Familiar faces are helping the Okanagan Symphony Youth Orchestra celebrate its 25th anniversary this weekend.
The wheels turned when director Rosemary Thomson asked Imant Raminsh if he’d compose a piece to celebrate the occasion at the OSO’s performances with the YSO throughout the Okanagan.
Raminish mentored many young musicians in the Okanagan as founder, and past leader of the Youth Symphony Orchestra, before passing the baton to Thomson and Dennis Copits.
“We were thinking of a short, festive overture, a celebratory work, so I turned it over in my mind,” said Raminsh, who went back to one of his earlier compositions, a symphony of psalms, and in particular one based on Psalm 150.
“It’s a joyful one, with the sound of strings, trumpets, whiz-bangs, and firecrackers,” said Raminsh, adding with a laugh, “It’s better than anything in Harry Potter. Sparks will fly from the end of violin bows.”
In the 23 years of leading the YSO, admits Raminsh, there were some rocky patches, where the future of the orchestra was uncertain, but there have been mostly successes.
“We’re happy to have added some relevance to the musical community and for the youth,” he said. “We may not have been the ultimate interpreter of Beethoven’s symphonies, but we have always strived for the highest level and have provided opportunities to young people to study the orchestral literature and solo material as well as compose their own music. That idea was an obvious one to me to provide kids with the opportunity on how a symphony orchestra functions.”
Two years ago, the youth symphony came under the umbrella of the Okanagan Symphony Orchestra. Raminsh still plays as principal second violinist with the OSO while working with the youth symphony as a composer advisor.
Penticton youth symphony member Jonathan Stuchbery, who was the featured soloist in their most recent concert, said the mentorship he has received from Raminish has been invaluable.
“Apart from being an incredibly kind and thoughtful person, he is very observant in finding things that help. He has been on an incredible journey of orchestral competition and imparts all this information to us about why things should be written a certain way. He is incredible,” said Stuchbery.
Youth symphony co-director, Thompson, said tapping into Raminsh’s knowledge and hosting side-by-side concerts with the OSO members and teaching sessions have made a world of difference for the young musicians. As well, it brings a youthful inspiration to those teaching.
“When they have the leadership of the professional musicians, especially in the side-by-side situations their own level rises immediately,” said Thomson. “It is just a joy and a thrill to see how the YSO level is raised just simply by having the members in the room.”
Colleen Venables, violin, will be the guest artist from the youth symphony.
The Armstrong native will perform Chausson’s Poéme for Violin and Orchestra. The Grade 12 student is currently not playing with the youth symphony on a full-time basis because her schedule is so busy.
Venables has already competed in major international competitions and played with the Okanagan Symphony Orchestra as a section member and has appeared three times as a soloist since she was nine years old.
This marks the first time she will be featured on her own in a major concerto.
“I haven’t seen another student this successful. She is really a prodigy,” said Thomson.
The program will also feature Saint Saens arr. Ysaye Etude en form de Valse, Wagner Siegfried Idyll and Tchaikovsky Overture Solenelle 1812. In total there will be 115 musicians packed onto the stage at the Cleland Theatre.
“The beauty of orchestra, especially hearing orchestra live is the combination of hearing so many acoustic instruments. You can’t recreate that in an electronic format so having all those bodies on stage creating sound together is a magical experience,” said Thomson. “It is not only hearing it, you feel it too. It is very visceral.”
The Okanagan Symphony Orchestra Birthday Bash Masterworks concert will be in Penticton on Nov. 17 at 7:30 p.m. at the Cleland Community Theatre.