BY MICHAEL SOBOTA
OUR Thunder Bay Symphony Orchestra (TBSO) opened their 2016-2017 Classical Plus concert series Wednesday evening at the Hilldale Lutheran Church.
It featured a superb rendition of Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 5, performed by Gregory Lewis. More on Lewis and this Mozart concerto in just a bit.
The program opened in silence. We, the audience, sat waiting, while noticing various members of the orchestra scattered around the perimeters of the large church hall. We waited some more. Then quietly, exquisitely, Marc Palmquist, sitting alone in his chair in the orchestra zone, began playing his cello.
Hearing him alone like this conveyed both a vulnerability and a strength that was completely engaging. Palmquist was mesmerizing. Then, from around the room, we began to hear other string performers, as they slowly and somewhat reverentially walked into the centre and took their seats with Palmquist.
The music was Denis Gougeon’s Coup d’Archets (translated as “a stroke of the bows”). The music grows, blends, splits apart and overlays chords and themes. Each section principal (violins, viola, cello, bass) has a solo and each of our TBSO musicians shone in their spotlights. Gougeon’s composition is glorious to hear - and see - in performance.
Then we were given the great musical gift - our TBSO and Gregory Lewis performing Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 5. Lewis is our own - born and raised and musically educated here, and then trained additionally elsewhere. I first heard him perform as a teenager in the Chenier Art Gallery, downtown on Court Street. He was busking. He was shy, but focused and already quite brilliant.
Here, with our TBSO, he was the perfect match for Mozart. He exhibits brilliant technique and control, shaping and revealing to us the emotional content of the music while smoothly moving through the technical requirements of the piece.
This was masterful playing.
Lewis has won numerous international competitions and performed with our Consortium Aurora Borealis as well as with other symphony orchestras, including two performances at Carnegie Hall. I suspect his career will take him wherever he wishes to go. Wherever he travels, he should know that Thunder Bay is very proud of him. And our TBSO would do well to bring him back. Soon.
The program concluded with Schubert’s Symphony No. 6. The symphony is considered light, in that the music is bright and sunny. But Schubert’s orchestration is dense, complex and called for strong contributions from the clarinet (Peter Shackleton), flute (Penelope Clarke) and a driving bombast from percussion (Jean-Francois Breton). Each of these TBSO principal artists, together with their colleagues, made this work an energetic, joyous experience.
The evening was guided by guest conductor Jean-Michel Malouf. Malouf’s conducting style features a wide range of physical expression, from delicate gestures to vigorous, muscular wipes and thrusts.
As a conductor, visually he helps us understand the emotional changes in the music. He heightens our attention to specific sections in the orchestra. And he whirls it all together in quite a splendid musical dance, whether it is the modern nuances of Gougeon or the layered mysteries of Mozart. Perhaps best of all, he exudes happiness from the podium while conducting.
What a fine, splendid concert.
Michael Sobota reviews the symphony orchestra for The Chronicle-Journal.