Crow Plays Beethoven

Jonathan Crow, Violin — Alain Trudel Conducting

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Orchestra London's Classics and Beyond Series: October 2012

Crow Plays Beethoven
Orchestra London's Classics and Beyond Series Opener — October 2012

Thursday October 11, 2012

by Brian Hay

There was no summer letdown for this group. Or if there was, everyone just worked harder in rehearsals to shake the cobwebs off.

The orchestra sounded crisp from the second the strains of Beethoven's fabulous Violin Concerto began filling the confines of St. Paul's Cathedral. Music Director, and Conductor for the evening, Alain Trudel states that Beethoven "speaks directly to your soul". He's right. It was as if an enormous presence had entered and reached out to touch each individual there. It's hard to explain this but there's never any denying it when it happens. For all the volume the music created (which is considerable during some parts of the introduction) there was a tangible feeling that a pin dropping would have been heard. It was musical drama at its finest.

Soloist Jonathan Crow's entry seemed effortless as did most of his performance throughout the concerto. This man who seems to have a very intimate relationship with his instrument. Virtuoso passages, changes in tempo and transitions from short sharp bursts of notes to waves of sonorous melodic passages appeared as natural as breathing. He pushes the instrument to the fullest, never hesitating to apply weight to a thrust of the bow, yet didn't have any of the signs of wear on the strings of his bow that sometimes show when a player coaxes extremes from the instrument. He's also very obviously an ensemble player to the core of his soul. The connection between him. Alain, and the musicians in the orchestra was completely intuitive.

Crow's transition from the final passages of the lovely larghetto to the rondo that introduces the third movement of the piece was a moment of pure musical joy that touched everyone. The orchestra came into it with a flourish that made it clear everyone on the podium was enjoying themselves. Concertmaster Joe Lanza and Associate Concertmaster Mary Elizabeth Brown were almost bouncing in their seats. Alain's eyes were sparkling. The standing ovation at the end of the half was richly deserved.

The interpretation given to Beethoven's Seventh Symphony combined the best elements of classical precision with the untamed nature of a high energy rock concert. Dramatic changes in tempo and abrupt shifts between weightier passages amidst sections that were almost playful in character filled out the dynamic range in the piece. Flautist Kali Maimets did some beautifully lyrical playing on her solo passages. Taking over the position vacated by the retirement of Annelie Metrakos could be daunting but this young woman is going to be a wonderful part of the orchestra. Her playing combines delicately honed precision with the vivacious joy of playing from the heart. The warm smiles that came from her between passages were probably her part of unspoken exchanges with Alain who undoubtedly, was sending messages of approval.

The famous second movement was given a treatment that was majestic. If an illustration of how music can touch an array of points from the emotional spectrum simultaneously is ever needed this is a good one. A sparkling rendition of the third movement led the surge to a breathtaking climax. The fourth was taken at a whirlwind tempo that emphasized the urgency underlying its character. The energy, and intensity involved was stunning. Honestly, all that was missing was a rock guitarist windmilling his right arm — that image was a constant in my head and it's meant as the highest compliment imaginable. When music is played like this, it matters.

Alain has tremendous confidence in the musicians and they reciprocate completely. Abrupt transitions and razor-sharp punctuation aren't easy to manage. If done successfully they define the physical and emotional character of music. His willingness to push interpretations to that edge where a performance could collapse generates (and guarantees) levels of excitement seldom achieved in any musical genre. It may not be safe but it makes music rock. To see how important this is to Alain and how satisfying it is to the musicians take a moment to thank them personally after a show and watch their eyes light up.

That speaks volumes.

This performance took place at St. Paul's Cathedral in London Ontario on Wednesday October 10, 2012. This article was written to convey impressions of what it was like to be there.

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Jonathan Crow
C
oncertmaster for the Toronto Symphony Orchestra
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