Eastern Connecticut Symphony Orchestra

The Orchestra of the Southern Finger Lakes

Yale Symphony Orchestra

Portland Symphony Orchestra

Vienna Modern Masters

Yale School of Music, Yale University
"First, it goes to conductor
Toshiyuki Shimada, who
led the three works with a
nuance, a sense of musical
narrative and a sonic
transparency that audiences
here have seldom
experienced."  On Concert
with Eastern Connecticut
Symphony Orchestra    The
Day, New London
"With the leadership of
Toshiyuki Shimada, the
total sum it up in one word:
exquisite ... remarkable for
his clean style and his
master in the wide ranges of
pianos and fortes."  On
Concert with Orqesta
Filarmonica de Jalisco
El Informador, Guadalajara,

Article published Apr 18, 2010
Under a new conductor, an orchestra is renewed
By Milton Moore
The transformation of the Eastern Connecticut Symphony Orchestra under
new Music Director Toshi Shimada couldn't be more dramatic. Or perhaps
we should say, less dramatic.
Drama is not Shimada's forte. Under his leadership, the ECSO concerts go
as they should. When you are playing the music of Mozart or Ravel or
Copland, it should go very well - and it has.
The six-concert season that ended this month seemed an encore to
Shimada's stellar try-out concert in 2008 during the music director play-offs
that saw five finalists compete for the position. As in that first concert,
Shimada's hallmarks have been a fine sensitivity to the details of a score
without sacrificing its overall sweep, an ability to draw out the virtuosity of
the orchestra's talented principals and a canny survival guide for The Garde
Arts Center's acoustic desert.
The Yale University professor, with a track record of leading orchestras this
size, replaced Xiao-Lu Li, who had led the orchestra for nine seasons. Most
conductor/orchestra marriages go through a seven-year itch, and nine
seasons is a long haul. The time was ripe for a growth spurt, though
improvement isn't always a given.
But the quality of this orchestra this season was at times startling. We had all
heard the violin section improve during Li's tenure, but the suddenness of
the transformation of the whole under Shimada couldn't have been
imagined. In December, I returned from a couple orchestra concerts in New
York, including the New York Philharmonic, to hear the ECSO play
Haydn's "London" Symphony and was shocked by how fine it was in
comparison. More remarkably, I heard Peter Serkin perform the same
Brahms piano concerto in Carnegie Hall that he performed here with
Shimada; without a doubt, the performance here was better. How can this
orchestra change so quickly?
One obvious difference in the ECSO under Shimada and Li is the
conductors' approaches to the Garde's arid acoustic. Li's solution was to turn
up the volume. His range of dynamics seemed to begin somewhere around
mezzo forte and rise from there, and anyone not accustomed to his
conducting might have thought he had some odd palsy in his left hand,
which constantly twitched toward the violin section to urge them to be
louder and louder still.
Shimada uses the acoustic to his advantage. The lack of rich low tones and
warmth in the hall tends to highlight the orchestra's brighter voices in the
winds and brass section. Shimada has used this to paint a striking clarity in
the orchestra's sonic presence. Sectional play by the strings does not bury
the brighter voices, and Shimada uses this transparency wisely. Much of this
can be attributed to his acumen at the podium, but much is the wisdom of
his programming.
Li's taste in musical fare pretty much went from the early Romatics to late
Romantics, with all the Romantics in between (who can forget his
Rachmaninoff- Rachmaninoff-Tchaikovsky concert?). This musical era of
massed strings and big gestures fit his search for sonic heft, and the audience
learned the equation: volume + volume = bombast. Li's one-dimensional
programming brought a dreary sameness to ECSO concerts.
Shimada's musical selections have been more varied in his first season than
perhaps the entire decade of the Nineties for the ECSO. He has brought
back the neglected Classical era, with wonderful performances of Mozart
and Haydn that employed a small orchestra and succeeded with wit and
energy and phrasing. He put a good deal of post-Romantic 20th century
music on the stage, including Bernstein, Copland, Stravinsky, Hindemith,
Poulenc and Ravel. He quickly won the trust of his audience, and there was
little fidgeting when he presented new music (though his choices have been,
wisely enough, short pieces).
And more importantly, he's won the trust of orchestra members. He shows
up for rehearsal with his head in the game, and the musicians reciprocate. In
concert, he's there when they need him.
Though Shimada showed his mettle with the big Romantic pot-boilers, such
as his Tchaikovsky Fifth Symphony, his finest moments have been some of
the most intimate stretches of a score. During the slow movement of the
spare Schumann Cello Concerto, the effect was so spellbinding, I had to
remind myself to breathe.
Shimada exudes an easy-going warmth, both from the podium and in
person, and he's appears utterly comfortable in the spotlight. His close
proximity as a resident of the New Haven area (Li lived in Louisiana) has
helped him become a familiar face here, as he's made frequent outreaches to
civic groups and schools and often gives the pre-concert lectures. He
displays none of a maestro's aloofness and reinforces his regular-guy
persona with his avid love of baseball, a passion on display in the ECSO
window, where a poster-sized photo captures Shimada, in his conductor's
tails, throwing out the first ball at an Astros game.
He's an online guy, his Blackberry always at the ready, and since his arrival,
the ECSO has started a Facebook page, which has included links to
YouTube clips of music scheduled for coming concerts.
The orchestra is the 800-pound gorilla in any arts community. It gets the big
stage on Saturday nights, and as former ECSO leader Paul Phillips once
noted, if you assess the years of study and apprenticeship represented by the
musicians, it's like having 80 surgeons on stage. The orchestra is a huge
community and personal commitment of time and money to the art form.
You wouldn't want to hand over a treasure like this to just anyone. Looking
back across the ECSO season, it certainly seems like the orchestra is in good

Article published Nov 22, 2010
Eclectic ECSO program comes together for a perfect evening
By Kenton Robinson Day Staff Writer

Something needs to be said about the programming decisions of Music Director Toshiyuki
Shimada.  They're magical.

Saturday's performance of the Eastern Connecticut Symphony Orchestra was just the latest in
a series of astonishing programs in which Shimada has combined what, on their face, would
seem to be disparate, even incompatible, pieces of music into a perfect whole.

It began with a breathtaking performance of "Ritual," a 7-minute composition by that spikey,
forbidding composer, Alfred Schnittke, written to commemorate the victims of World War II.

This reviewer, familiar with the piece from recordings, never felt it a particularly compelling
work, but in the hands of Shimada and the ECSO it was a shockingly beautiful slow-motion
explosion that ended in a silence dotted with bells so delicate that one could hear the train
whistle down near the river.

Percussionist Connie Coghlan had the audience hanging on each note of the bells at the end,
and the piece wowed, greeted at its conclusion with laughter and shouted bravos.

The segue, to a piece called "Gema Jawa" by Nancy Van de Vate, a work that is all long lines
on the pentatonic scale and as different from the Schnittke as one could imagine, worked

And it seemed the perfect prelude to what was to come: the Sibelius Violin Concerto in D

The star of the evening was visiting soloist Mikhail Ovrutsky, a young Russian prodigy whose
dress and manner are reminiscent of a young Nigel Kennedy and who tore through an
electrifying rendition of the work.

This is not a concerto for the faint of heart. Sibelius was a violin virtuoso himself, and this, his
only concerto, puts the soloist to the test. Ovrutsky was undaunted.

The first movement of this work is remarkable in how it isolates the soloist, having him play
alone for long stretches as the orchestra sits silent, particularly in an extended cadenza that
develops the opening theme and requires the soloist to take his instrument to the very end of
its voice and then stand, swaying, listening, as the orchestra paints in the winter darkness
behind him.

The second movement found Ovrutsky easily navigating the simultaneous cross-rhythms and
double-stops of its middle section in a melody all shadows of the northern forests.As for the
third, it was a tour de force, with Ovrutsky holding his own against the orchestra's "polonaise
for polar bears" (the, unfortunately, unforgettable characterization of the theme by the critic
Donald Francis Tovey). And, not surprisingly, its climax brought the audience to its feet.

It was hard to imagine how the second half of the program could be anything but anticlimactic,
but the ECSO's taut, muscular delivery of Dvorák's Symphony No. 8 in G Major was
revelatory, taking a work that one critic has described as "a meal of clear soup," and making
an exuberant dance of it.

The spot-on ensemble in the mad dash of the first movement, the astonishing purity of the
woodwinds, and in particular of Nancy Chaput on flute, in the second, so evocative of birds
singing across a meadow, and the big roaring finish by the brass in the fourth, kept listeners on
the edge of their seats until the very end.

It was hard to believe, given the electricity this conductor and orchestra are generating, that
there were some empty seats in the house. Surely, people don't know what they're missing.