JWR Articles: Live Event - Copland and Stravinsky: Toronto Summer Music Festival (Featured artist: Jonathan Crow) - July 21, 2018
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Copland and Stravinsky: Toronto Summer Music Festival

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No one can have it all

What extraordinarily superb timing that this U.S./Russia musical summit follows just days after the similar length private chat (translators only) between Presidents Trump and Putin. Rest assured that the fake news decrier has never heard either of these works, while the former KGB agent would be at one with the triumph of the devil.

Under Artistic Director-violinist Jonathan Crow’s leadership, this performance of the much-preferred chamber version of Appalachian Spring was one of the finest I have yet heard or imagined.

Any slight ensemble vagaries were immediately dismissed as tiresome quibbles once it became apparent that the texture, tone and feeling emanating from every musician were at one with Copland’s intentions.

The frequent transitions were handled with deceptive ease, allowing the music to unfold rather than be thrust upon the listener. The woodwinds (Kelly Zimba, flute; Miles Jaques, clarinet; Michael Sweeney, bassoon) blended well with each other and their string and piano colleagues, needing only a tad more dryness to match their colleagues’ staccati where required.

Heard in 2018, with all of the political intrigues bombarding the airwaves daily, how splendid it was to savour the feeling of hope as the rightly famous Shaker hymn took stage. Especially effective was the marvellously understated muted section where Crow and company proved yet again how less is so much more—delivered in the right hands.

Here’s hoping a recording with these players might soon be in the works.

Directed by Alaina Viau, this contemporary version of C.F. Ramuz’s libretto for Stravinsky’s “economical” (chamber ensemble rather than full-bore orchestra)—replete with cellphone gags, same-sex couplings and the band joining in the revelry—L’Histoire du Soldat never quite took off. Cameron Davis’ on-again, off again projections—at one point the “blank” screen causing some to wonder if a bulb had burst—didn’t add much to the overall tableau. Playing the soldier, Suzanne Roberts Smith was credible for the most part (more “freeze frame” rather than trying to imitate Crow’s bowing would have been appreciated); narrator/voices Derek Boyes was a marvel of variety and rhyme. Both actors obviously have first-rate projection skills, so the decision to electronically reinforce their contributions was at odds with natural sounds from the musicians (and some discreet dynamic shifts would have guaranteed their contributions would not have been covered). Dancer-choreographer Jennifer Nichols was a constant delight, readily radiating, anguish, love and death.

Even as Josephine realizes that “no one can have it all,” we can only hope that the apparent leaders of two such disparate nations might very well come to the same conclusion.

Much food for thought and deed. JWR

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Featured artist - Jonathan Crow
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