No, wait a minute, that’s not right. In fact, most of the music in question is actually very good. Rather, I should say it’s the performances that are bad.
But that’s not quite fair, either. It’s more accurate to say the performances are “variable.” Sometimes things go well – and at other times, not so well.
First, it was the Toronto chapter of Classical Revolution, which has been presenting music events in bars and cafés for the last few years. The driving force behind CR in Toronto is a violinist named Edwin Huizinga.
More recently, conductor Simon Capet has begun to organize Classical Socials on Sunday evenings at a downtown pub called Fionn McCool’s.
Last night I attended a Huizinga-organized performance done on a larger scale than the chamber music evenings he’s organized thus far. At the Tranzac Club, he threw together an orchestra of about two-dozen players. Somehow, he convinced the American conductor James Gaffigan (who’s currently in town to conduct the Toronto Symphony Orchestra) to lead the band – and soprano Measha Brueggergosman to show up for a song.
The Tranzac is a run-down old music hall in Toronto’s Annex neighbourhood. It’s hardly a proper place for a classical concert – but this wasn’t exactly a proper concert. The orchestra contained a few TSO players, a couple of Tafelmusik types, and some musicians young enough to still be students. The wide range of talent in this motley crew was entirely apparent.
Berlioz’s “Le Spectre de la Rose” from Nuits d’Été was sumptuously sung by Brueggergosman – but was perhaps a tad over-ambitious for a small, hastily convened orchestra. However, Mozart’s Symphony No. 36 fared better. And by the end of Schubert’s Symphony No. 5, the ensemble started to sound pretty good.
So what’s so great about these “bad” performances – and why am I writing in their praise?
We inhabit a musical culture that holds perfection achieved through careful and meticulous rehearsal as its supreme goal. Everything must be “just so.” By contrast, the ad-hoc quality of both Classical Revolution and the Classical Socials is a healthy antidote to the oppressive exactitude such a culture can engender. When caution is thrown to the wind, and players are tacitly “authorized” to make mistakes, we are reminded that music is supposed to sound visceral, exciting and spontaneous.
Last night’s performances were all of those things. And if the intonation was sometimes a little off the mark – well, what’s a semitone between friends?
© Colin Eatock 2013