TSO’s mission to make classical music relevant to modern audiences
Special to The Globe and Mail
Last updated Thursday, Sep. 24, 2015 2:36PM EDT
Technology is changing our lives at a rapid pace, Italian novelist and semiotician Umberto Eco once told the world’s elite at its annual glittery conclave in Davos. However, he added, the spoon will never disappear. Because, he said, nothing else does what the spoon does as perfectly and efficiently.
And if you live in the world of classical music, that’s a sentiment you live by. Classical music is your spoon. No other music does what classical music does. No other music is as rich, as deep, as powerful, as resonant. Or so goes the argument.
Jonathan Crow and Joseph Johnson believe it wholeheartedly. Crow is the Toronto Symphony Orchestra’s concertmaster, Johnson its principal cellist. Together, they will be featured in the opening concerts of the TSO’s 93rd season this weekend, playing the Brahms Double Concerto, one of the standard works of the Western classical repertoire. The program also unashamedly includes Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony and a long-dismissed orchestral chestnut, Leopold Stokowski’s transcription of Bach’s Organ Toccata and Fugue in D Minor, the piece that opened Walt Disney’s Fantasia in 1940.
Programming Beethoven’s Fifth and the Bach toccata as your season openers is like starting your ultrahip contemporary film festival with a screening of 101 Dalmatians. Nothing could be safer, it seems, nothing could be more conventional, nothing could be less challenging. But Beethoven’s Fifth was the height of revolutionary art when it was written. If it has descended into middlebrow kitsch since, that’s not Beethoven’s fault. In the right hands, the Fifth can once again spit fire and flash lightning storms across our consciousness. As Crow says, “Beethoven 5 is awesome. This is still incredible music.”
And Crow and Johnson are a new breed of classical musician, helping the traditional symphony orchestra articulate a future as well as a past. Both just flirting with 40, they are savvy, modern musicians who might just drag the cultural heritage of their chosen art into a snazzy, relevant dialogue with the 21st century. To them, it’s vital to do so.