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Slide show at the symphony

Maison Symphonique de Montréal
10/30/2013 -  & October 31 (matinee and evening*), 2013
Joseph Haydn: Symphony No. 59 in A Major ("Fire")
Dimitri Prokofiev: Violin Concerto No. 1 in D Major, opus 19
Simon Bertrand : Gravité
Scott Good: Evening, North Shore, Lake Superior
Jeffrey Ryan: Moving
Modest Mussorgsky: Pictures at an Exhibition (orch. Maurice Ravel)

Viviane Hagner (violin)
Montreal Symphony Orchestra, Kent Nagano (conductor)

K. Nagano (© Felix Broede)

On Halloween, the Montreal Symphony Orchestra’s concert opened with Haydn’s Symphony No.59 in A Major “Fire”. This was a very clean interpretation of the work, playing with more elegance and poise than other Haydn symphonies heard earlier in the season. The strings were especially admirable.

German violinist Viviane Hagner was the soloist in Prokofiev’s Violin Concerto No.1 in D Major. Though lacking stage presence and charisma, Hagner demonstrated a masterful technique and conviction in her interpretation. She was solidly supported by the orchestra.

The MSO also offered its public a new “gimmick” that, under different circumstances, may one day work wonders for a juvenile or novice public. The idea, explained by conductor Kent Nagano during the concert, is that one can associate an image with what one hears and one can hear sounds matching the image one sees. With this in mind, the MSO commissioned three young Canadian composers to write a work inspired by a Canadian painting from the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts permanent collection. Unlike the usual fare of commissioned pieces that some in the audience try to avoid, these works turned out to be highly appealing.

Simon Bertrand’s Gravité was inspired by a work by Jean-Paul Riopelle and it successfully conveyed the anguished mood of the painting. Scott Good’s Evening, North Shore, Lake Superior succeeded in communicating the majestic moods of nature in Franklin Carmichael’s painting. Most appealing was Jeffrey Ryan’s highly charged Moving inspired by Betty Godwin’s Nerves No. 10. These three young composers are indeed promising. Images of the subject paintings were projected throughout the performance. As the three world premieres were specifically inspired by the three paintings, the idea may have had some merit, unlike the visual pairings in the second half of the concert.

The “horror” aspect of Halloween was reserved for the second part of the program when the public was subjected to projections of twelve more Canadian paintings, one for each movement of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition. Despite the visual clutter, the MSO under Nagano excelled in this piece, showing both the orchestra’s nuance and brio. Some of the paintings were works of high quality, but few seemed all that evocative of Mussorgsky’s work. While sound and projected imagery might interconnect, part of the pleasure in experiencing this great work is imagining one’s own images as inspired by the music. Innovation for the sake of innovation is rarely successful.

However, this idea may have worked for performances specifically aimed at a “new” audience. At the very least, some marketing should have been done in that direction. The public at the performance I attended was no younger than usual - and a higher proportion of the expensive seats remained empty. In the end, the ostensible effect this “promotion” with the museum had on the symphony’s public was distraction.

Ossama el Naggar



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