A rather odd night at the symphony

BoulezI went to see the TSO last night because there was a Boulez piece programmed that I wanted to hear.  It was a rather odd evening.  It kicked off with Morawetz’ Carnival Overture Op.2.  This was I suppose the designated Canadiana.  It’s a roughly five minute piece that sounds like the Brahms of the Academic Festival Overture crossed with Dvořák.  Too much brass and cymbals for my taste.  Then came about ten minutes of faffing about reorganising the stage for the Boulez followed by Peter Oundjian coming out and making one of those cringingly apologetic speeches for programming something “difficult”.  I hate this.  If an orchestra, opera house or chamber ensemble is going to program atonal, serialist or what you will music (and they should) by all means explain how it works in a program note but don’t patronise the audience and, above all, don’t apologise.  If it needs an apology why are you programming it?

Anyhow, I really enjoyed Le soleil des eaux; a setting of two poems by René Char (poet, rugby player, Résistant – I think we would have got on rather well).  The first half; Complaint du lézard amoureux, is very sparsely scored with a very exposed soprano part beautifully sung by Carla Huhtanen.  The second part; La Sorgue, chanson pour Yvonne, is denser, louder, more violent with lots of tricky work for the chorus (the excellent Soundstreams Choir 21).  Yes, it’s twelve tone but it’s not difficult for anyone with even a passing acquaintance of music written in the last hundred years or so.  It’s actually rather beautiful with real delicacy in the first half and some oomph in the second.  It’s certainly more subtle than the Morawetz or the Rimsky Korsakoff which followed.  So, by now we had been in our seats about half an hour and heard fifteen minutes of music so it was obviously necessary to take an interval.  Got to keep the bar takings up I guess.


After the break it was Rimsky-Korsakoff’s Scheherezade.  This should just have been a straight forward case of the TSO and Oundjian doing what they do best; bashing out standard rep classics, and it almost was.  The orchestra sounded great, Jonathan Crow did a lovely job with the solo violin part and the various woodwind soloists sounded really fine.  The problem was that someone in wheelchair row a few rows behind me was having trouble and his minders weren’t handling it at all well.  I don’t want to seem exclusionary or ableist but if someone is unable to stay reasonably quiet during a performance the best thing for all concerned is to get them to where they can be looked after properly asap.  What’s not a good solution is to call someone on your cell phone and have a conversation about what to do that lasts the whole performance.  I’m glad it didn’t happen during the Boulez though, ironically, I could easily see Pierre or one of his mates recording it for use in a future work.

Sometimes a night at the symphony makes an R. Murray Schafer piece seem almost normal.

Photo of Carla etc courtesy of Nick Wons.

3 thoughts on “A rather odd night at the symphony

  1. We had a “Night at the Opera” program here in Thunder Bay and a developmentally disabled woman was making loud noises and clapping loudly at innapropriate times throughout the whole evening. She seemed like she was enjoying herself but I wasn’t. I suppose I should be happy that the woman was enjoying some opera and not begrudge the fact the she just enjoys it diferently than the rest of us do. Having said that I do wish she could have been quiet.

    On a separate note, I can’t believe Oundjian apoligised for a piece of music. Thats just insulting to the audience and the composer.

  2. I debated whether to comment, but here goes. I’m sure neither of you are ableist, but I’m curious what events in what locations you do enjoy in the company of “developmentally disabled” people? Perhaps you might consider that, of the hundreds? thousands? of concerts you have been lucky enough to go to and the thousands more you will no doubt enjoy, to have your enjoyment of one disturbed by someone who may love music as much as you do but never or rarely goes because of a condition they have no control over, is something that calls for generosity of spirit rather than churlishness. I suspect your enjoyment of concerts over the years has been disturbed much more by people who choose to chat, unwrap noisy candy wrappers, text, tweet and take pictures on their cell phones. I do find the “shunning” of people who are physically challenged – usually quite elderly or developmentally challenged (they don’t belong here) to be profoundly troubling. It seems to be one of the last acceptable forms of discrimination.

    • You make some very good points. Now, when I think about it I go to concerts that have attendees with various challenges frequently. Pretty much every concert in the RBA for example. Occasionally there are minor disturbances and it doesn’t bother me at all. I think what really bugged me last night was the incessant phone or 2-way or whatever it was conversation associated with it. I do think that if people are going to take responsibility for other people in that context they should have a clear idea of how they are going to manage predictable situations without having to make back up calls. And if that strategy is to leave them be I can live with that.

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