Concert Review: Itzhak Perlman becomes conductor, Peter Oundjian violinist at TSO love-in

Peter Oundjian and Itzhak Perlman perform together with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra on April 28 (Dale Wilcox photo).

There aren’t many classical music stars who get addressed on a first-name basis. But, then again, violinist Itzhak Perlman long ago crossed the theshold from star to icon status, commanding love and respect from several generations of fans — not least of them Toronto Symphony Orchestra music director Peter Oundjian.

Perlman turned the tables on Oundjian, a former pupil, for the last of three concerts with the TSO on Saturday night at Roy Thomson Hall. In a programme titled “An Evening with Itzhak,” the violinist took over the conductor’s podium, while Oundjian picked up the violin in public for the first time in 17 years.

The capacity house loved every minute of this concert — the Overture to Mozart’s opera, Escape From the Seraglio, J.S. Bach’s well worn D minor Concerto for Two Violins, BWV 1043, and Peter Ilytch Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 5 — leaping repeatedly to noisy standing ovations.

As a love-in, the evening will likely live the in the audience’s memory for a long time. As a concert, the performances showcased the Toronto Symphony musicians’ remarkable skills and discipline, but fell short of any sort of musical magic.

It’s wonderful to hear Bach in the hands of a modern orchestra. Too often nowadays, Baroque music is reserved for period-performance specialists, and it needn’t be, especially when played with the careful attention displayed by the 20 string players and Pat Krueger on harpsichord.

Perlman and Oundjian took on soloist duties, paying so little attention to the orchestra around them that it sometimes seemed like a miracle that everyone made it to the end together, and in one piece.

This was in no way a great interpretation of the Bach chestnut, but made for an eloquent demonstration of student and former teacher and close friend making music together for the sheer love of it.

In a demonstration on how a conductor does not need to indulge in contortions that turn a symphony into an aerobic workout, Perlman took decisive charge of Tchaikovsky’s Fifth from his chair, shaping a clear, dead-conventional reading of a four-movement score laden with shifting colours and moods.

This gave everyone the opportunity to hear not what Perlman thinks of the music, but to experience everything that Tchaikovsky had laid out in his recurring themes and masterful orchestration in 1888.

It is possible that this was one more example of a generous spirit who has spent most of his 66 years inspiring youngsters to pick up the violin, and a lot of time over the past decade finding new ways to turn that sort of inspiration into reality.

Perlman shows off even more of this side of his work on Sunday afternoon at Koerner Hall, when he presents a concert of chamber music with present and past students in the Perlman Music Program. For all the details, click here.

John Terauds


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