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Free tickets to Christmas concerts

The City of Charlottetown will once again present two Christmas concerts as part of the Wintertide H [ ... ]

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Speak–Easy Toastmasters meet the first and third Wednesday of the month from 6:00–8:15 pm a [ ... ]

Heroic Music

PEI Symphony Orchestra

Review by Ivy Wigmore

On October 20, the PEI Symphony Orchestra launched its 46th season with a concert featuring Lennie Gallant and Gustav Mahler. Mahler was a Jewish Austrian composer of the late-Romantic period. He is, as was helpfully pointed out, no longer with us. Gallant, on the other hand is—a Rustico-native with Acadian roots whose music is very solidly in the roots/folk tradition. And, as was witnessed by a pretty full house, the man himself is definitely alive and kicking. The coupling seems an odd one, at first glance but commonalities and a theme emerged.

Mark Shapiro, the adorable new director of the PEISO, introduced “O Canada” as he did when he guest-conducted in February last year, inviting a young audience member to help with the national anthem. “Do you know ‘O Canada’?” he asked Gracie; Gracie said she did. And with that, we were off to a rousing—and impeccably conducted—start.

Maestro Shapiro is musical director of the Cecilia Chorus, which performs an annual series at Carnegie Hall; in the summers he directs the Conductor Preparation Program at the European Musical Alliance in Paris. And then here he is, directing our hometown symphony orchestra. It does seem, as one member of the orchestra described it, “a bit of a miracle.”

Mahler’s Symphony No. 1, nicknamed “Titan,” was written in 1888, when the composer was in his twenties. The journey portrayed in its four movements is, as described by Mahler, that of “a strong, heroic man, his life and sufferings, his battle and defeat at the hands of Fate.”  The Titan begins with “Spring and no end,” a musical sojourn in a forest idyll that ends in laughter. In the second movement, “Set with full sails,” the hero has matured and is beginning to throw his weight around.

Throughout the third movement, Hunter’s Funeral, an ominous minor-key “Frère Jacques” (or “Bruder Martin” as Mahler knew it) repeats. Well, Shapiro did warn us that “something not so nice” would happen to Frère Jacques. The funeral ends and the final movement, “Dall'inferno al paradiso” (from the inferno to paradise), begins with a shriek. Mahler’s comment: “Both the Funeral March and the storm that breaks out immediately afterward strike me as burning accusations hurled at the Creator.” However, as foretold, we reach paradise by the end of the movement, signaled by a triumphant musical phrase borrowed from Handel’s Messiah: “And he shall reign forever and ever.” Shapiro and the orchestra were on fire throughout.

The collaboration between Gallant and the orchestra was a beautiful, synergistic kind of thing, one of the best such collaborations I’ve heard. Gallant’s songs are simple and direct, often evocative of his (our) roots and the particular joys and sorrows of living here. In his resonant baritone, Gallant sings about the demise of one family farm, the devastation of the fisheries in another. The latter, “Peter’s Dream” was selected by the CBC as one of the top 10 East Coast songs of all time. “Of. All. Time.” Gallant repeated, clearly chuffed. “Locked in. Doesn’t matter how good a song you write now…it’s not getting on that list.” Where Mahler’s Titan was heroic in the mythic sense, Gallant’s heroes are more like you and me, the people we know, living our lives, doing the everyday, necessary things, and occasionally rising up to perform some small and private act of heroism as we are all called to do, from time to time, throughout our own journeys. 

Woodleigh Ghosts

Hauntings in the Replicas

by Ivy Wigmore

We last visited Woodleigh Replicas a few years back, late one summer afternoon as the shadows grew long and dusk was coming on. Leaves whispered in the trees, and the breeze rustled through the long grass as we roamed the abandoned property. The large-scale replicas stood, as they have now for over half a century: Glamis Castle, The Tower of London, Anne Hathaway’s cottage, Shakespeare’s birthplace, St. Paul’s Cathedral, Dunvegan Castle, The Old Curiousity Shop.

Many of the structures represented are reputed to be quite haunted. Glamis, for example, is home to a white lady, a ghost in full armour and a young servant boy who lingers outside the Queen Mother’s sitting room. A grey lady was reported to walk past a gathering of over a hundred people there, who watched her slowly fade to nothing as she drifted on her way. The Tower is said to host the spirits of Lady Jane Grey, Anne Boleyn, Henry VI, Thomas à Becket and Sir Walter Raleigh, among others.

As the sun was setting, the historic structures seemed to take on life, as if hinting that under cover of dark, the grounds might be much more active than as seen by the light of day. And, indeed, there are stories—people wandering the grounds have heard crying—sometimes a baby, sometimes a woman, sometimes a man, who has also been reported to call the name Mary.

The old homestead on the property was used as office space for Woodleigh Replicas for some years. Staff there reported that they heard phantom footsteps and door slams. Items were said to disappear and reappear in some place that no one would put them.

A woman who grew up nearby said that, as a child, she often visited a young woman in the front bedroom for long and pleasant conversations. It was some time, she said, before she realized that other people could not see the lady she knew as Mary.

Two women who lived in the house would hear the infant child of one cooing as if in response to someone talking to her, would hear the cradle rock. Each assumed the other was tending to the child when that happened, until the day when they heard the rocking cradle and the baby’s coos as they worked together in the kitchen.

A former resident of the house spoke of a glass of water freezing on a window sill, and frost on the window on a hot August night.

As it turns out, the house like the replicas has a history. The homestead was built in 1867 for the Millman family. Twenty years later, William Millman, son of the owner, was one of the last people to be hanged on PEI. William had become involved with a young woman named Mary Pickering Tuplin, and she had become pregnant. Some time after she took her news to William, Mary’s body was found in the Southwest River tied to an anchor stone, with two bullets in her head. Although William swore he was innocent and the jury recommended mercy, Justice Palmer found him guilty and sentenced him to death by hanging. Does William still roam the grounds calling out to Mary?

Woodleigh Replicas is gradually coming back to life these days, under the care of Tim Archer, who has bought some of the large property and hopes to buy and restore the rest. He finds the site spiritual, magical—and peaceful. Archer’s vision for Woodleigh Replicas includes a potential hospice retreat. Other ideas include theatre events, skating parties, sleigh rides—and haunted walks.

Modes of Expression

by Ivy Wigmore

Reviews
Eastenders
Creative Spark

I started writing for The Buzz back around the turn of the century, when I inherited the “Eastenders” column from my sister-in-law, Nancy Malcolm Sharratt. My next Buzz beat was “The Creative Spark.” Each month I interviewed a visual artist about what inspired them and drove them, what was behind their particular mode of expression.

What strikes me about talking to artists and getting a glimmer of their perspective is what a profound experience it often was. Most of the people I spoke to were wonderfully open and, because they were talking about their passion, could become very animated, even volatile. Many interviews felt like we were working together, between the images and the words revealing and articulating truths and mysteries.

Speaking of mysteries … my January 2005 profile of Daphne Butler Irving is one that I puzzle over from time to time. Irving was working on “the Noah paintings,” a series dealing with, she said, “the dislocation of the times in which we live, with societal and environmental violence, sudden and drastic happenings, a world in virtual birth pains. Roaring seas, volcanoes erupting, earthquakes, great turbulence, prophetic signs in the sky. In the midst of movement—side by side—great beauty.” As I viewed the paintings, I found myself unaccountably drawn to an anomalous one, Tsunami. Here’s how I described it then: “a huge wave breaking on the ocean. Rendered in a wild palette of blue, green and yellow, pink and purple, the image looks like a depiction of pure energy. Although enormous upheaval is the central concept, somehow transcendence and peace are conveyed as well.”

It was early December 2004 when we talked; deadline for the January Buzz would have been sometime before the 15th. On Boxing Day, December 26th, the Indian Ocean tsunami devastated the coast of Indonesia. A few days after the tragedy, the January Buzz appeared with my profile of Daphne Irving and her painting, Tsunami. Coincidence? Synchronicity? A great mystery to me, in any case, and one that feels meaningful.

A few other glimmers of the creative spark at work:

The late and much-lamented Kate Poole was one of my first interviews. She spoke of the way a piece she’d thought destroyed, unsalvageable, would often present itself to her in a new way and end up a stronger work than the original intention. There was, she said, a great deal of creative freedom unleashed by having nothing to lose on a piece, no fear of screwing it up.

P. John Burden explained the layers and depth in his paintings as an attempt, through visual art, to portray something far beyond the visible world. Consider painting (for example) a goldfish: “…it is important to remember that I am not painting a goldfish. Rather, using the painting media and skills, I am attempting to record the experience/relationship of meeting with said goldfish…”

Christine Trainor explained the surprising emotional impact of her haunting landscapes by saying that they actually hold much more than landscape. Trees and earth, fields and snow and water contained “everything: family and friends, births and deaths. Anything of import that happens to me is in there.”

In 2008, when Peter Richards asked me if I’d like to review PEI Symphony Orchestra performances I was somewhat trepidatious. I really knew very little about classical or orchestral music and I thought that could make it a hard subject to write about. You can’t really fake a comprehensive knowledge of anything so complex and, of course, if you’re caught faking it you just look twice as ignorant. So I’ve tried to approach this gig as openly as possible and not pretend to know more than I do. And it’s been wonderful, not just the experience of hearing the performances but also thinking about them to the extent necessary to be able to write about them.

Over the five years I’ve been reviewing the PEISO, Jim O’Leary (who has just finished his term as composer-in-residence) has provided a great deal of fodder for thought. He was given free creative rein and he ran with it. The second of his compositions that I heard, “Softly at night the stars are shining” was the most challenging work to listen to and discuss, an existential journey into grief, alienation and death through the medium of experimental music. “That was frightening!” was my neighbour’s comment. To say I enjoyed “Softly at night” would not be entirely accurate, but it certainly gave me a lot to examine, not only in terms of the composition itself but in terms of audience expectations, juxtaposed with an artist’s need to create freely rather than compromising to conform to them.

Another highlight was the best-ever, most rousing rendition of the theme from “Hockey Night in Canada,” for which many of the musicians donned hockey jerseys over their traditional black garb. I swear, it evoked the excitement of a hockey game so effectively that I almost understood the draw. Almost.

Those two items are hardly representative of PEISO’s performances, which is, I guess, why they stand out. So much phenomenal music. I’m constantly amazed that right here in this small town, we have such an accomplished symphony orchestra, going strong now for 45 years. If you haven’t been, you should go.

I’ve been so fortunate to have the opportunity to see the art, hear the music, talk to the people, to think and write about it all for The Buzz. Where will we go in the next 20 years?

Ivy Wigmore is…

Ivy Wigmore“I’m a mild-mannered tech writer and editor by day, a high-flying crime fighter by night. OK, except for that ‘high-flying crime fighter’ part. My day job is content editor on WhatIs.com, an online tech encyclopedia. Writing for The Buzz is the much-needed antidote to writing about (ugh) enterprise software. Art? Music? Theatre? Yes, please. Ongoing free-time (hah!) projects include a book of Island ghost stories, a book of personal essays, and a motley assortment of other half-finished endeavors. My stock line is that throughout my career I’ve written about everything from quantum theory to a bicycling bear. I’ve published some poetry and a couple of short stories, won a few PEI Literary awards. When I’m not writing, I’m typically reading (will peruse cereal boxes when desperate). I’m from here—I live in Charlottetown with my husband Douglas Malcolm and a very bad cat, a block-and-a-half from the (former) hospital where I was born and about a mile up the road from the house where I and my many siblings grew up.”

Mozart and More

PEI Symphony Orchestra

Review by Ivy Wigmore

On April 14, the PEI Symphony Orchestra wrapped up the season with a performance entitled “Celebrate Mozart & More.” The major “more” being celebrated was Dr. James Mark’s twelve years as Musical Director. Dr. Mark retires this year to serve as Director Emeritus, while Mark Shapiro, who directed February’s performance, takes over the active role next season.

Also in the category of “More” was the world premiere of Jim O’Leary’s “Choose Other Routes,” written for and featuring jazz trumpet master Paul Tynan, and dedicated to James Mark. With the encouragement of that title, I’m going to start there—at the middle of the concert, rather than the beginning—and work my way from there to either end. I’ve been anticipating O’Leary’s new composition with some interest, as I have each new work since the first one I heard the PEISO perform. In the intermission preceding its presentation, I had a look at O’Leary’s program notes to see if I could get a heads-up. Here’s the entirety, a quotation from Witold Lutoslawski: “The only honest attitude of an artist is to express himself, to bring something in which one really believes. Because to follow the tastes of other people, to try to please them, it’s a false direction.” Okay, I thought, fair warning.

“Choose Other Routes” starts light, lyrical and romantic but that theme is soon subverted by ominous low notes and drones. From the back of the theatre, a bluesy trumpet sounds and Tynan slowly makes his way to stage, playing all the while. From there, he continues to captivate the audience with two horns and a selection of mutes, while the orchestra behind him continues to return to the romantic theme and subversion of same. Although “accessible” is not the first adjective that springs to mind, “Choose Other Routes” was very engaging. One hates to say it was interesting—as we often say of art we fail to fully comprehend—but it was, really, quite fascinating, and quite well-received by the audience.

The afternoon ended with Mozart’s Symphony No. 40 in G minor, variously described as possessing “Grecian lightness and grace,” by Robert Schumann and “a work of passion, violence, and grief,” more recently, by Charles Rosen. Open to interpretation, although the current consensus leans toward Rosen’s take on it. In any case, Symphony No. 40 is unquestionably a masterwork, and it was masterfully performed by the PEISO.

And so, having taking the scenic route, we find ourselves back at the beginning of the concert: Carnival of the Animals, by Camille Saint-Saëns, featuring piano soloists Frances McBurnie and Dr. Frances Gray and narrated by Patrick Ledwell. Saint-Saëns created Carnival of the Animals as a party piece, never really intending it for public performance. The composition consists of fourteen short movements, each featuring a particular animal. In 1949, Odgen Nash composed humourous verse to accompany the music for a recording. Ledwell read these, all the while steadfastly suppressing his inner Odgen. Lines like “the kangaroo can jump incredible; he has to jump because he’s edible” brought out twitches and grimaces. As a woman behind me said, the funniest part of his performance was his facial expressions. Nevertheless, Ledwell rallied at the end to add a verse: the James Mark, who had, as he said, “more mojo than Mozart.”

Mojo? Maybe that’s it. I’ve been trying to characterize the quality that Mark’s direction elicits from the orchestra. Here’s what I’ve come up with: a certain dynamic energy coupled with an intensity of expression. Mark has led the PEISO through twelve seasons of amazing performances. Mojo can mean magic or expertise—either way, that could work.

Let Us Celebrate

Review: PEI Symphony Orchestra

by Ivy Wigmore

On February 10, approximately a day-and-a-half into a two-day snowstorm, the PEI Symphony Orchestra continued this year’s theme with “Celebrate New Directions.” The first new direction was that of guest conductor Mark Shapiro taking over, for this performance, from PEISO musical director James Mark, who will be retiring at the end of this season. The New York Times has praised Shapiro’s performances for their “virtuosity and assurance” and “uncommon polish.” Closer to home, here’s what a couple of the musicians had to say: “Maestro Shapiro is a dream come true and it was an honour to work with him…” and “…damn awesome. My gawd, he is incredible to watch.” He was affable and amusing from the start, first trying to boost the PEISO’s annual citrus sale by instigating a scurvy scare and then by inviting a young audience member (Zella, I think, was her name) up to help conduct “Oh Canada.” (Which, by the way, he proclaimed a far superior national anthem to that of the US.)

The performance got underway with the world premiere of “Arise,” a new composition by Richard Covey. Dr. Covey, who was in attendance, writes: “It is only fitting that Arise receive its world premier during the month of February. During one of the coldest and darkest times of year, this piece seeks to awaken, motivate and inspire.” It was successful on all counts, in my opinion. I enjoyed “Arise” immensely. Covey, who teaches music theory, composition and counterpoint at UPEI, won the PEISO’s Call for Scores competition. Next was Max Bruch’s Concerto No. 1 for Violin and Orchestra in G Minor with guest soloist Adrian Irvine, winner of the 2012 Suzanne Brenton and Indian River Festival awards. The 18-year-old Irvine played with a great deal of maturity and wonderful nuance. Were you to close your eyes, you’d think the performer a virtuoso at the height of his career rather than a young musician just starting out.

The major piece of the afternoon, the long and lovely second half (yes, some halves are bigger than others) was Rachmaninoff’s Symphony No. 2 in E Minor, often described as one of the most romantic pieces of music in the world. Shapiro, who selected the symphony for this performance, said that a couple of musicians had suggested it. However, he went on to say that when he arrived and actually spoke to the musicians, they roundly denied that any of their ranks had ever suggested any such thing or would ever have suggested any such thing. For Rachmaninoff’s Symphony No. 2 is also described as “a truly massive piece of music.” Even then, the conditions of the performance weekend were not known. As it turned out, of course, Saturday’s five-hour practice was at the height of the blizzard, which also continued through Sunday and their final practice. How musicians and instruments made it is anyone’s guess, but none would hazard that it was by chauffeured limousine, as it should have been.

In any case, the performance was blissful, absolutely ravishing. I believe Maestro Shapiro levitated a few times, and the Orchestra was amazing—but have no illusions that it was effortless. Let me present as evidence more comments from the musicians: “By the end of it, I could not have played another note” but also “You cannot destroy me, Rachmaninoff!” No, not vanquished but it was indeed a fatigued-looking PEISO that stood before us as we stood before them, the well-deserved standing ovation in response to that massively romantic—and just massive in general—performance. Let’s celebrate not only new directions but also our own PEISO.

Firey Works

PEI Symphony Orchestra
Confederation Centre of the Arts

Review by Ivy Wigmore

On November 25th the audience was treated to a spectacular display when the PEI Symphony Orchestra, under the direction of Conductor James Mark, presented “Classic Fireworks.” Dr. Mark recently announced that this will be his last season with the PEISO. He’s retiring after more than 12 years as musical director. I was sorry to hear that. I believe that an orchestra is only as good as its director: No matter how talented the musicians, what they play is shaped and refined through direction. And the PEISO plays with such verve and spirit. Their performances are almost invariably thrilling, and that is a tribute to both the musicianship of the orchestra and the artistry and dedication of the director. Metaphors about big shoes come to mind.

The whole performance was fabulous but I’m going to focus on the most striking pieces: Johannes Brahm’s Violin Concerto in D Major, Opus 77, with the young violinist Christina Bouey soloing, and Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite, last on the program.

No score between her and us, Bouey stood proudly in her flame-red gown and played sweetly, wildly, furiously—bowstrings bedamned. She just plucked the snapped ones away in her quiet moments and kept on going. Her attention to the music was quite visible; you could see that she was keenly aware of everything each member of the orchestra played. Bouey’s performance was outstanding. In fact, she received two standing ovations, both well-deserved. After the first movement, up we got and applauded enthusiastically. Such is not the custom—generally we wait till the end of a piece before we leap to our feet—but any who were delayed by custom were standing before long in any case. Nor did the fact that we’d already done it once hold us back at the end. We popped right back up again.

Igor Stravinsky wrote “L’Oiseau de Feu,” also known as the “Firebird Suite,” for the 1910 Paris season of the Ballets Russes. The Suite is a musical rendering of Russian folk tales about the firebird, which is said to be both a blessing and a curse to its captor. The mythical bird, dancing in King Kashchei’s garden, is snatched from that magical realm by Prince Ivan. The firebird promises to help the prince in return for its eventual freedom. When Ivan sees thirteen princesses dancing, he immediately falls in love with one but when he goes to ask the king’s permission to marry her but the two quarrel. There are magical spells and bewitchery, first on the king’s part and secondly through the firebird’s intervention. At last, the firebird tells Ivan the secret of the king’s immortality: His soul is contained within a huge, magical egg. The final explosion of energy ending the Suite is Prince Ivan breaking that egg, dispatching the king and releasing his soul.

I’d never heard “L’Oiseau de Feu” performed live before but I hope to do so again, although I doubt that this particular performance could be improved upon. There’s just no comparison between live music and a recording. No CD or MP3 can replicate the immediacy and energy of a live symphony orchestra performance. When the Firebird Suite concluded, there was no help for it—even though it was the third time that afternoon, we stood one more time, to pay homage to both the orchestra and the conductor who had facilitated all that fire, all that flash, all that power. It really was fantastic. There are still two more PEISO performances this season. I recommend you get to them.

Upon the Heath

Autumn Tempest
PEI Symphony Orchestra

Review by Ivy Wigmore

On October 14, the PEI Symphony Orchestra stormed into their 45th season with “Autumn Tempest.” First up was Hector Berlioz’s dramatic “Marche Hongraise” from “Le Damnation de Faust.” Berlioz was a sort-of accidental composer. He’d been on-track to be a physician but was completely derailed by the performance of a Gluck opera. In a letter to his sister, Berlioz wrote: “Short of fainting I could not have been more moved … And the orchestra! It was all in the orchestra. If you heard how it depicts every situation …” Berlioz was swept away, and the rest is musical history. In “Marche Hongraise,” Berlioz adapted an unofficial Hungarian anthem to tell the story of a man who sells his soul to the devil. There was some public unease about how he might deal with the beloved tune. But Berlioz drew them in with novel treatment, and then appealed to their patriotic hearts with returns to theme. The response was gratifying, including hoots and stomping.

Next up was Peter Allen’s “Hurricane Juan Concerto,” commemorating the weather event that gave us such a good rattling nine years back. We were fortunate to have Allen himself at the piano for the musical version of the storm. The first movement is a pastorale representing a sunny fall day in Nova Scotia, business as usual except … melody and lyricism are subverted by ominous strings, low horns. Something’s brewing. The next movement is the tarantella, a form with roots in the 1600s as a treatment for spider bite. It was thought that the fast and rhythmic music’s hypnotic effects generated frenzied dancing, and therein laid the cure. The Concerto’s tarantella moves us out of the house, down to the harbour, dancing with the wind like the waves and trees. The atmosphere is suddenly charged, the seas are stirring up, there’s a tantalizing hint of danger that compels us onward.

The next movement is the hurricane itself, full of wild fury and percussion. This is a long movement, intentionally so, as Allen said, to “get on our nerves a little bit” as is the case with storms that go on a long time. The cadenza follows, in which the storm’s rage has passed and all is quiet—quieter than normal, in fact, given the power outages. An eerie strain pervades here, odd musical moments recalling stacked boats and trees uprooted as if plucked by a giant hand. The epilogue following returns us to another sunny autumn day in the Maritimes. The concerto ends triumphantly, reflecting our satisfaction in surviving the worst a wild storm can throw at us.

Antonin Dvorak’s Symphony No. 9 “From the New World” was an inspired choice for the second half of the performance, evoking that post-storm feeling of a changed universe. Dvorak wrote the symphony after moving to America and the music expresses the newcomer’s feelings of discovery and forward movement interspersed with poignant longing for home.

Musical movements are often used to lead us through phenomena that occur in stages, like the seasons, or storms. Speaking of which, it occurs to me that many of the PEISO presentations are linked to weather. Well, after all, we live in the Maritimes, where the weather still dictates much of our lives and, thus, it has a great deal of power over us. We’re fascinated by its variety and changeable moods, the ongoing spectacle that backgrounds our lives. Music can be like that too. “Autumn Tempest” was a superb opener for the new season. The PEISO played with all that fury, that wildness, that power. As Berlioz said, it was all in the orchestra.

The Force of the Music

Classics Old and New
Prince Edward Island Symphony

Review by Ivy Wigmore

Back in 2008, when publisher/managing editor Peter Richards asked me if I was interested in reviewing PEI Symphony Orchestra performances for The Buzz, I said I’d love to—assuming that knowledge of classical music wasn’t a requirement. Because I knew (know) very little. For the record, Peter told me that as long as I was interested and able to write about my experience, that would be fine. I couldn’t bring a sophisticated understanding of music to the endeavour. What I try to bring instead is “beginner’s mind,” a Zen Buddhist approach to learning characterized by openness to experience and a lack of preconceptions. The trick is maintaining that attitude as you continue, so that no matter how much you’ve learned, you still bring a beginner’s mind to your further education.

I did know enough to come to this performance free of expectations about the premiere of Composer in Residence Jim O’Leary’s new composition. O’Leary’s “Three Studies for orchestra,” presented in 2009, was simply magnificent—not unchallenging but deeply rewarding. Last year’s “Softly at night the stars are shining” was an excursion into a dark theme via experimental music and vocal technique that left me—and other members of the audience—shaken. The review ended up being entitled “Engaging Listening,” in reference to the intense attention the music demanded, but the title that kept running in my head when I thought about the performance was “Uneasy Listening,” not only because the composition was so challenging but also because it was so uncomfortable to listen to. Nevertheless, after the concert, I found myself returning again and again to O’Leary's website to listen to clips from “Softly at night…,” trying to hear it with an open mind, to learn from it what I could—whether or not what I learned could be communicated in a review.

Although this year’s “Sixty-Three” is a brief composition, it was the most striking piece on the programme, as it contrasted so sharply with the other selections. The piece begins with three different tempos playing simultaneously, two different folk melodies from the composer’s native Newfoundland, each playing in their own tempo and without reference to the conductor, eventually a third. A bit of percussion and then the concept repeats with four different folk tunes, which I failed to identify. Maybe sometime I’ll get a chance to listen to “Sixty-Three” and try again. We move through an anticipatory feeling through the second section, with a frenzied bass clarinet solo, which then “infects” other instruments, which begin to solo in their own independent tempos. Anticipation builds, as does the force of the music, towards a thrilling climax.

“Sixty-Three” was preceded by PEI composer Alan Reesor’s lyrical “Variations on a Theme for String Orchestra.” In his programme note, O’Leary writes about his own thrill, at having his music in the same performance as that of Reesor: “The ‘Dr. of Style,’ as we affectionately called him, was chair of the music department when I was a student at UPEI and I cannot imagine my present music career ever existing without the support and encouragement he provided me as a young undergraduate.”

The afternoon was rounded by Alexander Borodin’s Polovetsian Dances and Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 (the composer’s own favourite), two sure-fire crowd-pleasers. This has been a spectacular season, and I’m very grateful to have this opportunity to experience so much amazing music, through the superb performances of the PEISO. I’m also grateful for the opportunity to think about these diverse and sometimes challenging offerings, as I must, to write about them. I’m learning so much.

Events Calendar

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