October is the first full month of the season for the orchestra. It is usually quite a demanding period, and this year was no exception: the Victoria Symphony presented three very different programs while serving as the pit orchestra for Pacific Opera Victoria’s production of Verdi’s Otello.
The month began with a blockbuster program of Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto No. 2 and Tchaikovsky Symphony No. 5. The orchestra really enjoyed working with the young Austrian guest conductor, David Danzmayr, whose exceptional knowledge of the score and clear musical ideas inspired each musician to offer his or her best playing. Musicians are very sensitive people; from the outset, our training involves perfecting the smallest details and exploring subtle variations of expression. We therefore make judgments about conductors very quickly! When they make a positive impression—as in this case—it makes for an exciting week of music making. Anna Fedorova gave a poetic account of the Rachmaninoff; Richard (flute) and Keith (clarinet) offered beautiful solos at the beginning of the slow movement. In the Tchaikovsky, kudos went to Alana for her exquisite playing in the Andante.
The orchestra spent the second week in rehearsals for the opera. The first four rehearsals (over two long days) took place in the Wingate Studio of the Baumann Centre. Until last year, these rehearsals were done in the rear lobby of the Royal Theatre; the change in venue is a welcome one for acoustics. The remaining sitzprobes and staged rehearsals occurred in the Royal Theatre, where the orchestra must squeeze into a very tight space in the pit, with the strings on one side, and the winds and brass on the other; for this production, the timpani and percussion were set up in “the cage” backstage.
The score to Verdi’s Otello was challenging, but everyone fared quite well over the five performances. After the long stormy (read: note-y) opening scene, the cellos enjoyed playing the soli quartet near the end of Act I, and the trumpets were excellent as bugles announcing arrival of the Venetian ambassador in Act III. However, Russell stole every show with his poignant solo on the English horn at the beginning of Act IV.
On the same day as opening night of the opera, rehearsals began for the first Classics series program of the season. It featured excerpts from Bach’s The Musical Offering interspersed among other Baroque works: Bach Brandenburg Concerto No. 1, Vivaldi concertos for one and two violins, and a Handel concerto grosso. In a nod to historical performance practice, the strings of the Victoria Symphony often use baroque bows in such programs for a lighter sound and articulation. In rehearsals, Tania Miller, our music director, experimented with a mix of tuttis and solos to realize the orchestral arrangement of The Musical Offering. The concert began with Kenji introducing the theme by Frederick the Great in near darkness, followed by Colin Tilney, our resident harpsichordist, playing the first Ricercar under a spotlight. We are very fortunate to have Colin share the stage with us in Victoria; he is internationally acclaimed for his expertise in early music and performance on historical instruments. Our Assistant Concertmaster Christi Meyers was the featured soloist in the Vivaldi Violin Concerto, RV 332: Christi is in demand internationally as a Baroque violinist, and it was a delight for the strings to accompany her in a spontaneous-feeling performance. In the second half, Terry and Christi led the Vivaldi Concerto for Two Violins in a rousing conductor-less performance.
The following week featured a very eclectic Explorations series program showcasing percussion: it included Fratres by Arvo Pärt, Symphony No. 103 “Drumroll” by Haydn, and concertos for marimba and tabla. Bill was thoroughly dramatic on the timpani in the Haydn, catching even some musicians off-guard with the opening drumroll. Corey Rae (Principal Percussion) did a terrific job as soloist in Emmanuel Séjourné’s Concerto for Marimba and Strings, not shying away from the obvious sentimentality of the piece. The highlight of the concert was the Concerto for Tabla and Orchestra by Dinuk Wijeratne, with Ed Hanley as soloist. Our favourite part was the recitation section at the beginning of the third movement. The combination of elements from traditional North-Indian classical music with those from baroque, electronic and rock music made for an exciting conclusion to a long concert on a Saturday evening.
The next afternoon, the orchestra was back in the pit for the final performance of Otello. The following four-day break could not arrive sooner!
Written by Brian Yoon