The Toronto Symphony in Bruckner’s Seventh

Maison symphonique de Montréal
Ticket Prices
$42* to $223*
Concert dates
Saturday, May 9, 2015 - 8:00 PM Done
Toronto Symphony Orchestra, orchestraorchestre
Peter Oundjian, conductorchef d’orchestre
Augustin Hadelich, violinviolon

Presentation of the concert

Kevin Lau, Treeship (approx. 11 min.)

Mendelssohn, Violin Concerto in E minor, Op. 64 (approx. 26 min.)

Bruckner, Symphony No. 7 in E major (approx. 64 min.)


Bruckner’s Seventh Symphony, one of his most popular, is prized for its emotional power and architectural strength. The Toronto Symphony’s Affiliate Composer Kevin Lau ranks among Canada’s leading composers of the younger generation, having written music for some fifteen films as well as many arrangements of popular music. The multiple prize-winning violinist Augustin Hadelich, has made many highly-praised recordings on the Naxos and AVIE labels. The Toronto Symphony’s music director Peter Oundjian, endorsed by the likes of Benjamin Britten and Yehudi Menuhin, is on the podium.

“This dramatic programme opens with Treeship, a work by Kevin Lau, the TSO’s RBC Affiliate Composer for three seasons now. It is a warm and beautifully orchestrated tone poem, richly melodic and atmospheric. Augustin Hadelich joins us for the wonderful Violin Concerto by Mendelssohn. Mendelssohn was one of the most elegant of composers, creating music that, while deeply Romantic in expression, was nonetheless polished in an almost Classical way. The concert closes with the intense Seventh Symphony of Bruckner. This magnum opus has a warmth of spirit and broadness which sets it apart. All of Bruckner’s symphonies are huge, sweeping statements, taking as their departure point the passionate humanism of Beethoven’s Ninth, but imbuing this sentiment with late Romantic sensibility. This is surely one of the great symphonies in the repertoire.”

Peter Oundjian

Born in Hong Kong, November 22, 1982

RBC Affiliate Composer

TSO Commission

Treeship is an attempt to fuse together, through music, two dramatically different – yet potentially harmonious – concepts. Both the tree and the ship are objects of exceedingly common experience which nonetheless conceal deep mythological dimensions (the image of a ‘treeship’ has direct origins in author Dan Simmons’s far-future saga, The Hyperion Cantos). The tree can be said to represent nature in its entirety and the living world: vast, complex, deeply interconnected. The ship, by contrast, is a product of civilization, a symbol of humanity at the summit of its endeavours. It shepherds us across unknown (and perhaps dangerous) waters, bearing us toward an infinite horizon – a metaphor for our capacity to dream and our profound urge to explore the world at multiple levels of resolution. The juxtaposition of these two ideas provides the conceptual basis for this work.

A long, single melody weaves its way through the piece like the trunk of a tree, spawning several smaller motives (branches, so to speak) which in turn undergo a kind of organic process of growth and development. The orchestra, which acts as both organism and vessel, carries these motivic identities across time, articulating a musical narrative that ventures from the seafaringly heroic to the brink of disaster, and – eventually – to the ‘horizon’ of wonder, where nature and culture unite.

Born in Hamburg, Germany, February 3, 1809 – Died in Leipzig, Germany, November 4, 1847


The Violin Concerto was Mendelssohn’s last orchestral work. The première, on March 13, 1845, in Leipzig, featured the violinist Ferdinand David, who had advised him during composition and would receive the dedication. In the piece, Mendelssohn dispenses with a Classical orchestral introduction and has the soloist and orchestra co-operate from the start in presenting and developing ideas. He also asks that all three movements be played without breaks.

After three beats of quiet, throbbing vamp in the orchestra, the violin launches into the first movement’s soaring, passionate main theme, which is developed at length. The poignant second theme is strikingly scored: a clarinet takes the melody while the violin provides a sustained tone on its lowest open string, G. The violin then takes the theme, and spins it out with increasing ardour. The turbulent development section leads directly into the solo cadenza, which Mendelssohn, unconventionally, puts just before the recapitulation. The recapitulation is shortened but intensified, the coda stormy.

A short but striking transition leads into the slow movement, which is simple in form but profoundly expressive. The principal theme is noble, and the violin develops it through the whole range of the instrument in several minutes of unbroken melody. The middle of the movement, with its own theme, is darker, more agitated and dissonant. The scherzo-like finale is pure fairy music – the Mendelssohn of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The first theme scampers and flutters; the second is all tongue-in-cheek pomp. The scoring is enchanting, and the two main themes are developed ingeniously in an atmosphere of unrelenting high spirits, though in the bustling coda the music also attains real nobility.

Born in Ansfelden, Austria, September 4, 1824 – Died in Vienna, Austria, October 11, 1896


In the early 1880s Bruckner was still earning his living as an organist and teacher in Vienna, and had yet to make a major impact as a composer, even within Austria. He did not achieve real fame until he was sixty, with the première of the most beautiful and accessible of his symphonies, the Seventh, in Leipzig, on December 30, 1884.

Typically for Bruckner, the Seventh Symphony was conceived on a grand scale, and comprises four large movements. The first movement has the broad outlines of Classical sonata form but utterly rejects its crucial harmonic assumptions. Three main themes are presented in the exposition; all of them are harmonically wayward, wandering through many keys before (reluctantly) making a cadence. Though the latter part of the movement looks like a conventional development, recapitulation, and coda, Bruckner’s strange (but characteristic) harmonic plot overrides these divisions; the music, we might say, is “about” the intensive search for – and eventual recovery of – the main key of E major. Only at the last minute, in a concise coda, is it reaffirmed.

The second movement is monumental and powerfully expressive. The opening theme is melancholy and funereal; it sprang from Bruckner’s premonition that his great friend and champion Richard Wagner would soon die, following his visit to the composer in Bayreuth in the summer of 1882. Bruckner makes the connection to Wagner explicit by scoring the theme for a quartet of “Wagner tubas,” instruments Wagner invented for his Ring cycle. The second theme is a luxuriant outpouring in the violins, and in the subsequent development both themes are greatly intensified. In the coda, which he completed after Wagner’s death in February 1883, Bruckner draws again on the Wagner tubas. Described as “funeral music for the Master,” it is a brief, simple, lean, yet immensely moving dénouement.

In the third movement (which is in a conventional Scherzo-Trio-Scherzo form), a small fund of motifs is intensively developed in busy contrapuntal textures that shift quickly from key to key. These motifs remain recognizable throughout. As the music unfolds a fanfare motif appears increasingly ominous, and the whole movement has a monumentality that is far from the giddiness of many scherzos. The Trio, in F major, uses some of the same harmonic and melodic ploys as the Scherzo but is slower and more melodious, pastoral in character.

The finale movement is highly original and dramatic, replete with distinctive ideas, which are juggled in unexpected ways and always reappear in fresh guises. As in the first movement, the overriding structural idea is the quest for confirmation of the main key, E major, the confirmation of which is deferred until the very end. Indeed, the monumental closing pages should be heard as the resolution of the harmonic meandering of the whole symphony. In the last nine bars, Bruckner makes this clear by bringing back the soaring theme with which the grand adventure of his Seventh Symphony had begun more than an hour before.

© Kevin Lau (Lau), Kevin Bazzana (Mendelssohn & Bruckner)

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