"Con Brio" is a term which demands excitement, strength, and enthusiasm. This evening‘s Toronto Symphony Orchestra New Creations Series concert was based upon exactly these concepts. To kick off the program, Peter Oundjian led the TSO through the Canadian première of Jörg Widmann's concert overture Con Brio. The timpani opened followed by brief grandiose chords. The orchestra was overtaken by elongated, emphasized breaths. Unique techniques were used to produce unusual sounds: playing on the side casing of the snare drums, hitting the mouthpiece of the trumpet. The piece had a very programmatic feel and seemed fit for the big screen. As the piece progressed, it grew in rhythmic complexity. The woodwinds emphasized the descending lines while the trumpets embellished majestic fanfares. The flutes advanced to a jazzier, more modern sound through numerous contrasting melodies. The homage to Beethoven became clearer when the trumpets began quoting themes from his Seventh and Eighth Symphonies. These references became clearer and broader as they progressed to the strings, almost like a Theme and Variation on Beethoven. The energized falling motif in the violins led to an almost silent conclusion.

Peter Eötvös, © Priska Ketterer
Peter Eötvös,
© Priska Ketterer

Maestro Oundjian welcomed composer and guest conductor Peter Eötvös to the stage for the North American première of his Replica for Viola and Orchestra, featuring the orchestra's principal violist, Teng Li. The viola began very sotto voce with percussion accompaniment. She instantly drew on the audience‘s emotions with lovely, drawn-out melodic lines. Her connection with the orchestra became stronger with a precise call and response. The piece was composed with finesse, leaving the soloist very exposed and she was like a soprano singing her love and emotion with a dialogue from the orchestra. The use of accordion with the orchestra was an imaginative compositional touch. A clean, muted brass section built tension and excitement with arpeggios, while unexpected flute flourishes added color to the tone. The percussion section contributed a sense of fantasy through the bells and vibraphone. Elaborate descending motifs were shared and contrasted between the strings and woodwinds leading into a subtle and phantasmic ending.

The final piece of the evening saw composer Derek Charke take the stage for the world première of his TSO- and Kronos Quartet-commissioned Concerto for String Quartet and Orchestra. An introduction of piano flourishes and erratic strings led into vibrant and ecstatic jazzy themes. As in previous pieces, the percussion was essential and very colorful. The beginning evoked the portrait of a ship at sea; very adventurous. The TSO was rhythmically precise and concise through numerous difficult passages. Oundjian's requests for extravagant subito pianos and crescendos built the intensity of the composition. Charke incorporated unique vocal annunciations and screams to lead up to the exciting, celebratory, dance theme. This quickly transformed to a soft, emotional chorale. This progression became the outline for the piece, melodic chorales from the Kronos Quartet progressing to larger brass chords, until the thick orchestral tutti took over. The distinct percussion melodies were noted by the musicians as having a rock and roll feel. The amplification of the Kronos Quartet made them stand out and provided a diverse texture to the overall tone. This composition was a gem of musical genius, embodying a vast variety of diverse emotions and themes into a single piece. The final descent from celebration led into a darker and mysterious theme featuring the soundscape technique with distinct seal, whale and dolphin sounds. This immense sense of imagination and imagery concluded the piece, earning the performers and the composer a well-deserved standing ovation.