Conductor Julian Kuerti and violinist Karen Gomyo joined the Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal tonight as guests for a rather peculiar concert of Vivaldi, Longtin and Prokofiev. A Baroque solo work, a contemporary work and a large standard orchestral work – this is certainly not an unusual makeup for a program, but the way in which these works were presented was quite unexpected.

Karen Gomyo © Gabrielle Revere
Karen Gomyo
© Gabrielle Revere

Violinist Karen Gomyo was born in Tokyo but grew up in Montréal and New York. Tonight she was supported by a rather hefty complement of strings for a Baroque work. Her interpretation of Spring from the Four Seasons followed suit – it was very Romantic, rich, and full in tone, though often indulging in a few too many ornamentations. The sheer number of players was occasionally an issue; from the very first notes the orchestra was not together, and throughout the Vivaldi the surging internal rhythm was often blurred. Mr. Kuerti, Principal Conductor of the Orquesta Sinfónica de Concepción in Chile, was, if anything, an extremely active conductor. His gestures were consistently quite large, no matter the musical context. Almost every tempo change was awkward, due, in my opinion, to this very fact. I would have preferred to hear this work performed by smaller forces, perhaps without a conductor, closer to the sort of ensemble for which it would have been written.

While the Vivaldi was being played, a huge number of musicians sat in silence onstage. As soon as the final notes of the concerto cadenced, the Longtin piece exploded into life with almost no break in the music. This is in fact a new fad in classical music. Simon Rattle, in his triumphant return to the LA Philharmonic this year stitched Ligeti’s Atmosphères directly into the beginning Wagner’s prelude to Lohengrin, Act I. This can in fact be quite meaningful, and allow the listener to perceive each work in a new light, but tonight, the transition from Baroque to 21st Century was a rude sort of jolt, which swept the audience across hundreds of years without any modicum of subtlety. After the dust settled, we were able to assess the new work clearly. I was left wondering, however, “what was the point?”

Kent Nagano commissioned Et j’ai repris la route by Michel Longtin in 2006, during his inaugural year as music director. The most striking characteristic initially of this work is its rhythmic and coloristic invention. The orchestra is utilized in a number of novel ways, and the sound palette is completely original at all times. A kind of prickly complexity surged in waves into the hall, punctuated by a diverse array of percussion. As the piece continued, the intricacy of the material did not subside. It became quite clear that this was yet another modern work which has abandoned the art of form and contrast. The music became simply an endless display of unusual rhythmic and timbral effects. There was some very fine playing, however, most memorably from the principal cello and the percussion. It was as if, by the end of the piece, we were trapped in the mind of a schizophrenic. The music had no perceptible plan or destination. This sensation was heightened as the atonality transmogrified into Baroque cadences which sank into the Summer concerto of the Vivaldi without pause.

The second half of the concert was dominated by the suite from Prokofiev’s celebrated Romeo and Juliet, a work of truly epic proportions. At times Prokofiev’s orchestra shouts with all the might of a hundred players into the rafters, and at other times it uses small groupings of instruments to craft a foggy, gossamer aural texture. As usual, the low brass were one of the most impressive sections in the orchestra, and the strings played with furious speed and deadly accuracy. The principal cellist, infrequent thought as her appearances in this role are, stood out once more as a fantastic musician this evening.

The Prokofiev is a wonderful work, but the very nature of a suite only served to exacerbate the general feeling of schizophrenia this evening. It was as if we never set foot on solid ground the whole night. Tonight’s concert was an interesting concept, but one that unfortunately didn’t come across very well.

***11