PEI Symphony Orchestra - Vivaldi 4 Beethoven 5
Review by Ivy Wigmore
The final performance of the PEI Symphony Orchestra started out with Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. As the first familiar notes sounded, I thought to myself: No surprises here. However, much of the power of music derives from expectation and subversion of that expectation. And in this case, my expectations were way off the mark. Although I may have heard the concertos a time or two before, the performance was positively thrilling, seeming infused with the same awesome creative force that drives the seasons themselves.
Concertmaster Hok Kwan soloed and conducted simultaneously, the latter task apparently accomplished mainly through the subtle side-on lift of an eyebrow or twitch of a shoulder blade. Fortunately, the orchestra didn’t seem to need much in the way of instruction. Kwan and orchestra were fabulous.
After intermission, we were treated to Jim O’Leary’s “Three Studies for orchestra,” each of which is in the style of a different masterwork. The first movement was inspired by Bela Bartok’s “The Miraculous Mandarin.” O’Leary says that he wanted to recreate “the relentless energy” of Bartok’s work and he definitely succeeded—by the end of this study, we were wide awake and ready for the intense listening that the second piece required. Inspired by Olivier Messiaen’s “Et Exspecto Resurrectionem Mortuorum” (I Await the Resurrection of the Dead), the second study did seem to speak of anticipation—clearly, something was happening. The third study, inspired by Charles Ive’s “The Unanswered Question,” was fascinating and suitably mysterious. A piccolo and oboe echoed what the orchestra was playing from offstage. I loved “Three Studies.” I find myself going to O’Leary’s website and listening to the excerpts available there to remind myself of the experience.
The end piece for the concert and the season was Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. Another very familiar work, No. 5 starts off with the repeated “short-short-short-long” sequence popularly considered to refer to the knock of fate at the door. During WWII, the BBC introduced its news broadcasts with the sequence because they correlate to Morse code for the letter V, for victory. Throughout the symphony, the four notes are repeated to varied effect, expressing everything from joy to a bittersweet melancholy to foreboding. The orchestra was, at least to my ear, spot-on throughout. How wonderful it is to hear such music performed live, and performed so beautifully.
I found myself reminded that music, like all sensory input, is information. I thought back to a time, a few years back when my grandson was a toddler. My husband, Douglas, and I had put a classical disc on and were settling back with the Saturday papers while Noah built various Lego constructions on the carpet. Time to relax. However, as the music progressed, construction projects fell by the wayside. Noah came charging over to us, seemingly galvanized. His eyes popped wide and pudgy hands flew up in amazement. Preverbal at that point, he was nevertheless driven to try to communicate about his visceral experience of the music: This is incredible! Are you hearing this? Are you feeling this?
How often, as an adult, do you ever get to have an experience like that? Not often enough, to be sure, but I think many of us did on April 5, at the PEISO’s Vivaldi 4 Beethoven 5 performance.