What could be more beautiful than a timeless classic?
This was the rhetorical question posed at the recent Okanagan Symphony Orchestra concert entitled Classic Beauty. The evening featured music that was written in or inspired by the “classical” style of the 18th century and was fresh and varied in spite of the pared-down orchestra.
The concert opened with a beautiful interpretation of Gluck’s timeless Dances of the Furies and Blessed Spirits from his Opera Orfeo ed Euridice. With the sawing 16th note figures, descending scales passages, frantic perpetual motion and idiomatic writing that string players relish sinking their teeth into, the OSO shone from the beginning to end of the Dance of the Furies. The Dance of the Blessed Spirits which one typically associates with Gluck provided Maestra Rosemary Thomson the opportunity to demonstrate her artistry and skill. Phrases flowed seamlessly under her hands as she conducted without a baton, drawing the sounds from the orchestra with her fingertips. Kudos go to Christine Moore for her performance of the iconic flute solo.
The next work on the program was Luminous Night by Brett Lee. This work was originally an exercise in orchestration for which the then student Lee used four of his own original songs as his material. The resulting orchestral piece is a sound painting in the impressionistic style of Debussy. That these four short pieces had their genesis as vocal solos is clearly evident in the fluid melodic lines. It is evident that Lee is an accomplished master of orchestration and comfortable with an orchestra. Of particular note was the addition of vibraphone played by the ever versatile Dennis Colpits. Congratulations to Denis Letourneau for a beautiful violin solo.
In a program that bespeaks of classical beauty, the Tchaikovsky’s Variations on a Rococco Theme was clearly the highlight. Tchaikovsky is devilishly difficult and the OSO handled the work exceptionally well, providing a solid base for the brilliance of cello soloist Ariel Barnes. From the moment he set foot on the stage, Barnes exuded confidence and ease. He captured the essence of each variation whether it was the dreamy third variation or the wild seventh. There was a joie de vivre in his performance and a sense that he was frolicking with the music. Of particular note was the effortless execution of impossibly difficult harmonics which elicited goose bumps. In his capable hands, the cello rejoiced, lamented, danced and wept as man and instrument became one. It was a rare treat to have an artist of such caliber perform in the Okanagan and Barnes more than merited the spontaneous standing ovation he received.
To conclude the evening, the OSO performed its pièce de résistance, Mozart’s Symphony No 40. Nicknamed “The Jupiter”, this was the second-to-last symphony he wrote before his short life ended in 1791. Whether the driving opening was a prophetic urge to “get on with it”, or just divine inspiration, we will never know, but it remains one of the Wunderkind’s finest works. The delicacy with which Thomson conducted this piece was remarkable and the orchestra was with her every step of the way. The second movement Andante flowed seamlessly with measured forward momentum and Mozart’s trademark grace and poise. The third movement Minuetto opened with martial precision and in the lyrical Trio, Thomson was able to bring out the change of character before swinging back to the Minuetto. The Finale was a wild romp with flashes of Mozart’s trademark playfulness and humour sprinkled liberally throughout. The precision which is so necessary for a successful performance of Mozart’s music was evident and it was clear that every member of the orchestra had put their care and attention to each phrase and cadence.
And to answer the question “What could be more beautiful than a timeless classic?” The response would have to be the Okanagan Symphony Orchestra’s most recent offering of an entire evening of tasteful and elegant music. It was indeed a concert of Classic Beauty in every sense.