At the mere announcement of their entrance onto the stage at Roy Thomson Hall, the audience shouted its approval, as if we were about to receive two hoary-headed rock stars reprising their roles from the Woodstock Festival more than 40 years ago.
But instead, from the beige and cream-coloured wings of the stage walked Shalom Bard, about to make his conducting debut with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra and violinist Maxim Vengerov, returning to Toronto for one of his many visits.
Both men are 38 years old.
Vigorous, youthful and elegant, the talented musical duo strode across the stage obviously appreciating but appearing somewhat surprised, too, by the loud cheers and effusive whoops of delight cascading upon them from every direction in the hall.
They were joining forces in the performance of Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 35, Bard on the podium, baton sweeping the air, conducting the marvellous orchestra in front of him and the master soloist standing beside him at his left.
Tchaikovsky’s violin concerto is, as the TSO’s music director Peter Oundjian has said, “one of the greatest challenges” for a violinist to play. Nevertheless, it’s hard to imagine that it was scorned by critics after its première in Vienna more than 130 years ago. Today, it’s one of the most popular pieces of the classical canon.
Though he stood taller than all of players seated before him and than Vengerov standing at his side, and though he controlled every aspect of the musicians’ performance except, of course, their execution of the score, Bard necessarily took a role “underneath” the heart-stirring sounds of the concerto, “behind-the-scenes” so to speak, of the notes and lyrical phrases emanating from the expert playing of the instruments on stage.
And once the music began, Vengerov stood in its centre, fully at the front of the alternatingly soft and tender or volcanicly erupting melodies of Tchaikovsky’s rousing, stormy and yet comforting concerto.
He took his cues from Bard.
And then he drew the stunning sounds from the violin with an energy and a passion that were noticed and enjoyed by the orchestra members as well as by the enraptured audience.
The rapport between conductor and soloist was smoothly responsive. Bard was artful, nuanced and calm in his direction, even during the urgent, explosive passages of the third movement.