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TSO musicians performing in a small chamber ensemble

“Everything I Love about My Job”

Jonathan Crow on Brilliant Bach
April 2, 2024

One of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra’s calling cards is its unwavering ability to present grand symphonic works in truly powerful ways. But on occasion, as an intriguing counterpoint to these epic experiences, a smaller ensemble of TSO musicians performs a program devoted to more intimate repertoire showcasing their individual talents. This season, that program is Brilliant Bach, a Baroque buffet of satisfying works by Johann Sebastian that our incredible Concertmaster, Jonathan Crow, envisioned with the TSO’s Artistic team and will lead while performing. Crow — who is also a member of the JUNO Award–winning New Orford String Quartet, and Artistic Director of Toronto Summer Music — is widely recognized for his artistic versatility, and this concert will allow him to, in the words of Music Director Gustavo Gimeno, “reveal another dimension of his formidable talent.” We recently sat down with Crow to gain insight into how Brilliant Bach was put together and why it promises to be a special experience for orchestra and audience alike.

Noteworthy: Including Brilliant Bach, this season includes instances of TSO musicians taking the soloist spotlight. What do you appreciate most about looking within the orchestra for these spotlight moments? 

Jonathan Crow: These opportunities for people in the orchestra to get up and demonstrate what they do in a solo role are very exciting because, when we audition for an orchestra, we always stand up and play by ourselves. We have to play a movement from a concerto, and probably some solo Bach. In the case of the winds, they’re playing all of the solo literature from orchestral excerpts. In a way, that is useful training for getting up on stage as well. We don’t have as much of a chance to stand at the front once we’re in the orchestra. So I think it’s really good for all of us to have that opportunity to be up front and demonstrate what we can do. It’s also nice for the audience to see their favourite members of the orchestra this way—to have the people they really look forward to hearing come to the front, to listen to the full concerto, and to acknowledge their playing.

In Brilliant Bach specifically, what we’re doing is kind of concerto work, but it’s also chamber music, which I really like. There’s only one solo concerto on the program — for oboe — but the rest of it is us playing concerti along with our colleagues, at the same time, in these great orchestral works. So it combines everything I love about my job: getting to work with great colleagues, getting to play great orchestra repertoire, and getting to have that opportunity to demonstrate some solo material at times.

NW: What were some of your artistic inspirations as you were working with the Artistic team to plan this program? 

JC: Whenever you’re doing a Bach program, you want to make sure that you bring something a little bit new. We’ve all heard the Bach “Double” Violin Concerto—it’s an amazing piece. But if you do a program that only features the “Double” Concerto and another standard Bach violin concerto that we’ve all heard, the orchestra doesn’t get the chance to experience something new and grow together with fresh repertoire. So we’ve worked on putting together a program with some standards that everybody knows and loves, but also some works the audience won’t have heard before—specifically, the D-minor Oboe Concerto and the “Triple” Violin Concerto. Both were lost for many years and then reconstructed from works for other instruments—Bach arranged a lot of his pieces for different instrumentation. In the case of the “Triple” Concerto, there was a harpsichord concerto that scholars were able to determine, through documentation, was actually originally written for violins, and they figured out how best to restore the violin parts. Finding these new yet old works is fun because it gives us a chance to do something novel with a composer who has been gone for a long time. That’s kind of a nice mix.

NW: Which piece on the program are most eager to perform or think will present a new challenge for the orchestra?

JC: The “Triple” Concerto presents a unique challenge. It’s a very unusual piece and one that is rarely performed, simply because it is not as famous as the Bach “Double”. I’m really excited to play it because it’s so incredible—having three solo violins, often playing in virtuosic registers at the same time, is really fun for us. Logistically, it’s a complicated piece to put together: the solo violins and the tutti violins are often doing different things, which is very unusual for a Baroque concerto. Normally, they all play exactly the same thing, and then the tutti drop out and accompany while the solo plays something that is more virtuosic. This one is fun and much more complicated because there’s more interaction between the tutti and the solo parts. But it also means that there's more work to be done to put it together.