PEI Symphony opens season with familiar works
Review by Ivy Wigmore
On Sunday, October 19th, the PEI Symphony Orchestra kicked off its 41st season with “Passionate Classics,” an eclectic program of music spanning several countries and centuries. The entire afternoon was a joy: the selections were perfect; the orchestra was spot-on throughout, and the performance of Lysa Choi, the sixteen-year-old guest solo violinist, was little short of incendiary.
First up was Beethoven’s “Overture to Egmont,” written as part of a series of incidental pieces for Goethe’s play about Count Egmont. The composer wrote the music, like the play, as political art illuminating the heroism of the Count who fought to liberate his country, the Netherlands and was executed for his efforts. The music is said to be a précis of the play and, as such, is extremely stirring. Although Egmont’s death may be relayed through the piece, it finishes triumphantly, portraying the subsequent uprising of the people.
Lysa Choi performed with the orchestra for Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto in D Major. Shortly after she began to play, you could see audience members turning to each other wide-eyed. Her performance was incredibly accomplished, nuanced and emotionally mature. When the concerto was finished, a moment or two of silence was followed by a chorus of “`Wow!” on all sides. The man to my left turned to me and said, “Whew. That was exhausting.” He meant for the audience, who might not have been able to take much more. In fact, we just managed the strength to leap to our feet for an extended ovation. After the concert, there was much talk of the young violinist, speculations that we were very lucky to see her at this point in her career because she was clearly headed for stardom.
The next piece, Samuel Barber’s “Adagio for Strings,” is officially the saddest music in the world, as attested to by a BBC Today poll. Elegant, evocative and elegiac, the Adagio was performed at the funerals of Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Prince Rainier of Monaco and, again, in 2001 at the World Trade Center, in a ceremony for the victims of the September 11 attacks. It may be the saddest music in the world; it’s certainly among the most beautiful, lending sorrow dignity and sanctity.
Haydn wrote his Symphony 94, The Surprise Symphony, in 1792. It was, at least partially, written as part of a friendly competition between the composer and a former pupil. At that time, a single chord in the symphony excited a lot of public comment and a compliment from Haydn’s student. According to conductor James Marks, the symphony was written with tongue firmly in cheek. In this vein, the famous (although, to the modern ear barely detectable) chord was part of the composer’s toying with audience expectations throughout. Which is, of course, where the symphony got its nickname.
What a wonderful way to spend a Sunday afternoon. If you missed this one, I recommend that you watch for upcoming performances. The next concert, November 23rd, will be “Fun for All Ages.”