Principal Bass Meaghan Williamsis featured in the Okanagan Symphoney Orchestra’s performances in Kelowna, Penticton and Vernon Nov. 22-24. (Submitted photo)

Okanagan Symphony celebrates 60 years

Themes and Innovations is the second concert in the milestone season

The Okanagan Symphony Orchestra and Music Director Rosemary Thomson are excited to announce their second series of concerts in the OSO’s 60th season. Titled Themes and Innovations, all three works on this program are based on themes that were created or borrowed. And all three works have fascinating stories behind them.

As the OSO continues to shine a spotlight on its musicians throughout this anniversary season, the program will feature OSO Principal Bass Meaghan Williams, as its guest artist for the world premiere of a new bass concerto. The work, entitled Placentia Bay: Summer of 1941, was composed especially for Williams and the specific players of the OSO by composer Mark Haney who has also played bass in the OSO for the past 20 years.

Themes and Innovations comes to the Kelowna Community Theatre Nov. 22 at 7:30 p.m., the Penticton Cleland Theatre Nov. 23 at 7:30 p.m. and the Vernon & District Performing Arts Centre Nov. 24 at 7 p.m.

Haney took as his inspiration three hymn tunes that were sung to open secret wartime meetings between Winston Churchill and Franklin D. Roosevelt that took place in Placentia Bay, Newfoundland in 1941. The work draws on historical elements from these meetings, including the opening of the piece where Haney takes the morse code for the word ‘Riviera’ (the code name for the meetings) to create the rhythm of the percussion.

Raised in St John’s, Newfoundland herself, guest artist Williams completed her undergraduate degree in performance at the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto with virtuoso bassist Joel Quarrington. Following additional studies overseas, she returned to Canada to perform with ensembles from coast to coast. In addition to her current role with the OSO, Williams is also a member of the Vancouver Opera Orchestra, and teaches privately at the Kelowna Community Music School in the Okanagan and at the West Coast Amateur Musicians Society course each summer.

“Working with a living composer, especially someone as creative as Mark, is a gift,” said Williams, “We initially discussed the concept for the piece and talked about Newfoundland history and the importance of folklore and music in the province. Mark travelled to Newfoundland and was actually in Placentia Bay on August 14, 2018. While he was there he borrowed a bass I have there for practicing (it can be impossibly difficult to travel with a bass) so I like to think I helped to play some part in the magic of the creative process that took place while he was there.”

Also featured on the program are works by Ralph Vaughan Williams and Sir Edward Elgar. Vaughan Williams’ Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis is considered his first masterpiece. Vaughan Williams spent years collecting the historical music and folk music of the British Isles which found their way into his compositions. He discovered this noble melody by composer Thomas Tallis (1505-1585) and used it in several different compositions. The work has been described as a gift of “two great English composers coming together, and straddling nearly 400 years.”

Elgar’s Enigma Variations were born of his own improvisations at the piano one night. When his wife Alice asked about a tune that he made up, he started to consider that it might become the basis for a major work. “Commenced in a spirit of humour and continued in deep seriousness” was how Elgar referred to this work which would become life changing for him, putting him on the map of serious composers. Each variation was “mysteriously” referred to by initials and is inspired by various friends and colleagues of Elgar’s, including the final variation which was composed for his devoted wife Alice.

Music Director Rosemary Thomson says: “Vaughan Williams’ Fantasia has long been on my bucket list to perform. And Elgar’s work is a joy to conduct. Most of all, I’m so excited to bring to life this world premiere by Mark Haney featuring our own brilliant bassist Meaghan Williams. In my sneak preview with Mark and Meaghan I have discovered a work of haunting beauty that I hope will become a substantial part of the bass repertoire for years to come.”

Tickets for all shows are available online at okanagansymphony.com

Concert Close-Up, a preconcert chat with Maestra Rosemary Thomson, takes place one hour before each Masterworks performance.


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