On December 1st, the Toronto Symphony Orchestra welcomed guest conductor Andrey Boreyko to guide them through a journey of "Russian Gems." Boreyko made his debut with the TSO in October 2003 and has had a prolific career through guest conducting and as a music director. He is in his third season as Music Director of the Düsseldorfer Symphoniker and he is also the Principal Guest Conductor of both the Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orchestra and the Orquesta Sinfónica de Euskadi San Sebastián in Spain.

Leila Josefowicz, © J Henry Fair
Leila Josefowicz,
© J Henry Fair

The journey began with Anatoli Liadov's The Enchanted Lake, a riveting fairytale about Lake Ilmen of the Novgorod region, located south of St. Petersburg in Russia. Liadov spent much of his time around Lake Ilmen, as it was close to his country estate. He is quoted as saying: "How purely picturesque it is - with bountiful stars over the mysteries in the depth." The TSO was spot on with painting the picture that Liadov intended. The orchestra was very in control and incorporated deep emotion and feeling into the piece. The piece had the feeling of Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker Ballet or Rimsky-Korsakov's "Troika" from his Lieutenant Kijé Suite. Boreyko allowed the sound to carry throughout Roy Thomson Hall, allowing the audience to close their eyes and truly become one with the scenery, emerged in calmness and serenity.

Following this melodic enchantment, Toronto warmly welcomed violin soloist Leila Josefowicz to perform Stravinsky's Violin Concerto in D major. The piece commenced with its iconic chord and through the sound produced, it was evident that this performance would be something special. Leila's energy surged through Roy Thomson Hall and it was matched by each and every member of the TSO. At first, the violin was prominent as a soloist; however, as the first movement progressed, the TSO seemed to engulf the soloist and it became difficult to hear her. This seemed to be a pressing issue throughout the concerto. However, with a new movement came a new virtuosic and colorful tone from the soloist. Leila was able to adapt from soloist to orchestra member when doubling parts and her tone matched perfectly and blended into the TSO's violin section well. Conversely, when performing the more elaborate solo passages, she became connected with her violin in a seamless fashion, which helped depict the dance-like themes as well as the melodic and lyrical arias. She enjoyed her time on stage, and the call-and-response passages between her and the flute proved her virtuosity. She received a well-deserved standing ovation from the Torontonians and retreated and returned to the stage four times before the clapping subsided.

The TSO saved the headliner for last, performing Prokofiev's Symphony no. 5 in B flat major in an intense, ironic, statement-like fashion. Following the Nazis' invasion of Russia in 1941, Prokofiev decided to devote his talent to the war effort and compose music that was patriotic. In 1944, the war turned in favor of the allies and Prokofiev became inspired and rapidly composed his fifth symphony. This was his first symphony since the 1930s and it was considered a breakthrough. He called it "the culmination of a long period of my work." With such subject matter in mind, the orchestra paid extreme attention to depicting precisely what the symphony was based upon: the war. You could hear the bombs portrayed through the bass drum and the sound of gunfire from the timpanist. The symphony was ironically performed with clear distinctions of the two contrasting motives at once: bright and happy tone in the woodwinds versus the dark and solemn sound of the strings. Along with the theme of irony comes the influence of Shostakovich, throughout this symphony - though at the time, Shostakovich was condemned for his music while Prokofiev was praised.

Boreyko immersed himself in the mind of Prokofiev and was dramatic with his conducting, expecting much of the TSO. The orchestra responded well to their guest, put their fatigue aside, and used every last ounce of energy to perform in the manner set out by the composer. The themes between the unusual slow-fast-slow-fast movements were clear and defined, almost as though they represented their own individual movements. The orchestra made every attempt to depict the timeline of war through the progression of the piece, beginning with battle and ending with heroic celebration. The TSO never showed any signs of fatigue, no matter how demanding the music became. The gems of Russia shone all night long.