From August 23 to November 15, TSO patrons were invited to vote on an “audience choice” concert program, which will be played on January 26 and 27.
The winners in this popularity contest were recently announced (see here). This is the resulting program, chosen by ballot:
- Barber: Adagio for Strings
- Rachmaninoff: Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, Variation 18
- Williams: Star Wars, Main Theme
- Tchaikovsky: 1812 Overture
- Beethoven: Symphony No. 7 – Mvt. II
- Dvořák: Symphony No. 9 – Mvt. IV
Once a week, for 12 weeks, voters were asked to select their favourites from a list of four nominated compositions. It’s not readily apparent how the pieces were nominated, or who nominated them. Yet the whole exercise has a “steered” feeling about it, with nominations sorted into vaguely thematic groups. For instance, Week 2 was the Baroque week: the nominees were Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 5, “Winter” from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, Pachelbel’s Canon in D and Handel’s Water Music Suite No. 2.
Bach won the vote in Week 2 – but astute readers will notice that there are no Brandenburg Concertos on the program. That’s because there was another, final round of voting. And in the final round, the old cantor of Leipzig narrowly lost out to the man who wrote the music for Star Wars. I guess there just aren’t enough cymbal crashes in Brandenburg No. 5.
Be that as it may, it’s all in good humour – right?
If I were a Canadian composer (and I am), it would disappoint me that there was not a single note of Canadian music among the 48 pieces nominated by the TSO. And given the structure of the contest, it would have been an easy thing to put together a Canadian week – rather like the cluster of American composers in Week 4 – if anyone had thought to do so.
I believe that it’s at times like this, when a musical institution lets down its guard – when it momentarily forgets to pretend that it regards the performance of Canadian music as integral to what it does – that authentic values can percolate to the surface. Whether the TSO’s decision to omit Canadian music was conscious or unconscious, it seems to suggest how the orchestra honestly feels about Canadian composers. And it also suggests how the TSO feels that its audience feels about Canadian composers.
The TSO’s audience choice concert reminds me of another concert that took place in Toronto a few years ago. In 2006, the Canadian Opera Company opened its new opera house (the Four Seasons Centre) with a celebratory concert. It was a wide-ranging international smorgasbord of operatic excerpts that didn’t contain even a token gesture to Canadian opera. It was as though someone at the COC decided – again, either consciously or unconsciously – that there was something inappropriate about mixing a little Canadian repertoire in with the “real stuff.”
I can imagine a few objections that could be raised against the idea of including Canadian works in a popularity contest such as the TSO’s recent effort. How can you expect people to vote on music they don’t know? (Why not try it and find out?) The Canadian works would surely receive so few votes that the process would be a humiliation for the composers. (Perhaps, but at least the TSO could say it tried.) And an audience choice concert is supposed to be entertaining – not a dreary, eat-your-vegetables experience. (There is some Canadian music that’s entirely suitable for lighter pops concerts.)
I’m certainly no defender of all Canadian music. But there’s enough that is worthy, and that “works” with an audience, for the TSO and other orchestras to cultivate a Canadian orchestral repertoire. To fully achieve this, orchestras must select and champion the works they truly believe in, make these works familiar to audiences through repeat performances – and put these pieces on the audience choice ballot. In short, Canadian music needs to be normalized.
So what would happen if audiences were asked to vote on a slate of Canadian works? Would there be riots in the streets? Would Roy Thomson Hall collapse? I don’t know. But I do know that such a gesture from the TSO would stand as credible evidence that the orchestra has taken Canadian music to heart. It would impress me more than all the scripted niceties directed towards this country’s composers during the TSO’s annual New Creations Festival.
© Colin Eatock 2012