Okanagan Symphony sparkles as season comes to an end

Okanagan Symphony Orchestra maestra Rosemary Thomson, right, rehearses with OSO musicians in Kelowna Wednesday before their end-of-season performance of Russian Gems in Vernon Sunday. - Jim Elderton photo
Okanagan Symphony Orchestra maestra Rosemary Thomson, right, rehearses with OSO musicians in Kelowna Wednesday before their end-of-season performance of Russian Gems in Vernon Sunday.
— image credit: Jim Elderton photo

Nearing the close of their 51st concert season, the Okanagan Symphony Orchestra has achieved truly high points this year, and Sunday’s Masterworks concert, Russian Gems, will be no exception.

Performing the world’s most famous piano concerto, the Tchaikovsky No.1, will be Canadian pianist Ian Parker as part of an artist-sharing arrangement with Chamber Music Kelowna.

Already this year Parker has performed in China, Europe, the U.S. and Central and South America. This week, as well as rehearsals and concerts in three Okanagan cities, he led master classes in Vernon and Kelowna.

As a teen he won the Kiwanis competition and performed part of the Tchaikovsky concerto with the Vancouver Symphony, and won the CBC National and other competitions before attending the prestigious Julliard school at New York’s Lincoln Centre.

Now 34, he knows that faster isn’t necessarily better, thus gaining the maturity needed for major works.  Tchaikovsky’s passion gives great opportunities for bravura, allowing expansiveness in the more lyrical sections.

“The aesthetic and nationalist movement of Russian composers is about the beauty and vast expanses of their land,” said OSO conductor and music director Rosemary Thomson  during rehearsal Wednesday. “Instead of the coolness of Sibelius, you have the warmth of their passion –– think of the colours they use. And there’s an incredible darkness –– like rich full-bodied wine. The No.1 is exhilarating. It will lift you out of yourself, awestruck by its virtuosity and transformational quality.”

Thomson emphasized that even though we might have the CD, listening at home can never be the same.

“The acoustic sensation of the live experience is irreplaceable,” she said.

Bringing a concert of this calibre to the Performing Arts Centre is a huge exercise in logistics and cost accounting. Putting an international soloist on stage with 50 musicians can be compared with putting a man on Everest.

Two years before the season starts (even while dealing with the two seasons in between) OSO general manager Scott Wilson books theatres and rehearsal venues.  A year later the season’s program is chosen by Thomson, along with Wilson and artistic adviser Heinz Boshart.

And after approval by the board of directors, Wilson begins locating and negotiating with potential soloists.

The program is then passed to personnel manager and stage manager Tim Watson who builds the season’s budget, and on May 1 (in line with the Canadian Federation of Musicians’ collective agreement) the schedule goes out to the orchestra’s 15 core musicians.

During May and June, the budget is fine-tuned with Thomson. The musicians needed for each rehearsal for every concert are detailed, sheet music is purchased or rented, and transportation and hotels are booked.

Right up until September Watson will hire up to 30 additional musicians for each concert, plus around 10 community players. Over half the musicians are women.

Local choirs and other performance groups will be incorporated, each with their own rehearsal schedule.

This is truly a regional orchestra. The concerts are in Kelowna, Vernon and Penticton, and for every one of these, once rehearsals are added, the orchestra will play in up to five venues.

And unlike many larger organizations, there are no regular weekly rehearsals. OSO administrator Laura Henderson (herself a professional horn player) mails a package of music to every musician weeks before the concert, so that at the first rehearsal everyone knows the pieces.

Finally, volunteers in each city move into action. In Vernon, the 18 committee members do their bit for closing night:  poster-hanging, backstage, in the foyer, and the catering crew provide the reception (and devilled eggs!)

The Russian Gems concert also includes the Polonaise from act three of Eugene Onegin (Tchaikovsky’s most popular opera), Mussorgsky’s Prelude to Khovanshchina, and Borodin’s Symphony No. 1.

Russian Gems will be performed at the Vernon Performing Arts Centre Sunday at 7 p.m.  Tickets are available at the Ticket Seller, 549-7469, with a pre-concert talk (by donation) in the Marie Fleming Hall at 6 p.m.

–– Jim Elderton is a regular contributer to The Morning Star who also reviews the Okanagan Symphony in his column, Classical Notes.

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