The Vancouver Symphony Orchestra
100th Season Opener

Dates and Venue Friday, September 21, & Saturday, September 22, 2018 at 8pm | Orpheum Theatre

Conductor Otto Tausk Featured performers Lucas & Arthur Jussen, piano

Programme Edward Top’s Helix (World Première/VSO Commission); Poulenc’s Concerto for Two Pianos in D minor; Stravinsky’s (complete) Firebird Suite

Reviewer John Jane

For a country as young as Canada to have a Symphony Orchestra completing ninety-nine seasons is certainly a big deal (though, the Regina Symphony Orchestra claim to have put 109 seasons behind them). The Vancouver Symphony Orchestra opened its 100th season with a deserved jubilant celebration. The Orpheum even opened its rarely used main entrance on Granville Street to welcome specially invited patrons.

Immediately following the customary playing of O Canada (performed at all VSO season openers), newly appointed music director Maestro Otto Tausk promised a repertoire that honoured the orchestra’s past, present and future. Starting with the “future,” the orchestra breezed into a first public performance of Edward Top’s short and sublime Helix – even the title is progressive. Students of geometry might describe a helix as a single element that takes an orbicular three-dimensional shape. Opening with the French horns, the piece claims a single motive played through different tempi. The composer employs an intriguing production technique stemming from electronic delay to create an evocative circling effect. Edward Top himself was on hand to announce the composition. His introduction took longer than it took the orchestra to play it.

There was a brief interruption, while stage hands set up the stage around the already stationed two Steinway grand pianos at centre stage for the much anticipated debut of Lucas & Arthur Jussen. The inclusion of Francis Poulenc’s Concerto for Two Pianos in D minor in the program acknowledges the orchestra’s “present.” There was certainly an air of tangible anticipation waiting for the brothers to arrive on stage. Both are in their early twenties: Lucas is 25, Arthur is 22 in just a few days (September 28). The concerto, of course is not played in unison. Each part is scored separately.

Poulenc’s Concerto for Two Pianos is dramatic, but in parts also romantic. The Jussens impart all the nuances that would be heard by more senior musicians and they even capture the composer’s oblique minstrel references in the final movement. After a fitting standing ovation, the brothers returned to the stage for a pleasing encore with what seemed like a tongue-in-cheek transcription of Mozart’s Symphony No.40.

The second half of the evening’s concert was given entirely to a rare performance of Igor Stravinsky’s complete ballet score of The Firebird (L'Oiseau de feu). It was included in the program as a tribute to the Russian master leading the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra in a performance of The Firebird at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre in 1965.

Opening with bass strings, Maestro Tausk led the orchestra through the entire score without a pause. Even without the accompanying choreography, the music is incredibly evocative of the journey of a mythical superhero. The work includes stirring solos from the French horn, flute and trombone, as well as a trio of trumpets playing across the balcony.

Overall, this concert was a fine start to the VSO’s centenary season.

© 2018 John Jane