Entertainment

CONCERT REVIEW: Glorious guitar fills Vernon Performing Arts Centre

Montréal Guitar Trio’s Sébastien Dufour  joined band mates Marc Morin and Glenn Levesque in signing CDs for audience members after their performance on Friday. - Christine Pilgrim
Montréal Guitar Trio’s Sébastien Dufour joined band mates Marc Morin and Glenn Levesque in signing CDs for audience members after their performance on Friday.
— image credit: Christine Pilgrim

The Montreal Guitar Trio, otherwise known as MG3, exudes energy, wit, and musicianship. Like a fine-tuned sports car, the three guitarists zoom through pieces at a Grand Prix pace and pass the finish line with a flourish, perfectly synchronized.

When they performed at the North Okanagan Community Concert Association’s (NOCCA) third presentation of its season at the Vernon Performing Arts Centre (PAC) Friday, their enthusiasm was mirrored by that of the crowd.

After the final piece, Sébastien Dufour’s Garam Masala, they clamoured for more until MG3, seasoned veterans of a 15-year musical partnership, graced the stage for an encore. Marc Morin laid aside both acoustic and electric bass guitars in favour of a small wooden accordion (accordions traditionnel in French), which responded to his lightning touch as if the two were wed. Dufour dexterously plucked the charango, a small stringed wooden instrument fashioned after one originally made from the shell of the Bolivian armadillo. Glenn Levesque whistled the haunting strains of The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. And the crowd roared.

After the show, the trio’s vibrancy spilled into the foyer where these three consummate musicians signed fans’ copies of their latest CD, Cambria. It included 50 per cent  of the program content, from Levesque’s evocative 5 Minutes Pour Haiti to George Harrison’s classic While My Guitar Gently Weeps

MG3’s professionalism was echoed backstage by NOCCA’s stage manager Joan Sasges, MG3’s sound man Ian Vadnais and PAC’s technician Eric Pells, whose simple but elegant set and lighting enhanced the already splendid evening, as did Neal Fraser’s guitar students, Will Friesen, Emily Ross and Mitchell Reynolds, who entertained in the foyer beforehand.

Equally brilliant but entirely different was the Okanagan Symphony Orchestra’s (OSO) Espana concert, featuring renowned classical guitarist Daniel Bolshoy as well as the Youth Symphony of the Okanagan.

At the beginning and end of the evening, playing Emanuel Chabrier’s Espana (hence the concert title) and Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s Capriccio Espagnol respectively, the blended orchestras numbered more than 100 musicians. The music they made together was as inspiring as the concept of young students playing alongside professionals.

Composer, conductor and OSO’s principal second violinist, Imant Raminsh, first mentored youth through the YSO 24 years ago and now OSO’s conductor Rosemary Thomson and horn player Dennis Colpitts continue the tradition.  Some young members were dwarfed by their instruments, others’ feet didn’t quite reach the floor, yet they captured the essence of both pieces and they played superbly.

Nonetheless, the star of the evening was undoubtedly Bolshoy. As one audience member commented, “He’s a feast for sore eyes and he plays a mean guitar too,” or in the two word summary of an orchestra member, he’s “sizzling hot.” (She said she was referring to his music.)

Bolshoy’s witty repartee with Thomson delighted the audience and his erudite introductions to the two guitar concertos he played, in exquisite partnership with the OSO, added to that delight.

Not surprisingly, his interpretation of Joaquin Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez begged an encore. He’s been playing this much loved concerto composed by Rodrigo in 1939 to celebrate the beauty of the gardens, fountains, views, and the people at the 18th century Palace of Aranjuez — the summer residence of Spanish monarch Charles IV — since his student days.

The concerto’s recurring haunting theme in the second movement featured Lauris Davis on English horn, a double reed woodwind instrument with a sonorous sound lower than that of the oboe.

Individual instruments and players shone throughout the evening, not least Karmen Ingram whose opening notes on bassoon set the mood for Canadian composer John Estacio’s Saudades (translated from the Portuguese as “longing.”)

Saudades premiered Feb. 25, 1993 under the baton of Bramwell Tovey who, by coincidence, is the focus of NOCCA ‘s special fund-raising event on Feb. 12.

It’s almost like ESP, as is the fact that the OSO and NOCCA both chose to salute the guitar during the same weekend at the PAC.

And it’s worth mentioning that in PAC’s cloakroom gallery, currently brimming with local art, I overheard a comment to the effect that Vernon is a vibrant creative city pulsing within a small town.

In the light of this past weekend’s concerts, I totally agree.

Christine Pilgrim is a Vernon-based actress and freelance writer who reviews the North Okanagan Community Concert Association season for The Morning Star.

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