The National Arts Centre Orchestra came to Toronto’s Roy Thomson Hall last night to perform a concert in the Toronto Symphony’s subscription series. The program set out to demonstrate once again that the NACO is indeed a world-class orchestra capable of outstanding performances of great orchestral repertoire. Under the leadership of Music Director Alexander Shelley, it accomplished its goal and then some with the music of Brahms, Shostakovich and a new work by one of Canada’s most celebrated contemporary composers, Vivian Fung.
On a cool spring day in which hundreds of thousands of young people gathered in Washington and cities around the world to protest gun violence, it was impossible for me to separate life from art. I couldn’t help looking for relevance in the music to the events of the day. Every time I heard the soulful sounds of the trombones in the Brahms symphony, the cacophony of scraps of tunes in Fung’s new work, or the youthful energy of the Shostakovich concerto, I was reminded that today was a momentous day, one that we will no doubt look back on decades from now.
The program opened with Vivian Fung’s Earworms, a work that comments on the barrage of divergent stimuli bombarding us daily. She used quotations from Charles Ives, Maurice Ravel, Lady Gaga, and even Wheels on the Bus as examples of tunes that keep swirling around in her ears – hence the term ‘earworms’. Fung’s music isn’t new to Toronto audiences. Her Dust Devils was featured in the TSO’s recent New Creations Festival. Just a year ago, her Launch: Sesquie for Canada’s 150th was performed by the TSO and her Violin Concerto No. 2 was performed by Jonathan Crow and the Toronto Symphony a few seasons back. Although Earworms was meant to be whimsical, and yes, there was a moment of laughter in the audience when Wheels on the Bus rang out from the glockenspiel, nevertheless, the prime energy in the music for me was one of restless anxiety, not out of character with the day’s events.
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