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REVIEW: Okanagan Symphony Orchestra’s bright new dawn

A consistent theme of Indigenous cultural awareness and teachings underscored the evening
The Okanagan Symphony Orchestra presented New Beginnings May 1, the final performance of the season. (Judy Burns photo)

By Anita Perry

After 18 months of near silence, the Okanagan Symphony Orchestra opened its 2021-2022 Season with A New Dawn.

A consistent theme of Indigenous cultural awareness and teachings underscored the evening.

Reflections on O Canada after Truth and Reconciliation by Andrew Staniland opened the concert. This beautifully dissonant fanfare used the first nine notes of the Canadian National Anthem in different modes and interpretations and was an appropriate and energizing opening.

Fantasy for Chamber Orchestra by Summerland’s Anita Perry was next. Under the inspired baton of Maestra Rosemary Thomson, the orchestra captured the eerie and quixotic mood of this fantastical piece, bringing the music to life and delighting the composer.

A special treat was the world premiere of Tangerine Trees by Dryden Bennett, a 16-year-old student at Rutland Senior Secondary School.

Bennett’s first foray into orchestral writing was highly successful, demonstrating a handy knowledge of compositional form and orchestral sound-pairings in this whimsical and optimistic composition.

Accomplished and award-winning Penticton composer Nicholas Ryan Kelly’s The Sunken City, was simply gorgeous. Known for his choral work, Kelly’s musical lines were lyrical and well-constructed with haunting melodies and exquisite orchestrations.

Quebecois composer Katia Makdissi-Warren’s Whispers of the Mountain brought Csetkwe Fortier to the stage as singer/performer.

Inspired by Fortier’s song Sunrise on the Water the resulting piece was rich, uneasy and thought-provoking, moving from the still, atmospheric opening into a passionate crying-out to the mountains.

The Light of Three Mornings – Sketches of Braintree Hill by American composer Gwyneth Walker was a three-movement work for chamber orchestra that illustrated the composer’s delight in exploring unusual instrumental and musical patterns. Kudos to bassoonist Karmen Doucette and principal violinist Rachel Kristenson for their superb solos.

2 Metres for Socially Distanced Chamber Orchestra by Peter Gardner, composed in 2020 during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, required the orchestra to be spaced two metres apart on stage. At times uncomfortable, it was an evocative and fascinating piece.

The highlight of the evening was the world premiere of a poignant and profound work entitled Cuwix (Come Here) by Csetkew Fortier and inspired by the discovery of the 215 unmarked graves at the Kamloops Residential School. The collaboration with Rosemary Thomson produced an opus of tremendous cultural and artistic importance, painting a frozen landscape through which children called to their parents both living and ancestral. Haunting and heart-rending, the performance brought the audience to its feet in a well-deserved and thundering ovation.

In this time of uncertainty, the Okanagan Symphony Orchestra’s A New Dawn served as a beacon, providing hope for future directions with, hopefully, a bright new beginning.

Anita Perry is a Summerland musician and music teacher.