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Orchestra performance gives Gross new perspective

Paul Gross broke attendance records playing Hamlet at the StratfordFestival back in 2000, and now he’s finally returning to the stage,this time with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra backing him.

Paul Gross broke attendance records playing Hamlet at the Stratford Festival back in 2000, and now he’s finally returning to the stage, this time with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra backing him.

“It’s like I have my own soundtrack,” says Gross by phone, “except in reverse. I’m a slave to it, and not the other way around. I’ve never had to react to live musical cues before.”

Gross stars as Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart this weekend, ruminating his way through the composer’s final piano concerto as part of the TSO’s Behind the Score series.

“I love learning how the parts of the score fit together in these giant works,” says Gross. “Everyone should have to work with an orchestra at some point. It’s given me a whole new perspective on how this music operates, and on how colossal Mozart’s gifts really were.”

Behind the Score is a Chicago-based initiative, designed for non-classical audiences to show how approachable this music actually is. The first half of the concert is like a multimedia play that contextualizes the concerto. With the zeitgeist unpacked, the audience is immersed in decadent, late 18th century Vienna, and how this concerto is like a roadmap to that world. The concert’s second half is a straight up performance of the concerto itself.

The show’s also like an X-ray into Mozart’s private life and career, which were wracked with self-indulgence and often sabotaged by envious, lesser composers. Gross will be the only actor on stage, but he won’t be alone. The TSO’s conductor, Peter Oundjian will narrate.

“My job is to set the scene for Paul,” says Oundjian, by phone, “and he delivers the punch lines. Ignat Solzhenitzen will lead the orchestra and solo, which is perfect because in Mozart’s day the soloist and conductor would have been the same performer.”

• Catch Beyond the Score Saturday and Sunday at Roy Thompson Hall