Vancouver Symphony Orchestra
Tea & Trumpets Series

ConcertFOUR - From Russia with Love

Venue: Orpheum Theatre Date: 22 January at 14.00

Conductor: Tania Miller Host: Christopher Gaze

Reviewer: John Jane

There is probably no better way to spend a damp, dreary Wednesday afternoon in Vancouver than to attend a concert given by the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra. Arriving at the Orpheum a full half hour prior to the start of the performance, I was welcomed in the lobby by a volunteer handing me a cup of hot tea and a digestive cookie.

A few years ago the late Otto Lowy, the CBC broadcaster and music critic, conceived the idea of the ‘Tea & Trumpets’ series of concerts, primarily for the enjoyment of seniors. Looking around the lobby, this afternoon’s audience would be overwhelmingly made up of those seniors.

As with the two previous concerts in this series, Tania Miller picked up the conductor’s baton to lead the VSO in a selection of fairly well-known and loved works by masters from the Russian romantic era. Ms Miller appeared on stage at exactly two-o’-clock without introduction. From the thirty-fifth row, she gave the impression of being more diminutive and youthful than her photographs suggested.

The orchestra began with Mikhail Glinka’s rather appropriate Russian and Ludmilla Overture, where the percussion kept things moving at a good pace. Host Christopher Gaze appeared on stage at this juncture and made the only reference to the afternoon’s programme sharing the title of Ian Fleming’s famous spy novel in announcing his recent marriage. Mr. Gaze’s personality was just right for his job as host. His descriptive narratives were most entertaining and at times even colourful.

The second piece in the programme was a highlight from Tchaikovsky’s famous opera Eugene Onedin followed by another excerpt from an opera. This time it was a more serene melody from Modest Mussorgsky’s unfinished Khovantchina which featured a soaring solo from the principle flautist. Arguably, the most recognizable piece in this afternoon’s concert was Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade. This music is easily identified from the countless soundtracks in which it has been used.

Perhaps the least well-known piece from this afternoon’s programme was the atmospheric tone poem by Liadov, (pronounced Lee-ard-off) The Enchanted Lake, with the orchestra perfectly sustaining the slow tempo. The concluding item was the dramatic The Great Gate of Kiev from Modest Mussorsky’s showpiece work Pictures of an Exhibition. With its stirring melody lines, this piece, perhaps more than any other paints an image of pre soviet Russia. Hardly surprising that in the seventies it was recorded by the likes of progressive rock musicians Emerson, Lake and Palmer and Japanese electronic maestro Isao Tomita.

The orchestra rounded out the afternoon by giving an encore to a very grateful audience. Typically, the piece chosen was the Russian Sailors Dance by Kiev native Reinhold Gliere. Alas, concert four was the final in this season’s ‘Tea and Trumpets’ series, but don’t worry, it will be back in the fall.

© 2003, John Jane