You can be eclectic, you can have fun and still be a serious classical musician. That was the smiling, standing-ovation conclusion to Amici Ensemble’s 25th anniversary concert at Koerner Hall on Friday night.
Two of the three core Amici members — clarinettist Joaquin Valdepeñas and cellist David Hetherington — are members of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, so they know all about serious music. This sideline is about picking up some less mainstream fare with favourite colleagues.
For this special concert, these friends were a who’s who of Toronto musicians, including TSO concertmaster Jonathan Crow, principal horn Neil Deland, principal oboe Sarah Jeffrey, principal bassoon Michael Sweeney, principal trumpet Andrew McCandless, Canadian Opera Company Orchestra concertmaster Marie Bérard, Royal Conservatory of Music dean, violist Barry Schiffman, and percussionist Beverley Johnston.
Rounding out this power ensemble was the third Amici core member, Serouj Kradjian and his wife, soprano Isabel Bayrakdarian.
Kradjian, a remarkable solo pianist in his own right, also brings great arranging skills to the group, which we had a chance to savour at the end of the programme.
The concert started with Ludwig van Beethoven’s monumental, six movement Septet for Strings and Woodwinds, from 1800. The group played with remarkable finesse. They also inbued this iconic piece with lively rhythms and joyful bounce.
These were pros having fun as well as showing off what artistic stuff they’re made of.
After the intermission, Bayrakdarian came out to sing Ernest Chausson’s affecting Chanson perpétuelle. Accompanied by a piano quintet, this was late-romantic French art song at its most touching.
The group shifted gears by presenting the silly, ironic 1932 Le Bal masqué by Francis Poulenc. Sung movements alternate with instrumental work, and all were handled deftly with the right amount of tongue planted in cheek.
To cap the evening, Kradjian prepared instrumental arrangements for the whole gang of Xavier Montsalvatge’s Cinco canciones negras (Five Black Songs — composed in the mid-1940s), sung with reserved panache by Bayrakdarian. Kradjian’s arrangements were brilliant, transferring much of the piano part into gossamer, humour-tinged work for the other instruments.
The piano accompaniment is nice enough, but this little orchestra added a big helping of colour and texture.
Hopefully this was a sign that these wonderful, committed and open-minded musicians can bring us 25 more years of musical joy.
CBC Radio 2 was there to record the concert, which is scheduled for broadcast around noon on In Concert on March 24.