THUNDER BAY, ON ------- November 21, 2009 ------ Another masterworks program, another great concert! Our Thunder Bay, is blessed with a very capable fully professional symphony orchestra and is perhaps one of the best kept secrets in Northern Ontario. Gisèle Ben-Dor, guest conductor knows a good orchestra when she hears one. A good orchestra does not need a conductor to beat time or make the important cues for the players. The musicians come to the first practice with their music learned. The conductor’s job is to get the musicians to play together so that they all play with the same musical concept, and with intensity. Under her direction Franz Schubert’s Symphony #5 was played with an accuracy and lightness which reminded me of great masters Haydn and Mozart, the humour of Haydn and the style of Mozart. Of all Schubert’s symphony’s this is perhaps his homage to his predecessors. The tightness of ensemble and execution of the playing on this performance was first rate throughout, a credit to both the conductor and the musicians of the TBSO.
The second work was by a Belgian composer who is new to me and most of the audience. The Violin Concerto No. 5 Op. 37 by Henri Vieuxtemps (1820-1881) is as the dates suggest a full romantic work for solo violin and orchestra. Unlike other virtuosic concertos from the time, Vieuxtemps also could write a good orchestra part as well as a fantastic solo part for the violin. Jasper Wood who first came across this piece at the Cleveland Institute of Music has made this concerto one of his signature pieces. His performance of this piece was stunning.
After intermission the orchestra assembled to play Francis Poulenc’s Sinfonietta. This is a more modern composition, but like the Schubert before it represents the exuberance of Poulenc’s Paris. Once again the orchestra defined the way this piece should be played.
A good concert begins with appropriate music. The music chosen for this concert was selected in part because it was written for an orchestra about the size of the TBSO. Since the music is also intended to audition a new conductor it is also chosen to provide a world of opportunity for the conductor and the musicians alike. The three selections on the program fit well together and made a great concert.
Our orchestra always plays its best when we have great guest artists. Thursday night there were two, Gisèle Ben-Dor and Jasper Wood. A concerto creates an extra burden for conductors who must meet the demands of the orchestra while at the same time meet the demands of the soloist. This was a great collaboration.
Gisèle Ben-Dor is different than many of the other conducting candidates for the TBSO. She is older, and reading through her bio she has studied in all the right places with all the right people. She brings a maturity and wealth of experience that shone forth on Thursday night’s masterworks concert.
This season Thunder Bay audiences will see a succession of guest conductors all of whom will be given challenging music to bring to life on stage. As one TBSO member cautioned me, “They all have their strengths and weaknesses”, the choice of a new music director will be a difficult one indeed. The quality of the orchestra is bringing out high caliber candidates such as Gisèle Ben-Dor, and that will make this year one of the best concert season’s in recent memory.