A Night at the Toronto Symphony Orchestra: New Creations Festival

By: Saema Nasir

As the lights in Roy Thompson Hall dimmed and the excited chatter around me quieted, I wondered what to expect from the Toronto Symphony Orchestra’s concert, Two Memorials: Anton Webern & John Lennon. As it turned out I should have expected the unexpected. The concert was part of the TSO’s 12th annual New Creations Festival, which celebrates avant-garde contemporary music.

The evening started with Australian composer James Ledger’s tribute to Anton Webern and John Lennon. I expected some covers of John Lennon’s songs to be accompanied with some pleasant classical compositions. Instead, as the conductor raised his arms and as his body began to sway to the music, it was jarring, distinctive and powerful. Grandiose cacophony evoked emotions of fear, apprehension and excitement. The music sounded like it would have been perfect for the soundtrack of an Alfred Hitchcock thriller – mysterious and enthralling.

I had to rethink my perception of what I considered a symphony and it also opened my eyes to the work of Webern and Lennon. As the music crescendoed, I felt totally immersed in a musical world that was exuberant and anything but subtle. Lined up next was From the Vortex Perspective, a TSO commission in which the music of composer Paul Frehner and a film by Peter Mettler  were played simultaneously. What was unique about this segment of the evening was that the filmmaker and composer worked together to highlight the often close relationship between film and music and it strived to create music and visuals that worked hand in hand, complimenting each other. They certainly attained this, as both the film and the music matched in their eerie, heart-thumping and electrifying qualities. The audience seemed hypnotized by the artistic imagery that floated across the screen and by the raw and rousing beats they were hearing.

Next came Brett Dean’s trumpet concerto, which was performed by a Swedish soloist for whom is was specifically created. This piece of music aimed to explore the concept of the heroic figure and it did so wonderfully. The music rose, seemingly highlighting the soaring heights the hero reached with his or her victories. Then it took a softer tone, lulling to perhaps convey the hero’s more introspective moments where he or she contemplated the nature of their existence. This was a superbly performed piece and was highly stimulating.

This surprising evening at the TSO was worth it. This concert wasn’t Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 in C minor; indeed, the TSO truly opened my eyes (and ears!) to the various forms of music and aroused my senses with the electrifying nature of all the compositions. I was most impressed and can’t wait to hear what the TSO has in store for the future!

Photo by Malcolm Cook.

Saema Nasir is a marketing communications specialist who blogs, writes, paints & explores her beautiful city of Toronto. She has a Masters in Public Relations and also blogs at thecityquill.com. Follow her on Twitter @saemanasir