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Review by Ivy Wigmore

On April 10th, the PEISO celebrated the end of this season with “A walk with Brahms” under the direction of Mark Shapiro. A member of the orchestra said to me back in 2013 when he took the helm that it was “a bit of a miracle.” We’ve recently learned that Shapiro has signed on for a further five years as the orchestra’s musical director.

You may or may not have noticed that there was no weather report in my review of the February concert, since there was no snowstorm. (In February! On the day of a PEISO performance!) Guess what. It stormed April 10. In any case, you can blame my recidivism on Mark Shapiro, who must be quoted. He said that he had been puzzling for some time over two major questions: 1. What is the meaning of life? and, 2. What is Charlottetown like without snow? He said he had been making good progress toward an answer to the first question.

The program opened with Frederick Delius’ “A Walk to the Paradise Garden,” from the composer’s opera “A Village Romeo and Juliet,” which sets the tragic romance in a Swiss village. The piece was added to the opera as an interlude to cover lengthy costume changes, and the lyrical melodies do provide that kind of sweet respite, evoking Swiss landscapes.

Karem Simon was the featured performer for this concert. Simon has been a member of the UPEI Music Faculty and the PEISO since 1991; he is also a member of eklektikos, a PEI-based ensemble that presents contemporary chamber music. Carl Nielsen’s Clarinet Concerto, was written in 1928 for Aage Oxenvad, the clarinetist of the Copenhagen Wind Quintet. Oxenvad was bi-polar and there is some suggestion that the radical and frequent key/mood shifts of the concerto represent that tension. Simon performed the notoriously difficult concerto with his customary quiet confidence and precision. 

The piece has been referred to as “a war between the tonalities of F major and E major.” And then there was the snare-drum clash, ringing out like the bell at a boxing match and signaling a key change whenever the music seemed to be reaching some kind of a resolution. Stirring things up again. As Simon commented prior to the concerto, you could easily imagine Jerry Seinfeld’s standup response: “What’s with the snare drum?” Well, tension of some sort, whether a reference to the moody Oxenvad, the composer’s own struggles finding an audience for his music or the pervasive low-grade tension affecting all of us wishing for a better world, as Shapiro suggested. The Clarinet Concerto was to be one a suite of five works, one for each member of the Copenhagen Wind Quintet. However only the works for clarinet and flute were completed when the composer died in 1963.

The major work for the afternoon was Brahms’ Symphony No. 2, sometimes called his Pastoral Symphony to reflect not only the composition’s character but also his reverence for Beethoven. Brahms wrote his second symphony during a visit to an Alpine village. Theodore Billroth, a friend of the composer, described the symphony as “all rippling streams, blue sky and cool, green shadows.” Brahms himself described it differently to his publisher: “so melancholy that you will not be able to bear it. I have never written anything so sad, and the score must come out in mourning.” And although he was probably joking, there is a melancholy strain underlying the idyll, lending necessary depth. 

The symphony—and the symphony season—ended with an exuberant, and triumphant finale. With that, we exited the church to bright sunshine and brilliant blue skies, the snow clinging to bare trees already beginning to melt.

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