Wagner, Dvorak, Sharman and Copland
Featuring Midori and Kazuyoshi Akiyama
Performed at the Orpheum Theatre, February 14
The Vancouver Symphony Orchestra's Conductor Laureate, Kazuyoshi Akiyama, proved his mettle immediately with his soul-wrenching, Böhm-influenced rendition of the Prelude and Liebestod (love/death) from Richard Wagner's opera Tristan and Isolde. The long breaths and deceptive opening languor built towards shuddering catharsis with patience and insight that verified Akiyama's value as a conductor. His connection to the music was clear and infectious.
However, the same cannot be said for many of the audience. Vancouver listeners are usually well behaved, but tonight, perhaps because it was St. Valentine's Day, the crowd was busy with cellophane wrappers that sounded like a mass of crickets. Combined with an enormous amount of coughing, the orchestra might as well have been playing to a hospice in a swamp.
It was annoying, but the winners were Akiyama and our excellent orchestra. They transcended these distractions as Tristan and Isolde had transcended death through love when the opera was premiered nearly 150 years ago. Wagner's music, among the most compelling ever written, has aged gracefully and will continue to move and awaken listeners for generations to come.
Aaron Copland's Symphony No.1 from 1926 followed. Compared to Wagner's music, Copland's is not powerful, and this critic must take issue with the program note that referred to him as "arguably the greatest American composer of the first half of the past century". A more persuasive argument could be made for Charles Ives, whose influence has made far greater strides for music from the New World. Copland had no particular vision. His strength was in his ability to assemble rhythms and contrasts sensibly; he was a good composer, but his craft never transcended craft. Listeners found enjoyment in the music by analyzing the work as it progressed, rather than being captured by its spirit.
The evening's second half began with Composer-in Residence Rodney Sharman's Symphony in two contrasting movements. His music immediately proved itself to be the opposite of Copland's; Copland was crisp and formulaic; Sharman was shadowy and compelling. In fact, his symphony reminded this critic of the orchestral music of Ives; it had a lot of heart, and its murkiness was not opaque. Near-buried sections revealed beautiful canons and contrapuntal arrangements, generating mystery. The audience even behaved better in order to take in this eerie and original composition.
Concluding was Dvorak's Violin Concerto from 1883, featuring the legendary Midori. Performing on a spectacular Guanerius del Gesu violin from 1735, she proceeded to bring down the house. This was in spite of the fact that her performance did not go very smoothly; she often struggled and scrubbed through parts. However, her graceful stage persona and superstar status brought the crowd to its feet. When the performance clicked it was great, and her next performance in Vancouver may well be flawless.--John Keillor
The Music of Hector Berlioz
with Maximiano Valdes and Catherine Robin
Performed at the Orpheum Theatre, February 5, 2000
Hector Berlioz (1803-69) was the most memorable French 19th century composer for orchestra. He crafted works featuring innovations that would inspire symphonists of upcoming generations. This evening's program admirably reflected Berlioz's strengths as a Romantic composer.
The show began with Les Francs-Juges Overture, Op.3 from 1826. This was to begin an opera that never materialized because its libretto (prepared by Berlioz's friend, Humbert Ferrand) did not meet the standards of the Paris Opéra. The opera's various materials were consolidated into a startlingly well-rendered pastiche, demonstrating the 23-year-old's indisputable talent for orchestration.
Chilean guest conductor Maximiano Valdes held the reigns flawlessly. The concert was not only a successful showcase for a superb guest musician, it also demonstrated how well the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra takes direction. A great conductor can only translate a musical shape into sound with an attentive, flexible, and intelligent ensemble. Limited rehearsal times heighten the challenge. Some orchestras are likely to ignore the director and plow through the material in dull arrogance or boredom. The VSO nurtures the power of its guest performers, to the credit of our community.
Mezzo-soprano Catherine Robbin then graced the stage to further demonstrate Berlioz's genius, performing his Les Nuits d'été, Op. 7. This is the first orchestral song-cycle, with a libretto from Théophile Gautier. Unfortunately, no translation was made available for the audience. Berlioz scored the poems for piano and voice in 1840-41, and gradually orchestrated them over the next 15 years. The impact of this innovation cannot be understated. Les Nuits d'été was relentlessly varied, cohesive, and sublime. Robbin's delivery was graceful and fluid, featuring an actor's physical elocution. Her sound was not especially big, but Maximiano never let the orchestra fall on top of her. She held the audience in rapt attention by generating an intimacy that is rarely found in a symphonic context.
The second half was all Symphony fantastique, Op.14, inspired by Berlioz's love for an Irish actress. In 1827, he wrote the ensuing masterpiece in order to get her attention. Symphony fantastique is an astounding feat of orchestration and counterpoint, and has overshadowed the rest of Berlioz's output. That is not exactly a failing, but the evening's program made plain how listeners would do well to know more of this composer's output. He was not a one hit wonder (such as Holst) and this evening's performance was a glorious testament to the fact.--John Keillor
EVELYN HART and THE VSO
Conductor: Clyde Mitchell
February 3/ 4 at the Orpheum Theatre , Vancouver
Art that fuses different works is always worthy of interest and this was the case when the majestic classical ballet dancer, Evelyn Hart and the talented Cuban dancer, Reyneris Reyes, joined the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra for an evening of classical dance and music.
The program featured Diamond Pas de Deux to the music of Tchaikovsky, Symphony No. 3; Dance from Sleeping Beauty, also to the music of Tchaikovsky; A Pas de Deux from Giselle, Act 2, to the music of Adolphe Adam; Romeo and Juliet to the music of Prokofiev ; The Firebird Suite to the music of Stravinsky and the Dying Swan to the music of Camille Saint- Saens.
Hart is the doyen of Canadian ballet and ranked as one of the finest dancers in the world. She is the very epitome of grace and ethereal movement. Her elegance nonetheless belies tremendous strength and stamina. The iron butterfly syndrome is no myth- dancers often perform in pain and yet project grace and ease.
It is ironic that Hart started her dance training at the age of fourteen, late by most standards. This perhaps explains the frenetic drive she brought to her dance career. She has won several awards, been elevated to Commander of the Order of Canada,has been a guest artist with leading ballet companies around the world and served as principal dancer with the Royal Winnipeg Ballet since 1979.
Reyes is an interesting dancer to watch. He is strong, lithe and tremendously flexible. Born and trained in Cuba, he started his dance career with the Cuban National Ballet. Reyes made his debut in the role of Prince Siegfried in Swan Lake. In 1998, he toured the United States, France, Switzerland, Spain and Columbia dancing leading roles in the classic ballets: Giselle, Cinderella, and Swan Lake. In 1999, Reyes joined the RWB as a soloist.
DIAMONDS is part of a larger work entitled, JEWELS, choreographed by the Russian George Balanchine who became a dance institution leading the New York City Ballet.
The final piece of the evening, The Dying Swan, choreographed by Mikhail Fokine and set to the illustrious music of Camille Saint Saens, represents the longing and struggle for life. The piece is a sad poem about a dying bird's struggle for life.
Historically, in dance circles, the work has been identified with the great, Anna Pavlova. The work was first presented in St. Petersburg, Russia in 1907. --Ross Pink
A Special Tribute to Duke Ellington
Jan. 31 at the Massey Theatre
Conductor: Jeff Tyzik
Vocalist: Dee Daniels
Conductor and arranger, as well as commentator (with a lot of interesting quips about Ellington) Jeff Tyzik, kept the Massey audience entertained in this two-hour concert featuring famous tunes popularized by Duke Ellington: I don't get around much anymore, One O'Clock Jump, How long has this been going on?, I got it bad and That Ain't Good, and others.
Dee Daniels' rendition of How long has this been going on?, I got it bad and That Ain't Good, I'm beginning to see the light and I don't get around much anymore was just marvelous, comparable to the singing style of Ella Fitzgerald in her younger days.
One O'Clock Jump, with Miles Black on the piano, got my feet and others' too, moving with the beat. I also enjoyed In a Sentimental Mood which was popularized by the Glenn Miller orchestra.
What was truly educational for me and a lot of the people in the audience was the fact that Ellington did his own interpretation of Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker Suite, giving an interesting jazz twist to it, and even naming the pieces to his own style. The March of the Brigade he renamed Peanut Brittle Brigade.
It was an enjoyable evening, and the audience had a good time, despite the pouring rain that greeted us before and after the show.--Ed Farolan
Pezzo Capriccioso for Cello and Orchestra
Piano Concerto No. 1
Symphony No. 6 "Pathetique"
Conducted by Sergiu Comissiona with Soloists Eduardus Halim, piano and Eugene Osadchy, cello
Orpheum Theatre, January 15th and 17th, 2000
In another segment of the Great Composers series sponsored by the Vancouver Symphony, it was an evening featuring the music of the exhilerating and intense composer Tchaikovsky, renowned for both his music and artistic temperament.
This great composer was born in 1840 and died in St. Petersberg in 1893. His life paralleled the classic tortured artist model: he was never satisfied with his work yet he kept striving. Piano Concerto No. 1 was composed in 1874 and bears the influence of Russsian folk music with which Tchaikovsky was inspired at the time.
Symphony No. 6 is generally considered to be the composer's finest work. He lived long enough to see its premier, dying just nine days later. Perhaps sensing the grandeur of this work, and at last perhaps a feeling of satisfaction that so often was lacking in his musical life, Tchaikovsky wrote to a friend, " You can't imagine what bliss I feel, being convinced that my time is not yet passed and I can still work."
The inspiring and brilliant pianist Eduardus Halim, a native of Indonesia, performed Piano Concerto No. 1 and Symphony No. 6 "Pathetique".
Halim does not simply play; he moves with the music with intensity and emotion. The audience seemed, for the most part, enraptured by the performance. One rarely sees the degree of silence and concentration that Halim enjoyed from the audience, a measure of his mastery over both the music and the listener. Halim, an emerging figure in classical music, has performed with numerous orchestras and received the distinguished Petschek Debut Award.
Vancouver's own Eugene Osadchy, assistant cellist with the VSO, performed Tchaikovsky's Pezzo Capriccioso. The short six-minute work was played with mastery and delicate accompaniment by the orchestra.
The only drawback to the evening was the limited performance time alloted to Osadchy. His instrument and music deserves more than one piece.
Osadchy is currently on a one-year sabbatical from the VSO, teaching at the University of Texas. He is the co-founder and artistic director of the Vetta Chamber Music and Recital Society, now entering its eleventh season.
Once again, the VSO and its distinguished conductor Sergiu Comissiona raised musical levels in Vancouver to new heights and demonstrated the singular beauty of the musical journey. --Ross Pink
Conducted by Clyde Mitchell
What a better way to prepare yourself for Christmas than joining in the singing and clapping of a gospel concert! This show featured the Trinity Western University Choir with its 160 members and soloists Dee Daniels and Jubilant Sykes. The audience all stood up and sang along traditional carols like "Joy to the World" and "O come all Ye Faithful".
With promptness and boldness, everybody participated and polished their vocal cords. Director Clyde Mitchell tried in vane to stress the rhythm, but each went his and her own way. That was part of the fun, after all!
The repertoire included traditional carols to African-American spirituals, energetically performed by the choir and made divine by the vocalists. The Trinity Western University Choir included singers from the Chamber Choir, Concert Choir and Masterworks Choir. Their performance was impeccable, if not for a little bit of stiffness and over-composure.
Dee Daniels, popular jazz and gospel artist, charged the stage with energy, leaving people tapping, humming and nodding in their seats. Her passion for gospel music dates back to childhood, where she used to perform in her father's church in Oakland, California. Consequently she performed with the Black Ensemble Gospel Choir and was involved in the international jazz scene as well.
Jubilant Sykes, less renowned but certainly not less gifted, created a very special combination between classical opera vocal training and jazz tunes delivered through a very touching dramatization. After his debut in 1995, Jubilant has been much in demand as a classical soloist. He recently joined the Philadelphia Orchestra and helped commemorate Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday. His first CD with Sony was released in 1998.
Overall a superb performance that was able to reach out to our hearts and souls. And this is what gospel music is all about, it comes from within, from the pain and sorrow of Christian African-American people, who blended "spirituals" with contemporary blues. It sends a message of hope and joy, often described as "good news in bad times". And you do not need to be a believer to enjoy it.
But it is Christmas itself which brings the Good News. The sweetest story ever told: the Little Lord Jesus, born in a manger in Bethlehem. MERRY CHRISTMAS!-- Giorgia Moraw
A TRUE CLASSIC: NANA MOUSKOURI
by Ross Pink
Great singers, like saints, are rare and a beauty to behold.
In this age of technical hype and publicity-driven talent s, Nana Mouskouri shines forth like a beacon. Cool, sophisticated and with that supreme voice, accentuated by a hint of sexiness, she enchanted sold-out audiences at the Orpheum Theatre November 14th and 15th.
It is no wonder that Mouskouri is the most prolific singer in the world. She has sold more than 220 million albums, a staggering number, more than Streisand and Celine Dion combined.
Mouskouri has a social dimension beyond music, as if her musical superstardom were not enough. She is a Greek deputy in the European Parliament and also does much needed charity work for UNICEF, often visiting the most tragic places in the world where children in need are found.
But as a world citizen, she will always be best loved and known as an ambassador of love. Her own marraiage collapse several years ago left her heart-broken and the rift from that experience has given her soul-mate status with millions who long for the emotions and purity of true love. In this she has found a true home. No one sings with more sincerity and purity about love and the effect is to deeply move audiences.
The standout song of the evening was AMAZING GRACE , sung with all the power and grace the song demands. ONLY LOVE, a classic from her 1993 album, was a crowd pleaser as was LOVE CHANGES EVERYTHING.
Mouskouri was accompanied by the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra , led by the very capable Bruce Dunn.The orchestra continues to demonstrate high quality expression.
Mouskouri also brought along her constant stage fixtures, a seven piece ensemble featuring drums, guitar, bass guitar, piano and . saxaphone. Her daughter, beautiful and striking in her own right, served as back-up singer.
The evening was a highlight for the VSO... and Nana Mouskouri, who demonstrates the gift of musical genius.
Sharman, Beethoven, and Shostakovich
Featuring Pavel Kogan, Liela Josefowicz, and the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra
October 29, at the Orpheum Theatre
Review by John Keillor
Rodney Sharman's Scarlattiana began the evening with an orchestral transcription of a harpsichord sonata by Dominico Scarlatti (1685-1757). Our symphony's Composer-in-Residence obviously had a lot of fun with this rather light work, pushing and pulling the sonata's F# minor tonality and varying sections, delegating recurring phrases to different parts of the ensemble. Sharman's orchestration is excellent. His former mentor, Morton Feldman, said, "great composers can be taught; orchestrators are born."
Vancouver has been privileged to hear what Feldman heard in Sharman's work come to a full level of engagement and ease. Guest conductor Pavel Kogan, from Moscow, obviously enjoyed conducting Scarlattiana, and did a good job. Strangely, the following performance of Beethoven's Violin Concerto was messily turgid: the tempo slow and the phrasing limp. Violin soloist Josefowicz seemed to attempt to make up for the lack of energy with an almost desperate rendition of her part, featuring moments of gliss between notes and a wide, dramatic vibrato. Her playing's frantic quality meshed poorly with the heroic poise of Beethoven's D major, Op.61 middle-period concerto, as did Kogan's somnambulistic rendition. The concerto was written in 1806 for Franz Clement, Music Director of Vienna's Theatre an der Wien, and what was written about his performance suggests a cohesive, lyric vitality that was missed here. This critic suspected that people assumed the strength of Beethoven's music would stand up for itself, without careful rehearsal.
For the second half, Kogan conducted fellow countryman Dmitri Shostakovich's Tenth Symphony. This was written in 1953, almost immediately following the death of Josef Stalin, the dictator who personally threatened Shostakovich in an open letter to the Pravda. Here Pavel Kogan shone with the VSO in uncertain terms; it was a brilliant, exhilarating rendition of Russia's rebirth in E minor. Kogan brought Shostakovich to life for a privileged West Coast audience, demonstrating the pathos of the oppressed, the brutality of Soviet Russia, and the hope following the passing of a thuggish figurehead. The completeness of the image brought to mind Mahler's motto "a symphony is like the world; it must contain everything." Nothing programmatic attempted to relay a visual narrative; Shostakovich relied entirely on abstract musical tensions.
There are certain windows into certain worlds we are not aware of. With our technically stuffed media environment, we believe what is beyond the city limits is still at our fingertips. Nothing can share the soul of a distant reality like music. Listeners were very fortunate for the resonance of this performance and its elastic verification of a remote Russian spirit.
VSO MILLENIUM CRUISE PROMISES TO BE FUN FOR A CAPTIVE AUDIENCE
by Roxanne Davies
In the travel business, it's called deadheading. A plane, boat or train that must travel to its next port of call or passenger destination, instead of travelling empty, is engaged at a lower price since it has to go there anyway.
So for lovers of classical music, this deadhead tour (not to be confused by the travelling fanfare accompanying the rock group, Grateful Dead) promises to be a grand way to enjoy the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra and take advantage of the cruising lifestyle at the same time.
The entire VSO orchestra will be on board this repositioning cruise which leaves San Francisco May 6, 2000 and sail to Vancouver for two days and two nights.
Music lovers won't even have to miss a day of work since the cruise leaves on a Friday night and will deposit its passengers in Vancouver on Monday morning with plenty of time to still get to the office, with the enchanting melodies still ringing in one's ears and the belt buckle enlarged a few notches to accomodate the vast quantity of food boat cruises are notorious for providing.
VSO President and General Manager, Barry McArton, who once worked for Cunard Lines, was excited to announce this latest fundraising effort on the part of the orchestra to celebrate its 80th season. Invitiations have been sent to the 17,000 VSO subscribers and already 370 have booked tickets for the cruise. The target is to hit 1000 customers.
The tickets range from $595 CDN for a basic, rather cramped interior stateroom (but who plans on spending time in their room anyway) to $1, 969.00, the latter, a deluxe suite with private balcony, which also includes two nights in the Napa Valley for a wine tour and one night in the Hilton San Francisco. The prices include all shipboard meals, a shipboard credit, airfare to San Francisco, airport transfers and even parking at Canada Place.
The Sun Princess prides itself on having more stateroom balconies than any other cruise ship plying the world's oceans. A tour of the boat shows a beautifully appointed enormous ship which still has cozy nooks and lovely facilities for swimming, dining and even exercising. A children's room with trained attendents mean the kiddies are looked after while the adults can while away their time, listening to music and dancing the night away.
"The Vancouver Symphony invites the community onboard the Sun Princess for the unique, musical experience of our Grand Millenium Cruise," said McArton.
It may not appeal to the Love Boat crowd and to young swingers, but to lovers of classical music, this Millenium Cruise promises to be something quite special. Book early to avoid being disappointed.