Classical Notes: Cannons fired for YSO’s birthday

Sunday’s concert by the Okanagan Symphony was dedicated to the Youth Symphony of the Okanagan, in celebration of their 25th anniversary.

Sunday’s concert by the Okanagan Symphony was dedicated to the Youth Symphony of the Okanagan, in celebration of their 25th anniversary.

Music director and conductor Rosemary Thomson brought the YSO in to perform alongside the regular orchestra, and to mark the occasion they opened with the world premiere of Coldstream composer Imant Raminsh’s latest composition, With the Glorious Sound of Cymbals.

Imant is the founder and inspiration of the youth orchestra.

Describing the dedication of the young players, Thomson reminded us:  “You can’t learn to swim in the library, you’ve got to get into the pool!”

For this concert, the Performing Arts Centre stage was “expanded” to its absolute maximum, with all regular masking drapes removed, so as to accommodate no less than 120 musicians.

The piece opened joyously, with much brass and timpani, like an extended fanfare. Quieter, thoughtful sections alternated, and finally, after repeating the opening section, it reached a triumphant finish.

Raminsh, a regular OSO musician, had the luxury of watching from the audience. He returned to his normal place on stage when most of the youth section departed for the next piece, Poème for Violin and Orchestra by Ernest Chausson.

This could perhaps be described as a tone poem, also like a slow movement from a violin concerto.

The soloist, Colleen Venables, is still a student at Pleasant Valley Secondary School in Armstrong, and has already achieved extraordinary success, having performed with many leading orchestras.

A subdued opening in the cellos and bases developed through the violas and woodwinds, to introduce the solo.

Venables played divinely and confidently. The piece was complex, gorgeous and sensitive music, straying, I think, into gypsy territory, and probably demanding of any musician. Her standing ovation was instantaneous and well deserved.

A tough act to follow, her second piece was another single movement: the Caprice Waltz by Saint-Saëns. If anything, this was even more intricate, with staccato double-stopping (two strings bowed at the same time) and dizzying runs – again with a gypsy flavour.

Venables is certainly going places. She has studied with Pinchas Zukerman, was the only Canadian competitor selected at the Yehudi Menuin International Violin Competition in Beijing, and yesterday competed at the Symphony Competition in Montreal.

We look forward to her return to our stage, presumably to play a full concerto.

The second half of the program opened with Wagner’s Siegfried Idyll, written for his wife’s birthday and first performed on the staircase outside their residence.

Written for a much smaller orchestra than one might expect, this was a gentle pastoral piece, yet still displaying some of the motifs and bittersweet sounds that are typical of his larger works.

With all 120 musicians back on stage, what could be a better ending than Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture?

Pressed to compose this to mark an official Russian occasion, Tchaikovsky churned it out in just a week, and with a total lack of enthusiasm, stating: “There will be probably be no artistic merits in it.”

Oh, if only he could have been alive to see its success.

Opening with a simple hymn in the cellos, this remarkable passage contains a chord played an astonishing 13 consecutive times, and yet it’s perfect.

Answering sections from the woodwinds alternate with the cellos before the full orchestra bursts into life for the interlude and the famous march makes its first appearance.

The finale, with the full orchestra repeating the opening theme, is famous for the addition of cannon explosions.  Tchaikovsky wrote 16 of these into the score, and in London’s Royal Albert Hall these are fired in the promenade balcony, where the smell of cordite makes the piece even more dramatic.

On Sunday, these were played by Tim Watson (OSO stage manager) from a laptop recording, but with the new Performing Arts Centre sound system, they were no less effective.

Jim Elderton reviews the Okanagan Symphony season for The Morning Star.


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