PEI Symphony with Paul Bernard
by Ivy Wigmore
The 42nd season of the PEI Symphony Orchestra got underway October 18th with “Autumn Colours.”
The afternoon kicked off with Aleksandr Glazunov’s Autumn. Autumn is the final tableau in The Seasons, an allegorical ballet. The first movement, Bacchanal, is a wild dance celebrating the year’s end. From that perspective, the music reviews winter, spring and summer. Revisiting the seasons amid Autumn seems particularly appropriate here, where on any given October day you might wake up to frost on the pumpkins and then, throughout the day, experience precipitation running the gamut from rain to sleet to snow. All of which is blown around, along with leaves of various colours, under threatening clouds and patches of blue. But every so often, the sun peeks through with just enough warmth to remind you that there was a summer. After the other seasons have been put to bed and the revelry completed, leaves fall, the skies darken and stars appear.
Paul Bernard was the guest soloist for Joaquin Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez. The opening allegro con spirito is based on a traditional Spanish dance. Rodrigo described the concierto as “the fragrance of magnolias, the singing of birds and the gushing of fountains.” It never fails to surprise me how much can be communicated through music. As violinist Margo Connors said in her performance preview notes, it was the first time she’d played a fragrance in her 29 years with the PEISO.
Bernard’s playing was so articulate that I found myself listening to it as if to a slightly-known language, as if a more careful listening would give me the story. The Orchestra provided a backdrop to this articulation in a lush watercolour wash, the swell of emotion behind the details of grief. Speculation is that this section of the concierto is a reflection of the death of Rodrigo’s infant son. In the last movement, there’s a feeling of renewal, life going forward—but not unchanged. Although the last movement is a dance, Rodrigo said it “should only be as strong as a butterfly.”
Next up is the overture to Carl Maria von Weber’s opera, Der Freishhutz (The Free Shooter). The opera is based on a German legend, in which Caspar and Max compete in a shooting match for the hand of Agatha. Caspar sells his soul to a demon, Samiel, for magic bullets and then—because, after all, what does he have to lose—he intends to trick Samiel into taking Max instead. Don’t worry, though—the demon was not born yesterday. Samiel is not fooled by Caspar’s scheme, whisks him away as planned and arranges the wedding of Max and Agatha.
Last item on the program was Aleksandr Borodin’s Symphony No. 2, written as a companion piece for Borodin’s unfinished opera, Prince Igor. War is the backdrop for the symphony, as preparations are made to fight the Tartars. Horses gallop, and soldiers march to the relentless marshalling beat of what sounds like grim determination, purpose and duty. What happens next, however, is that Igor falls for a Tartar maiden and all that grimness yields to the sweetness of romance.
Through this afternoon, there was love and romance, grief and persistence, duty and honour, deceit and skulduggery. And then at last, the return of love. The final movement is a celebration, which is, of course, where we came in.