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TSO blows the cobwebs off Beethoven’s Eroica

Toronto Star logo Toronto Star 2019-04-11 John Terauds - Special to the Star
a group of people sitting at a table: Kerem Hasan conducts the Toronto Symphony Orchestra at Roy Thomson Hall on April 10 as it performs Beethoven's Eroica Symphony. © Provided by Toronto Star Newspapers Limited Kerem Hasan conducts the Toronto Symphony Orchestra at Roy Thomson Hall on April 10 as it performs Beethoven's Eroica Symphony.

Toronto Symphony Orchestra

3.5 stars

With violinist Christian Tetzlaff. Kerem Hasan, conductor. Roy Thomson Hall, 60 Simcoe St. Apr. 10. Repeats Apr. 12 and Apr. 13. Tso.ca

It’s quite a feat to make a two-century-old piece of music sound as fresh as the day the ink dried on its pages. That is what the Toronto Symphony Orchestra accomplished on Wednesday night at Roy Thomson Hall with the help of 27-year-old conductor Kerem Hasan.

Hasan, a native Londoner brandishing a clutch of music prizes, stepped in to replace Louis Langrée this week. This was his first time conducting in Toronto.

Langrée’s loss was our gain. Hasan may just be getting into his professional career, but he showed not only remarkable control and poise on the podium, but his musical ideas brought Ludwig van Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3 to vivid life.

The symphony, known as the Eroica, was a boundary-buster when people first heard it in 1805. At more than 45 minutes, it was longer than normal. Its contents also defied the usual conventions.

We 21st-century listeners, saturated with streamed, broadcast and recorded music, may be over-familiar with masterworks like the Eroica. It makes it an even bigger treat, then, to hear a live performance that blows the cobwebs out from between the notes.

Hasan highlighted the rhythmic originality of Beethoven’s writing. The orchestral textures were crystal clear, and the dynamics were punchy and high-contrast. The performance was an edge-of-the-seat treat from beginning to end as the symphony musicians expertly followed Hasan’s direction.

German guest violinist Christian Tetzlaff, a longtime favourite soloist with the TSO, was in sizzling form in early-20th-century Ukrainian composer Karol Szymanowski’s Violin Concerto No. 1, which dates from the end of the First World War.

This is not my favourite concerto. It roils with tightly coiled emotion and strains its bar lines with musical ideas that keep threatening to explode into chaos. But Tetzlaff fearlessly met the piece’s technical challenges while also giving the music a powerful immediacy.

Hasan and the TSO were more than good accompanists, plumbing the wide range of expression demanded by the composer.

The evening opened with Claude Debussy’s familiar tone painting in “Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune.” Hasan coaxed out an interpretation that ranged from delicate to sensuous to muscular. It turned out to be a fine portent of the pleasures to come later in the program.

It is such a treat to witness a great, young talent so early in their career. It is one thing to be musical; it is another to be able to communicate that musicality to a stage full of musicians and create a compelling message along the way.

Let’s hope that this week’s lucky break means that we’ll have many more opportunities to see and hear Hasan’s work in Toronto. In the meantime, if you want to reacquaint yourself with the glories of Beethoven, grab a ticket to one of the repeat performances.

Classical music writer John Terauds is a freelance contributor for the Star, based in Toronto. He is supported by the Rubin Institute for Music Criticism, San Francisco Conservatory of Music and Ann and Gordon Getty Foundation. Follow him on Twitter @JohnTerauds

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