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The Toronto Symphony Youth Orchestra

S. Rivard (© Tam Lan Truong)

The Toronto Symphony Youth Orchestra capped its 45th season on May 5 with an all-Russian program under its current conductor Simon Rivard. The program: Rimsky-Korsakov’s orchestration of Mussorgsky’s Prelude to Khovanshchina; Prokofiev’s Suite from The Love of Three Oranges, and Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 10.

I was hoping the orchestra’s founder, Victor Feldbrill, might make an appearance; however at age 95 I believe spends a good part of the year in a warmer climate.

His life story is of interest: He grew up in Toronto in straitened circumstances during the Great Depression. His budding enthusiasm for classical music was heightened when he, while still in elementary school, was allowed to play in the Toronto High School Symphony Orchestra. He eventually became conductor of the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra (1958-68), then the Toronto Symphony Orchestra (1973-78) during which time he founded the TSYO, obviously trying to create opportunities like those he enjoyed.

The upper age of TSYO members is 22. Members study music at various levels aside from the coaching they get from regular TSO members, and many go onto the National Youth Orchestra. Three of my friends are former members; none works as a musician, but one has had two children in the orchestra. Its influence ripples out.

For this concert there were 85 members with quite a representative demographic reflecting Toronto today. Half or so have Asian backgrounds - and one violinist arrived just last year as a Syrian refugee.

As for the performance: despite a few uncertain bits from the brass instruments, the overall tone was solid, with a special rich tone from the strings. Simon Rivard showed a firm grasp on the architecture of each piece, notably in each of the four movements of the Shostakovich symphony, a notably demanding work.

While there is criticism of the shrinking place for music in public schools (one wonder when the Toronto High School Symphony Orchestra last played), there is a diverse and complex array of musical opportunities for children and youth to pursue music in the Greater Toronto Area. The TSYO is but one - and a good one, and happily its continued existence seems assured.

Michael Johnson



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