The WholeNote's husband-and-wife team of Peter and Verity Hobbs both attended the Toronto Symphony Orchestra's performance of Brahms' Symphony No. 3. As y can see from their separate comments, they gave it two thumbs up!
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“I really liked it, and I'm going back.” That was my reaction to the first of the Toronto Symphony’s "Exposed: Unveiling Great Music" series on October 1 – a series designed for the “musically curious.” The concept is quite simple: the first half of the concert features the conductor (Peter Oundjian in this case) doing an analysis of a featured work, followed by its complete performance after the intermission. The idea is to help the audience gain an understanding of some of the great works of music, as well as to allure young people into the world of classical music. Judging by the length of the lineup at the TSO TSOundcheck table, where 15-35-year-olds waited to buy tickets for only $14, the series should be a resounding success.
The featured work at last night’s concert was Brahms' Symphony No. 3. Oundjian spoke clearly and eloquently about the music, as he and the orchestra worked seamlessly together to illustrate short segments, showing how melodies were transformed as they went from one instrumental section to another. Oundjian even had the audience join him in singing a hemiola passage from West Side Story, to illustrate that rhythmic device. He had the near-capacity audience quite mesmerized. I spoke to a couple of 20-somethings at the intermission. They were enchanted with the first half, and really liked the way that Oundjian “made a story of it.”
Brahms' Third is a piece I know very well, having nearly worn out my old LP of it. But I must say that listening to the complete work last night, after absorbing the input from the first half of the concert, made the performance even more enjoyable than usual. For sure, I will be back for the second concert the series on February 26, which will feature Stravinsky's Rite of Spring.
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Brahms’ Symphony No. 3 was the first work in this series to be artfully de-constructed by conductor Peter Oundjian on October 1, during the first concert in the "Exposed: Unveiling Great Music" series. With wit and colourful examples – and the help of the orchestra – he showed how the building blocks of thematic materials and complicated rhythms were put together to create effects and wonderful melodies.
Probably most of the audience at Roy Thomson Hall was familiar with this popular work. We thought we knew it well, in fact, so it was fascinating to find our how much we had been missing. In the first half, we were shown how romantic composers such as Brahms used personal mottos and thematic variation to flesh out each section of the piece. Oundjian demonstrated how “a theme can go from plain black coffee to cappuccino” and, “dotted rhythms can be like iambic pentameter.” Using a sentence, he showed how rhythmic stress changed the emphasis of a spoken phrase. The audience was also asked to practice displacing the downbeat in a poem, and so forth. Musical excerpts by the orchestra showed how these practices and other elements went together to create a more complex work of art than had been understood by most of us.
After the intermission, there was a complete performance of the symphony. My early 1950s recording must have muted the horns, because they sounded more prominent when played live. It is certainly a treat to hear a live performance of a beloved work, and I will try to hear how The Rite of Spring was created in the next work in this series.
Verity S. Hobbs