When brothers Vincent and David Li moved to Vernon from Richmond via New York City five years ago, they didn’t expect to find a world renowned composer in their midst – let alone one that would become an integral part of their lives.
The boys, now 16 and 14 respectively, have not only become noted musicians themselves, they have composed their own works thanks to their mentor and teacher, Imant Raminsh.
“He’s so calm,” says the quieter brother David who, with Vincent, studies violin and theory with the esteemed composer at the Vernon Community Music School. (The boys also study piano at the VCMS with Lucy Feldman.) “Imant likes to work things out. He’s helped our musicality in that it’s not just about hitting all the right notes.”
Among the many young Okanagan instrumentalists whom Raminsh, now 70, has mentored over the years as founder and past leader of the Youth Symphony Orchestra of the Okanagan (YSO), the boys join their peers in tipping their bows (and other instruments) to Raminsh at upcoming concerts by the YSO as the orchestra celebrates its 25th anniversary.
“It’s a huge honour,” said Vincent, a W.L. Seaton student and past winner of the Our Kids Have Talent competition, who soloed with the YSO two years ago. “Imant started something special with the youth orchestra. It’s special because of the way he ran it, where the youth get to write their own compositions and perform them. That is unique.”
With the YSO’s baton now passed on to the Okanagan Symphony’s Rosemary Thomson and Dennis Colpits, the orchestra continues to flourish under Raminsh’s vision as will be seen and heard when the first concert takes place Sunday at Trinity United Church.
The second concert is a celebratory event with the Okanagan Symphony, where the YSO will perform a piece written specifically for them by Raminsh.
The composer, who just returned from Vancouver where he saw his new work based on a Stó:lō Nation legend premiered by vocal ensemble musica intima, says he is happy with the direction the YSO has taken since it moved two years ago under the OSO’s umbrella as part of their outreach and education program.
“During the history of the YSO we approached the OSO for a closer association, which I felt would have a mutual benefit,” said Raminsh. “Rosemary had an interest in youth and Dennis was already sharing duties with me, so I knew I had left the YSO in very capable waters and I’ve kept out of muddying those waters.”
In the 23 years of leading the YSO, Raminsh admits there were some rocky patches, where the future of the orchestra was uncertain, but there’s been mostly successes.
“We’re happy to have added some relevance to the musical community and for the youth,” he said. “We may not have been the ultimate interpreter of Beethoven’s symphonies, but we have always strived for the highest level and have provided opportunities to young people to study the orchestral literature and solo material as well as compose their own music. That idea was an obvious one to me to provide kids with the opportunity on how a symphony orchestra functions.”
In celebrating the YSO’s 25th season, the wheels turned when Thomson asked Raminsh if he’d compose a piece to celebrate the occasion at the OSO’s performances with the YSO throughout the Okanagan.
“We were thinking of a short, festive overture, a celebratory work, so I turned it over in my mind,” said Raminsh, who went back to one of his earlier compositions, a symphony of psalms, and in particular one based on Psalm 150.
“It’s a joyful one, with the sound of strings, trumpets, whiz-bangs, and firecrackers,” said Raminsh, adding with a laugh, “It’s better than anything in Harry Potter. Sparks will fly from the end of violin bows.”
For the Li brothers, they are looking forward to those sparks and also to another work that is sure to fly when they join the OSO in playing Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture.
“I hear we’re going to have canons,” laughed Vincent. “It’s one of my favourites by far and it’s easier to relate to as we all know the song.”
The OSO is also inviting back former YSO member and acclaimed violinist Colleen Venables to perform Chausson’s Poème for violin and orchestra.
But first the YSO takes centre stage at its fall concert, Sunday at Trinity United Church. The young musicians will perform Mussorgsky’s Polonaise, Borodin’s In the Steppes of Central Asia, Rodrigo’s Fantasia para un gentilhombre (featuring Penticton’s Jonathan Stuchbery on guitar), Fucik’s Entrance of the Gladiators, Vaughan Williams’ English Folk Song Suite, Bernstein’s Westside Story and Williams’ Raiders of the Lost Ark.
The concert starts at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $15/adult, $10 student/senior, and $5/child 12 and under from the Vernon Community Music School, YSO musicians or the door.
The YSO’s 25th anniversary Birthday Bash with the Okanagan Symphony is Nov. 17 at 7 p.m. at the Vernon Performing Arts Centre. Tickets are at the Ticket Seller, 250-549-7469, www.ticketseller.ca.