TSO Principal cellist Joseph Johnson performs Don Quixote Nov. 29 (photo credit Dale Wilcox)

An Evening with Schumann & Strauss at the TSO

It would have been pretty remarkable to spend an evening with the two gents; alas, in our current day, we are only able to experience their brilliance through their works, conducted & played by various artists around the world.

Saturday, December 1st, was an interesting evening filled with music, mingling and much more. Sir Andrew Davis, along with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, performed two wonderful pieces: Schumann’s Piano Concerto in A Minor and Strauss’s Don Quixote. Joining Sir Andrew were Jan Lisiecki on piano, Teng Li on Viola and Joseph Johnson on cello.

Sir Andrew Davis conducts the TSO in Schumann's Piano Concerto feat. soloist Jan Lisiecki Nov. 29 (photo credit Dale Wilcox)

Schumann has attempted many concerto’s throughout his life but the only one he was able to complete was a piece he began composing in 1841, for Fantasie. It was not until 1845, and a lot of push from his wife, that he add the final two movements to the piece to create the full concerto, which premiered in 1846. The 30+ minute piece is broken into three movements: Allegro affettuoso (A minor), Intermezzo: Andantino grazioso (F major) and Allegro vivace (A major), where there is no break between the 2nd and 3rd movement.

Strauss’s Don Quixote on the other hand is quite a different piece all together. Completed in 1897 and composed for a cello, viola and a large orchestra, this work is an adaption of Miguel de Cervantes 1605 novel Don Quixote de la Mancha. The novel tells the tale of a nobleman who, after reading way too many chivalric novels, loses his mind and imagines himself a knight, responsible to serve and protect. In the 40 minutes of musical performance, we see the dimwitted Don Quixote set about with his servant Sancho Panza on a series of ridiculous adventures, fighting sheep and make-believe-giants, before concluding with his peaceful death. The solo cello (in this case, performed by Joseph Johnson) represents Don Quixote and his misadventures, while the solo viola suggests his horse, Rosinante.

Jan Lisiecki performs Shumann's Piano Concerto with the TSO Nov. 29 (photo credit Dale Wilcox)

Both pieces were beautifully performed, with an orchestra consisting of young talent and veterans alike. The beauty of seeing a symphony perform is beyond words. Not only are they in sync, but the discipline required to really present a story via music is not a simple thing. Schumann’s Piano Concerto contains many romantic elements, from the mournful music to the striking spikes of melody. Lisiecki’s performance on piano was beyond extraordinary. For a 17 year-old, Lisiecki taps into Schumann’s piece with maturity and understanding, each note dictating the emotion one should feel. Was just a beautiful piece to listen to.

Moving on to Strauss’ Don Quixote, you are presented with ten fantastic variations where the principal themes interact with striking performance techniques. From the altercation with the windmills – produced by a surprising new contraption on the orchestra stage: a wind machine!  – and the encounter with the sheep, you step into the world where the many instruments of music weave together a story from ages past. A bit of a long piece that could stretch one’s patience, the orchestra didn’t show any sign of wavering, keeping the tunes consistent and flowing. The cello and viola are given the spotlight during solo moments, performing in sync, truly laying out the story for the audience. Johnson pours his heart out with his solo cello performance and Li demonstrates precisely why she is the TSO’s principal viola, really amplifying every note in her performance.

TSO Principal cellist Joseph Johnson performs Don Quixote Nov. 29 (photo credit Dale Wilcox)

Sir Andrew Davis is a master conductor and one who has truly studied these individual pieces, conveyed in his own performance during the show. This coupled with the extraordinary talent we see on the stage, and you have an event that boggles the mind. This lovely evening concluded with a post-show party, with performances by Olenka & the Autumn Lovers. Describing the night as a wonderful evening with music would be an understatement. Not only did you get an opportunity to immerse yourself in the classics, but truly experience music how it should be experienced: live and un-cut, with every note dictating your emotions.

The TSO has a bunch of Casual Concerts running throughout the year, each offering something unique. For a full list, click here.

Photo & Historical Information Credit: Toronto Symphony Orchestra