Thomson Hall.  Such was the case last night for Peter Oundjian with the hall filled to the choir lofts with an adoring public including the Honourable Elizabeth Dowdeswell (Lieutenant Governor of Ontario), the Toronto Symphony Orchestra and the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir. TSO Music Director Peter Oundjian ended his remarkable fourteen years at the orchestra's helm as the TSO closed out its 2017/18 season. The sustained standing ovation by the sold-out hall was just the beginning of the show of love and appreciation for the music he has given and for what he has done for the orchestra, the city and the province.
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Categories: 2017-2018 Season and Media Reviews.

Oundjian Ode to Joy

Leslie Barcza, Barczablog. We heard Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony.  The piece is ideal for this sort of occasion, an instant happening. For three movements the orchestra plays while a crowd of brooding faces watch and listen from the stage. It was almost like three different symphonies, totally unlike one another, each in the presence of the 150 formally attired singers of the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir, waiting their turn. The dissonance that opens the last movement might almost sum up the shock we feel when oh my they’re standing up, perfectly synchronized. Something is going to happen!  Of course it won’t be a surprise when they also sing in perfect synchronization.
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Categories: 2017-2018 Season and Media Reviews.

CANDIDE at TSO Gives You Permission to Laugh

Taylor Long, Broadway World. Conductor Bramwell Tovey began the evening by saying, "in light of the way things are... I want to give you permission to laugh." It didn't take very long before the audience was in stitches with laughter. The Toronto Symphony Orchestra performed Leonard Bernstein's CANDIDE last weekend, accompanied by some of the country's greatest classical voices - Judith Forst and Tracy Dahl - and the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir. The evening was a spectacular display of fine music, drama, and comedy.
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Categories: 2017-2018 Season and Media Reviews.