|MUSIC DIRECTOR AND CONDUCTOR
Eastern Connecticut Symphony Orchestra
MUSIC DIRECTOR AND CONDUCTOR
The Orchestra of the Southern Finger Lakes
MUSIC DIRECTOR AND CONDUCTOR
Yale Symphony Orchestra
MUSIC DIRECTOR LAUREATE
Portland Symphony Orchestra
Vienna Modern Masters
ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR OF CONDUCTING
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 hands.
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
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 gorgeously.
And it seemed the perfect prelude to what was to come: the Sibelius Violin Concerto in D minor.
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.