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TSO season launch surprises include: James Ehnes and Jan Lisiecki / BroadwayWorld

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A night of surprises, enthusiastic artistry and brave new compositions graced the Roy Thomson Hall Tuesday night. The TORONTO SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA opened its 2017-2018 season with a program that effortlessly mingled the classical with the contemporary. This is a year of big changes for the orchestra. For the past 14 years, music director Peter Oundjian has been successfully anchoring the TSO as one of the finest orchestras in the world. The audience could not have been more appreciative during the opening night of Oundjian's final season.

The evening's first surprise came in the form of a tasteful change in the program order, which facilitated a smooth transition from the fascinating, new compositions, to a second act of inherently classical pieces. Derek Charke's Élan, a Sesquie for Canada's 150th, featured a minimalist, cinematic soundscape, setting the tone for the first act. The concert's headliner followed with Academy Award winner Mychael Danna's glorious Suite from Life of Pi.

Violinist James Ehnes' presence was enough to keep everyone resolutely focused for the second half. Beginning with Ernest Chausson's Poéme for Violin and Orchestra, Op. 25 - Ehnes seduced us all with his earnest, romantic timbre. I've never quite heard the highest registers of a violin played with such a crystalline quality. Ehne's second piece, Camille Saint-Saëns' Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso for Violin and Orchestra, Op. 28, showed a different side of the artist. Ehne was aggressive, ferocious and impressively virtuosic. His commitment to the piece was meticulously focused and passionate. I was practically gasping for air by the time he had finished.

Speaking of virtuosos, another one of the night's surprises included an encore with Ehnes and Canadian pianist Jan Lisiecki. Dedicated to Maestro Peter Oundjian, the two squeezed onto one piano bench for an adorable performance of a Slavonic dance by Dvorák.  Photo credit: Jag Gundu