Festival Vancouver Opening Gala


Orpheum Theatre, Vancouver BC on Saturday, 29 July 2000

Vancouver Symphony Orchestra and Barbara Bonney, soprano and Keith Lockhart, Conductor


By June Heywood

What a daring and exciting Opening Gala!

Copeland and Friends had it all - rolling drums, sawing elbows, triumphant brass, sorrowing strings, a gifted soloist, and a spirited conductor.

The program showcased the works of three late, contemporary composers -- Aaron Copeland, Samuel Barber, and Leonard Bernstein.

Copeland’s pieces were “Fanfare for the Common Man”, music to accompany “Poems of Emily Dickinson”, and the “Suite from The Tender Land”.

“Fanfare for the Common Man” (well known as a signature tune to the Olympics) was commissioned in World War II to give audiences a sense of patriotism. It began with a thundering drum roll. The fanfare from the enlarged brass section filled everyone with pride and hope. The piece rose to a most satisfying crescendo.

After reading “The Chariot”, Copeland was inspired to compose musical accompaniment to “8 Poems of Emily Dickinson”. He matched his music to the tone of the poet’s work.

Copeland’s suite from his ill-fated opera, “The Tender Land” was based on “the life of an isolated farm family in the American heartland” during the Great Depression. The music evoked pictures of wide, open spaces, big skies, wind, sunsets, menace, friends, and hope.

Following the rousing “Fanfare for the Common Man”, Samuel Barber’s simply titled “Adagio for Strings” (the haunting theme music to the movie, “Platoon”) seduced, touched the heart, and created involuntary tears with its “quiet intensity and mysterious allure”. This evening, the adagio was played with passion and empathy. It was near perfection.

Leonard Bernstein’s “Symphonic Dances from West Side Story” had the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra bowing at full speed, clicking fingers, shouting, blowing, hitting, plucking, and continuing to show the world its versatility. As they played, the audience could hardly resist the urge to hum along, bop to the music, and tap their feet until the final applause lead to the standing ovation.

The rousing evening was greatly enhanced by Barbara Bonney whose clear soprano sweetly hit and held the high notes as she sang Copeland’s less familiar music to Dickinson’s poems. In a simple, shocking pink designer gown amid a sea of black and white, Bonney drew all eyes. She interpretsed with her voice, body language, and facial expressions the meaning and humour hidden in the “8 Poems of Emily Dickinson”. It was unfortunate that the musical accompaniment, at times, drownsed the poet’s words and the singer’s voice.

To an overwhelming number of people, the star of the Gala was the youthful conductor of the Boston Pops, Keith Lockhart. At all times, he was in total control of the orchestra - and the audience. His body moved like a matador’s as his hands lead like a dancer’s. Lockhart’s interpretation of each score made music touch the soul.