Celebrate the Joy of the Season
Prince Edward Island Symphony Orchestra
Review by Ivy Wigmore
The PEISO’s November 22nd concert this year was an invitation to “Celebrate the Joy of the Season,” an event so fun-packed that they had to start early to get it all in. At 1 pm, the festivities commenced with the Musical Instrument Petting Zoo, in which instruments on loan from Long & McQuade were made available in the Concourse for audience members to try out. (Orchestra members also provided demonstrations, in case anyone wanted to see how it was actually done.) PEISO conductor James Mark, UPEI musicologist Annette Campbell and PEISO Composer-In-Residence Jim O’Leary’s pre-concert talk was up next, followed by cake, served up to the accompaniment of The Singing Strings. And we haven’t even gotten to the performance.
Which began with Oskar Morawetz’s undeniably celebratory “Carnival Overture,” the composer’s first orchestral work. In fact, the Overture was written as a requirement for his bachelor’s degree—it was either that or write a paper. Thinking little of it, Morawetz showed his composition to Sir Ernest MacMillan, who immediately scheduled it for performance—and a career was begun.
Next up, the Toy Symphony (more formally known as Cassation in G major for toys, 2 oboes, 2 horns, strings and continuo) was originally thought to be the work of Joseph Haydn—the story being that he had bought a collection of musical toys at a fair and was inspired to compose the symphony for performance at a Christmas party. However, the Toy Symphony has been almost universally attributed to Leopold Mozart (father of Wolfgang Amadeus) since the manuscript was discovered among his papers. But then… that provenance was cast into doubt when further exploration revealed that Mozart the elder enjoyed copying music. More recently, the Toy Symphony was found in the effects of a Benedictine monk of that period, Edmund Angerer, who gets the credit on today’s programme. Since it seems that every other composer was transcribing the music, I suspect we’ll never know for sure. That being the case, I’m opting for Haydn, simply because his story was the most fun.
Special guests joined the orchestra for this one, on the aforementioned toys. It was such a pleasure to see the distinguished guests tootling, tweetling, thumping, jingling and cuckooing away to beat the band, albeit with the gravitas appropriate to a performance of serious music.
Sung-Ha Shin Bouey directed Le Ragazze Girls Vocal Ensemble and I Ragazzi Junior Children’s Chamber Choir for Pietro Yon’s “Gesu Bambino” and Paul Halley’s “Freedom Trilogy.” The latter is an unusual and upbeat medley of Gregorian chant, South African folk music and American gospel (Amazing Grace).
Not familiar with Otto Nicolai’s “Christmas Overture,” I was a little taken aback by the sombre and ominous opening to the movement, which made me think Nicolai must have been one of those poor souls for whom the season holds only dread. I was a little better educated after reading the programme: The overture is based on a well-known Bible text, “the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.” At the end of the movement, the youth choirs reentered for “Vom himmel hoch da komm ‘ich her” (From heaven above I come). And lo, there was light.
The second half of the performance was given over to excerpts from the Nutcracker Suite, presented in collaboration with dance umbrella. The orchestra performed highlights—and performed superbly, as they did throughout the afternoon—while the talented young dancers defied the laws of physics in a gleeful whirl of colour. Magic!
And so the festive season has begun with a party: Toys, cake, singing, dancing, light, colour and magic, all wrapped up in a spectacular gift from our own fabulous PEI Symphony Orchestra.