Christine Pilgrim OSO Music director Rosemary Thomson

Symphony Review: OSO opens season in a D major triumph

The Okanagan Symphony Orchestra scored a major triumph at Sunday’s opening of its 2016/17 season.

The Okanagan Symphony Orchestra scored a major triumph at Sunday’s opening of its 2016/17 season.

More precisely, it scored a D major triumph, with Pyotr Il’yich Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto and Johannes Brahms’s Symphony No. 2, both in D major.

According to Paulo Pietropaolo in his CBC Radio 2 Signature Series, the key of D major constantly looks forward with irrepressible joy and has a tireless type A personality. Rather like Rosemary Thomson who celebrates her 10th anniversary as the OSO’s music director.

A 10th wedding anniversary is marked by tin, representing flexibility and durability, and Thomson was paid grateful tribute for bringing those attributes, as well as her outstanding musical abilities to the Okanagan Symphony, Youth Symphony, schools, pre-schools, choirs and master classes.

Attendees at her pre-concert talk were treated to her crystal singing voice and participated in exploring the syncopated, pulsating rhythms that would drive much of the evening’s music.

It began with a dazzling trumpet fanfare (Audrey Patterson and Jim Howie) followed by Dances of Galanta, not scored in D major, but so compelling that if dancing in the aisles had been encouraged, few would have remained seated.

Small wonder that when Zoltan Kodály was commissioned to compose this work, he took inspiration from the Hungarian Romany folk music he enjoyed in Galanta as a boy.

Thomson captured that gypsy spirit right from the opening theme, and danced with it, along with the horns led by Scott Wilson, clarinets featuring a swirling cadenza from Erin Fowler, whispering mysticism from the violins led by guest concertmaster Rachel Kristenson, and foot stamping, skirt-swinging joie de vivre from the strings, woodwinds, brass, timpani and percussion.

Excitement mounted when “volcanic” violinist Lara St. John took command of the stage with Tchaikovsky’s popular Violin Concerto.

Local violin teacher Carole Ruth was not alone when she said she’d never heard such a magnificent interpretation. St. John’s intensely focused energy, ripping through the gamut of musical possibilities in an electrifying cadenza, garnered ecstatic applause at the end of the first movement.

The third movement, segueing from the second, brought the audience to its feet, demanding more.

I confess to being so buoyed by the two dynamic works in the program’s first half that I craved more to follow than the pastoral beauty Brahms portrays in his Symphony No. 2, even if tempered by the occasional storm.

Brahms wrote it on a summer holiday at a lakeside resort and the first and third movements easily evoked memories of colourful fall reflections on Kalamalka Lake viewed from the new Okanagan Rail Trail.

But I still hungered for the drama of Brahms’ Symphony No. 1 or 3.

Judging by the enthusiastic standing ovation at the concert’s close and accolades at the scrumptious reception afterwards, I was in the minority.

Certainly Sunday’s performance in Vernon under Thomson’s masterful direction would have delighted Brahms and Tchaikovsky as much as did the premiers of their symphony and concerto in Vienna under Hans Richter’s direction.  Kodály would have been delighted too.

The OSO’s Nov 20 concert features the music of Elton John with guest artist Jeans ‘n’ Classics, and the Okanagan Youth Orchestra’s Nov 26 concert features promising local young musicians.

Christine Pilgrim is a freelance writer who reviews the Okanagan Symphony and North Okanagan Community Concert Association seasons for The Morning Star.

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