The Toronto Symphony Orchestra has been known for many years for its support for contemporary composers, and not only from Canada. It regularly programmes their works on subscription concerts, and with the same vision, the orchestra founded the New Creations Festival. Their guest appearance at Prague Spring is likewise conceived in this spirit, and it opens with Carnival Overture by Oskar Moravec (spelled Morawetz in Canada, 1917–2007), a native of Světlá nad Sázavou who emigrated from Czechoslovakia in 1937 because of his fear of the growing Nazi threat. After short stays in Vienna and Paris, where he got his musical education, he settled permanently in Toronto, Canada, in 1940. Carnival Overture (1945) is one of his early works, exhibiting his typical Slavonic rhythms, masterful orchestration, and polyphonic writing – a real eruption of musical joy that fits its title.
In the Violin Concerto in D major Op. 77 by Johannes Brahms (1833–1897), the phenomenal Maxim Vengerov will be displaying his artistry. His return is eagerly anticipated, because it has been a long eight years since he last appeared on a Czech stage! He will get to shine in one of the most difficult works in the violin literature, which the composer tailor made for his close friend, the great violinist Joseph Joachim. The concerto places the highest demands on the performer, and although after its premiere in 1879 many critics and players described it as unplayable or as written “against the violin”, over the years it became a firmly established part of the repertoire of all important violinists of the twentieth century.
The evening will conclude with the Symphony No. 7 in D minor Op. 70 by Antonín Dvořák (1841 – 1904). Written in 1884 and 1885, the symphony has a special standing among the composer’s works. Dvořák expressed his resolve concerning the new symphony as follows: “I want to write a symphony of the kind that will be earthshaking, and may God will that it be so!” It was meant to be a work that would surpass everything he had already written. It is said that Dvořák deliberately held back somewhat from using Slavonic folk music as his source of inspiration, instead trying to create a work closer to the manner of Beethoven or Brahms, which would have a greater chance for international success. Something else that may have contributed to this was a comment from Brahms addressed to the composer’s previous symphony: “I imagine your symphony being quite different from the one in D major.” And in fact, Dvořák’s Seventh Symphony received not only its world premiere abroad – in 1885 in London – but also the international acclaim that was of fundamental importance for Dvořák’s artistic career.
The Russian star violinist Maxim Vengerov made his first recording at just ten years of age. A winner of the International Henryk Wieniawski Violin Competition and the Carl Flesch International Violin Competition, he plays a broad repertoire ranging from Baroque music to jazz and rock. When he returned to perform with the New York Philharmonic in 2015 after a nine year absence, the public’s ovation was nothing short of what is witnessed at concerts by rock stars. The event, unusual even by local standards, was described by the New York Times as follows: “He received a hero’s welcome. There were bravos and smattered applause between movements and a protracted ovation at the end of the piece.” Beginning in 2007, following the example of his mentors Mstislav Rostropovich and Daniel Barenboim, he has also been active as a conductor. He is a winner of prestigious prizes including the Grammy Award, the Gramophone Award, ECHO Klassik, and the Classical Brit Award. In 1997 he became the first person from the world of classical music to become a Goodwill Ambassador for UNICEF. Teaching and support for young talents make up an important part of Vengerov’s life. He teaches at the Menuhin Academy in Switzerland, and this year he also became a professor at the Royal College of Music in London. He plays on a unique violin, the ex-Kreutzer Stradivarius built in 1727.
Since its founding in 1922, the Toronto Symphony Orchestra has been one of Canada’s most important cultural institutions. Besides appearing in concert with the world’s leading musicians (Lang Lang, James Ehnes, Yo-Yo Ma), the orchestra is proud to collaborate with important composers (Aaron Copland, John Adams, Phillip Glass). Since the 1924/1925 season, it has been a pioneer in the educating of young audiences. Karel Ančerl established the orchestra’s special ties with Czech culture as its principal conductor from 1969 until his death in 1973. The orchestra’s present principal conductor Peter Oundjian also laid claim to Ančerl’s legacy in 2013 when he opened Prague Spring with the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France. At a press conference, he said that from the archives of the Toronto orchestra, he borrowed the score to Smetana’s Má vlast (My Country) with Ančerl’s markings, which were extraordinarily helpful for comprehending the emblematic work of Czech Romanticism. Who knows, maybe he will do the same thing in the case of Dvořák’s Seventh.
The career of the native Canadian Peter Oundjian has taken him to concert halls all over the world – from Berlin, Amsterdam, and Tel Aviv to New York, Chicago, and Sydney. He has also appeared at such prestigious festivals as the BBC Proms, Prague Spring, the Edinburgh Festival, and the Philadelphia Orchestra’s Mozart Festival, where he served as the artistic director from 2003 to 2005. He was the principal guest conductor with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra (2006–2010) and the artistic director of the Caramoor International Music Festival in New York (1997–2007). He has been at the helm of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra since 2004.
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