We went last night (March 17, 2018) to hear the Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra play to a full house at First Ontario Centre aka the Great Hall at Hamilton Place. I didn’t look over the program or read Leonard’s piece in the Spec before the concert which was called Beethoven & James Ehnes. Perhaps a Leonora Overture, then the Beethoven Violin Concerto? Some substantial Beethoven symphony in the second half. A lot of Beethoven in one program but some people can’t get enough Beethoven; Ludwig van Beethoven. (Try the last four words in Sean Connery’s voice.)
So we got a program and I sat and I began to read. I was mistaken, seriously mistaken. I should have known that Gemma New wouldn’t have programmed the unimaginative concert that I had expected. First would come a Christos Hatzis curtain raiser, Zeitgeist. Then Ehnes would play the Samuel Barber Violin Concerto. Finally, I got one right: Beethoven’s Third Symphony, The Eroica ie. "heroic symphony" would close the concert.
We began, as usual with Conductor Gemma New and Executive Director Diana Weir’s welcome and acknowledgements, Gemma in her conducting togs and Diana in appropriate green. The composer, Hatzis I mean, the others being long dead, would also speak and introduce his piece which he did mostly rephrasing things that he’d already written in the program.
Zeitgeist, written almost 20 years ago is, according to Hatzis, a musical commentary on Postmodernism. The work is written for string orchestra and references numerous musical styles, some more obviously than others. It featured solo duet passages played capably by Stephen Sitarski and Elizabeth Loewen Andrews. It begins with a convincing imitation of an 18th century French Overture and drifts from that into various avatars of Academic New Music. At times I was more interested in watching New’s extraordinarily clear conducting of the complex key signatures than the music. The piece was interesting, nonetheless, and deserved another listening, perhaps at the beginning of the second half as is done in some New Music series.
The Barber Violin Concert came up next. The première dates from 1941 and was conducted by Toscanini, no less. It is fully blown neo-Romantic in style, a tour de force for the violinist and a very beautiful work. It is also featured on James Ehnes’s Grammy winning CD along with the Korngold and Walton concertos.
|James Ehnes and Strad.|
It really was a wonderful performance. I have heard several very fine violinists play solo concertos over the last couple of seasons, at the HPO and with the Brott orchestra, but Ehnes’s performance seemed the most mature. The orchestra rose to the occasion and played exquisitely. Clarinetist Dominic Desautels and oboist Graham Mackenzie both had substantial solos and played them adroitly. Mackenzie’s, at the opening of the second movement, was especially lovely.
Ehnes then played, as an encore, a little J.S. Bach from the solo violin sonatas.
It was fascinating to watch the violinist, and New,