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April 21, 2014
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tsoundcheck Is For Prodigies of Symphonic Degrees

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(Photograph by Melissa Sung).

Boisterous hootin'-and-a-hollerin', whistles, and whoop whoops accompanied an enthusiastic standing ovation on Saturday night at Roy Thomson Hall. The givers, young classical music fans called "tsoundcheckers" (with a silent "t") and the receivers, 26-year old violinist Stefan Jackiw and the Toronto Symphony Orchestra (TSO) with guest conductor Christoph König. It was a night of prodigies in full supply. Think street style meets show style.

Instead of the Tavi Gevinsons, Jane Aldridges, and Bryan Boys sitting in the front row of fashion shows, tsoundcheckers are living and breathing live orchestral performances at the vanguard of classical music.

Jackiw (pronounced "jack-eev") had just finished performing one of the pop tantamount concertos of all time, Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto. It was the same concerto he played for his critically acclaimed European debut in London at the prodigious age of 17. In no way is the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto easy, but it does have a history of association with child prodigies. The composer himself, Felix Mendelssohn (February 3, 1809 - November 4, 1847) was a composing savant before he reached puberty and was once lauded by Alex Ross, classical music critic for The New Yorker, as the most amazing child prodigy in musical history. One might assume that Mozart reigns in this category, but Mendelssohn actually began composing pieces technically sophisticated and intellectually imaginative in his teens - recommended listening: the Octet for Strings and the Overture to "A Midsummer Night's Dream" - where Mozart only reached a comparable level in his early twenties. Secondly, Mendelssohn wrote the concerto for and in collaboration with his close friend Ferdinand David, also considered a child prodigy of his time. Full of sweet melody, virtuosic passages, and frisky moxie, the concerto was designed to show off the violinist and to charm the listener into absolute adoration for the soloist - successfully accomplished by Jackiw, who had me at hello, the opening phrase of the first movement's soaring, passionate main theme.

With a program topped up with prodigies, as was the audience. "tsoundcheckers" are part of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra's tsoundcheck programme - one of the most successful audience development initiatives in the performing arts - and they are at the forefront of a movement of prodigy symphony patrons. In contrast to the average aged patron of 49 who pays up to $200 per ticket, "tsoundcheckers" are between the ages of 15 and 35 who have registered online for a free membership, which gives them access to almost every TSO concert for just $14 per ticket. They are sitting in great seats, often next to high profile donors and long-time subscribers, and they bring a wunderkind vibe to the live orchestral experience. They come for the music. Now celebrating its 90th anniversary season, the TSO recently reported 35% of their audience is younger than 35 years old and last season 23,000 tsoundcheck tickets were sold. Since the programme's inception in 2001, the average tsoundchecker is now attending four to six shows in a season, which means it is not just fashionable to go to the symphony, it is simply a part of the good life.

Just wait, the fun doesn't end after the last "bravo" has been touted. Twice a year the TSO hosts tsoundcheck parties to thank their loyal prodigy patrons and this was one of those special nights. After the concert, the entire audience was invited to the lobby for handfuls of candy, refresh with coffee or tea, imbibe at the cash bar, mix and mingle with orchestra musicians, and to enjoy more music from a local Toronto band (this time the uproarious Klezmer party band Lemon Bucket Orchestra). Photographer Melissa Sung and I took this opportunity to snap a few shots of sharp and sassy tsoundcheck members. Think street style meets show style. Instead of the Tavi Gevinsons, Jane Aldridges, and Bryan Boys sitting in the front rows of fashion shows, tsoundcheckers are living and breathing live orchestral performances at the vanguard of classical music.

 

Vioilnist Stefan Jackiw made his professional debut
at the age of 12, and at his concert with the Toronto
Symphony Orchestra on November 5, 2011 he attracted prodigy
symphony patrons. (Photograph by Melissa Sung).

Christine, student at Humber College

Christine (Photograph by Melissa Sung).

Sebastian (Photograph by Melissa Sung).

Rosy (Photograph by Melissa Sung).

Christy (Photograph by Melissa Sung).

Alejandro (Photograph by Melissa Sung).

 
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