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Dynamic direction

Review by Ivy Wigmore

On March 4, the PEI Symphony Orchestra presented “Dvořák 8 and More” under the direction of guest conductor Dinuk Wijeratne.

I love watching how conductors interact with the orchestra and Wijeratne is particularly fun. Described by the NY Times as “exuberantly creative,” the multi-talented composer / performer / conductor was physically almost balletic in this role, maintaining a dynamic, kinetic communication with the musicians.

Just a few days before International Women’s Day, it was meaningful that the orchestra performed the work of a female composer. Violet Archer was a Canadian composer who created more than 330 pieces over a sixty-year career. She was also a teacher, pianist, organist and percussionist. What does a woman have to do to get a little attention in the classical music world? Everything, apparently. Considered neo-classic, Sinfonietta is representative of Archer’s synthesis of traditional and modern styles. The Norton-Grove Dictionary of Women Composers describes Archer’s music: “…on the one hand dissonantly contrapuntal yet on the other refreshingly folksy.” The second movement is especially compelling, quiet but with an emotional complexity that kept me listening attentively. Archer’s tenure as percussionist in the Montreal Women’s Symphony served her well here as the percussion, precise and directional, kept us hooked throughout the piece. Violet Archer became a Member of the Order of Canada in 1983. The composer’s other honours include multiple honorary doctorates and having both a music library and an indie band (The Violet Archers) named for her.

Next up was a woman who might be considered to be in the early years of a very promising career but for the fact that she has been playing violin since the age of four. This year’s Suzanne Brenton Award winner, Sannu Lawt is a former member of the Singing Strings and currently a member of the Mount Allison Chamber Orchestra as well as a first violin with the PEISO. In a CBC interview with her musical family, the young musician spoke of the power of music to serve as a means of communication and an offering to the audience: “It’s a form of language, you can play for other people and you know it’s kind of like giving something back to them.” Lawt soloed brilliantly on Samuel Barber’s Violin Concerto, and it was clear from the audience response that message and gift were both rapturously received.

In the second half of the concert, the orchestra presented Dvořák’s Symphony No. 8 in G Major. Dvořák’s eighth symphony stands out as the most sheer fun to listen to. Written in the composer’s native Bohemia, the work draws on folk music patterns and is considered to represent the buoyant nature of Bohemian culture. The trumpet fanfare heralding the finale might sound portentous but back in the day, Conductor Rafael Kubelik reassured the orchestra, “Gentlemen, in Bohemia the trumpets never call to battle—they always call to the dance!”

Concertgoers were offered an added incentive to be in the audience on April 15, when the PEISO presents “Tenor, Horn & Strings” as the final performance of the orchestra’s 50th season. Recordings of November’s “Canada 150” concert will be distributed, free of charge, to attendees. That will make it possible for many of us to hear the “Cantata for Canada 150” in a way that wasn’t possible before. From where I stood, the cantata sounded fantastic. That said, I was in the midst of the choir and many in the audience complained that it was difficult to hear the choir and even the soloist. Come get your CD! Don’t miss the chance to (actually) hear this quite amazing cantata and the fabulous PEISO.

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