Classical Notes: Titans an apt end to OSO’s season

The Okanagan Symphony Orchestra brought this year’s season to a spectacular finish with their Titans concert.

The Okanagan Symphony Orchestra brought this year’s season to a spectacular finish with their Titans concert, opening in grand style with Richard Wagner’s Flying Dutchman Overture.

The orchestra also played Paul Hindemith’s Symphonic Metamorphosis of Themes by Carl Maria von Weber.

For two of the main pieces, OSO music director and conductor Rosemary Thomson programmed a rare double solo performance. Canadian-born violinist and pianist Jonathan Chan used a 400-year-old violin for Max Bruch’s Violin Concerto No. 1.

Bruch sold the score for a pittance, but wisely kept a copy for himself.  At the end of the First World War, unable to enforce royalty payments for other works, he sent this copy to the United States, where pianists Rose and Ottilie Sutro could sell it for him. But they kept the score, pretending to have sold it, sending worthless German money to Bruch’s family.

Chan’s gorgeous playing of the melody in the second movement (considered to be the heart of the concerto) was truly emotional.

The third movement opens quietly before the violin returns to the original theme with extraordinarily fast double stopping (playing two strings at once), leading to the final closing chords, and earning a much deserved standing ovation.

Chan’s second solo performance was on piano for Franz Liszt’s Hungarian Fantasy.

During his lifetime, the Hungarian  Rhapsodies were popular piano works, and Liszt had the reputation in Europe as the most technically advanced pianist of his age. On Sunday, Thomson described him as “the Mick Jagger of his day.”

After the success of the rhapsodies, Liszt arranged Hungarian Rhapsody No. 14 for piano and orchestra.

Chan boldly responded to the march-like main theme.

There is also a section marked “in gypsy style”, and Liszt was able to be freer with his combination of textures than was usual for him.

At every OSO concert Thomson includes a short modern piece, and this one was a true tour-de-force.

The composer, Toronto-born Jeffrey Ryan (now based in Vancouver), was there to take a bow.

He’s won every possible award and is praised for “masterful command of instrumental colour” (Georgia Straight).

Ryan explores not just sounds (often eerie and discordant) the instruments might produce, but also unusual combinations. His catalogue covers the entire music spectrum, earning numerous commissions. His portrait CD Fugitive Colours launched the Naxos Canadian Classics series and won the 2012 Western Canadian Music Award for Classical Recording of the Year.

On Sunday, the OSO played Ryan’s The Linearity of Light, premiered by the Vancouver Symphony with Bramwell Tovey conducting. Ryan was inspired by the light playing on the water at English Bay, and started thinking of words to describe light.

The piece defies description. I can talk only of power, tonal range, textures and dynamics. It’s cosmic. Imagine light trapped in a black hole, unable to escape unimaginable magnetic forces.

For me it was wonderful. Too bad there was no standing ovation – maybe the audience was simply too stunned? Ryan and the OSO truly deserve the label “Titans.”

Local filmmaker and classical music enthusiast Jim Elderton reviews the Okanagan Symphony’s season for The Morning Star.