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CAST Philomusica Orchestra - Rising Stars Gala

 On Sunday, November 25 at the Living Arts Centre, a group of young musicians delighted a packed house of classical music lovers.

 The concert opened with a chamber ensemble comprised of 8 young violinists performing 2 pieces with Danny Chik at the piano.  First, they played “Country Dance” by Donald Heins,  a Canadian violinist and composer.  The work was played with a lot of energy, and the many violins produced a grand, majestic effect.  It finished with an elaborate ritardando leading to a powerful final chord.  The next piece, “Song of Nostalgia” was written by the Chinese composer, Ma Si Cong during the Japanese occupation of China in the 1930s.  The chamber ensemble successfully expressed the wistfulness Ma felt while writing this song, and brought back some of the special moments of lives in their home country for the audience.  After this piece, a direct change of atmosphere was presented when five of the violinists performed “Perpetuum Mobile”, a virtuosic work written by Ottokar Novacek in 1895.  Although this piece presented many technical difficulties (e.g. scales and arpeggios, a rapid tempo, and repeated streams of notes), the young violinists managed to perform with rhythmic energy and appealing harmonies.  Playing such work as a group was a big challenge to take on, yet the ensemble delivered a remarkable performance.

 Next, Evan Jing performed the famous “Valse in Db Major, Op.64, No.1” by Frederic Chopin.  This work is popularly known as the “Waltz Of The Little Dog” because of the repeated eighth notes resembling a dog chasing its tail. Evan played with much enthusiasm, lightness, and humour, showcasing a great contrast of dynamics and rapid fingerwork.  This was followed by Franz Schubert’s “Impromptu in Ab Major, Op.90, No.4”, played by Ethan Li.  “Impromptu in Ab Major” is one of the four Op.90 impromptus written by Schubert in 1827.  Ethan performed the arpeggios very easily, and the contrast of mood was demonstrated through his use of pedal and varying weight put upon the piano keys.  The second piece by Chopin performed this evening was the “Nocturne in C Minor, Op.48, No.1”, played by Jerry Tian.  The piece began with a quiet, subtle melody that was later transformed into a dramatic climax point.  Jerry expressed the sensational feeling the work requires.  In addition, octaves and large chords were played with precision and resolute quality.  As the last solo piano performance of the night, Gabriel Wu performed “Rhapsody in B Minor, Op.79, No.1”.  The Rhapsodies were written by Brahms during his summer vacation at Portschach in 1879, during the highlight of his career.  This work is structurally made up of technically arduous passages that call for hours of practice to overcome, for which Gabriel successfully achieved.

 Felix Mendelssohn’s “Piano Trio No. 2 in C minor, Op. 66” was presented by Chris Soong at the piano, Ryan Shen at the violin, and Chris Chan at the cello, all of whom attend the music department in the University of Toronto.  The first movement, marked Allegro energico e con fuoco, consists of a very rich harmonic language that was demonstrated beautifully by the three musicians.  The dynamics created various colours and brought out intense emotions from the audience.  In contrast, the fourth and last movement, Finale Allegro appassionato, was performed in a light and lyrical manner, with fast figures showcasing distinct virtuosity from all three members.  Their musicality and technical fluency was exceptional.

 The first concerto work of the evening, Nikolai Kapustin’s “Piano Concerto No.4”, was performed by the piano soloist, Jacqueline Renée Yu, along with the CAST Philomusica Orchestra under conductor Erhei Liang.  On Mr. Kapustin’s facebook, the composer himself posted Jacqueline’s rehearsal with the orchestra prior to this evening’s performance.  Kapustin’s work requires complex orchestration featuring various percussion and woodwind instruments.  Jacqueline’s energetic approach made the tricky parts seem easy.  Her musicality came out even during the complex figures where the technical level already took up much attention.  This work is in the jazz style, but since the composer studied piano with Alexander Goldenweiser at the Moscow Conservatory, the piece has a very clear classical structure as well.

 After intermission, the first movement of Edouard Lalo’s “Concerto for Cello in D Minor” was performed by Wendy Yuan with the CAST Philomusica Orchestra.  This concerto was composed in 1876.  Throughout the piece, Spanish idioms are presented, demonstrating Lalo’s cultural background.  In the movement, a melodic phrase is repeated throughout the work and displayed in various fashions.  Wendy’s warm tone quality served as a great addition to the lyrical and melancholic mood conveyed through most of the piece.  Her broad-ranged vibrato heightened the melody lines as well.   Moreover, certain sections of the work had a very high intensity level, which was elevated by the orchestra’s powerful volume.  

 As the finale of the concert, Xinyi (Shelley) Shen performed the first movement of the “Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 35”, composed by Pyotr Tchaikovsky.  This work was written by Tchaikovsky in 1878 while he was at a Swiss resort on the shores of Lake Geneva, undergoing depression from his recently horrible marriage.  Although it was received with criticism at its first performance, Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto is now highly regarded by many as one of the greatest violin concertos of all time.  Shelly’s performance was unmistakably stunning and many technical challenges were played at ease with very accurate intonation.  As with Wendy, Shelley’s warm vibrato helped enhance the subtlety of the work.  Fast scale passages were played very confidently and with full use of the bow, creating depth and excitement for the audience members to relish.  Above all, Shelley’s cadenza was very intense, and the quick, descending double stops and alternating arpeggios were very impressive.  Harmonics were sculpted with precision and clarity, and the orchestra’s important role was brought out nicely.  A dramatic, slow-building crescendo at the end led to the final cadence played at fortissimo by the orchestra, bringing a grand closure to the evening.

Along with other annual concerts such as the Celebration Gala and A Concert To Meet New Musicians, the Rising Stars Gala concert is one of the many performances that truly define the CAST Philomusica Orchestra.  CAST is one of the principal foundations in Toronto that promote and give recognition to younger musicians who may become outstanding performers in the years to come.