PEI Symphony Orchestra
Review by Ivy Wigmore
The Canada 150 performance had me seeing the PEI Symphony Orchestra from a whole new perspective—from behind, to be specific. In the second concert of the PEISO’s fiftieth season, the orchestra collaborated with many diverse elements. One was the Confederation Singers, of which I am a member.
Soooo…the choir has been working hard and I promised this review for the day after. And so it is with tremendous gratitude that I lean on my friend Margo Connors (violinist) and her excellent Symphony Preview for support.
The concert started with a new fanfare by Kati Agócs. Envisioned as a salute to those who have served the country in battle, A Hero’s Welcome infuses the formality of a military march with the spirituality of an Orthodox hymn.
I knew the Hey Cuzzins drum circle would be part of the presentation and was very happy to learn it would be while we are on stage. As Margo explained, “the idea of a drum circle is to share rhythm and get in tune with each other and oneself.” We should invite them to set us straight at the start of every performance.
After the drum circle, the Youth Chorus sang four folk songs, and as Margo pointed out, the adult choir did not. The kids—so many kids!—did a lovely job. We had one tune. It was pretty good.
Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture was next up. This was Margo’s favorite part because, as she says, “It goes boom.” (The boom is cannon fire, which Maestro Shapiro alerted us would happen—while also assuring us that it would be simulated.) Although I was backstage during the Overture, I have it on excellent authority that the orchestra made it go boom and a half.
In the second half of the program, the Cantata for Canada 150 was brought to you by four composers, four student poets, four poet mentors, two choirs, two directors, one drum circle, one mezzo-soprano and one symphony orchestra. No partridges or pear trees, but there was one fairly unusual element. Maybe I will never again hear the conductor shout, “Is that the only chainsaw we’ve got?” during a rehearsal.
Don Fraser, the director of choral music for the Centre, worked with the choir through the fall and then Mark Shapiro helped us in the final few days. The Cantata is a stunning creation, coming together from many diverse sources, all starting with the winners of a poetry contest in Island schools. The first movement, My Canada, was composed by Kevin Morse, with lyrics based on a poem by Nicolas Dickieson, who was mentored by Deirdre Kessler. Leo Marchildon wrote Song of a Tree based on a poem by Madison Lockman, who worked with David Hickey. As I walk is the work of Richard Covey, based on a poem by Madelyn Iwankow, who was mentored by David Helwig. Andrew Staniland is the composer of the final movement, Haven on the Waves, which is based on a poem by Chloe Dockendorff, mentored by Hugh MacDonald.
My Canada worked through wounds of the past and present and hopes for the future. Hannah O’Donnell’s gorgeous voice led us through the rapturous melody in Song of a Tree, pre-chainsaw. As I walk celebrates diversity and universal commonalities. Haven on the Waves takes us through the history of the Island from the bliss of pre-colonial days, through conflict, to hopes for an inclusive future. All those elements—yet the whole came together beautifully. By turns stirring, lyrical and elegiac, the Cantata is a brilliant collaboration, like the Canada we hope to see.