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Doug Riley will perform his Prince Edward Island Suite

by Isabelle Gallant

Doug Riley—composer, arranger, performerThe PEI Symphony’s upcoming pops concert, “Pops Goes the Island,” appears to have something for everyone. The program includes jazz, light classics, beautiful melodies and energetic dances, and two pieces with a local connection.

The featured soloist for the concert on February 11th is pianist Doug Riley. Well-known on the Island for his performances at the PEI Jazz and Blues Festival and his stint last summer in Canada Rocks, Riley (alias Dr. Music) is one of Canada’s most important jazz performers. He has collaborated on recordings with numerous legendary musicians, including Ray Charles, Ringo Starr, Gordon Lightfoot and Moe Koffman. He has been honoured with many awards and distinctions for his work, and in 2005 he was presented with the Order of Canada.

Riley is an accomplished composer and arranger, and with the symphony he will be playing in one of his own compositions: the Prince Edward Island Suite. As its name suggests, this symphonic work was written about PEI, where Riley lives for four months of each year. The work was commissioned by the Toronto Sinfonietta in 2002, and was inspired by Riley’s surroundings on the Island. As he writes, “I approached each movement as a tone poem describing a particular aspect of the natural ambience of the Island.”

The work, combining jazz and classical genres, is a concerto for jazz quartet in four movements. Dawn and Sunset create scenes of the beginning and the end of day through various orchestral colours and textures. Ceilidh employs Celtic percussion instruments, such as the bodhran, the spoons and the Celtic military snare drum, to convey a down-home kitchen party. Storm ends the suite on a dramatic note, combining ominous calm with pounding fury to conjure up a true Maritime gale. This movement also uses polytonality and atonality to express the weather’s tension.

The concert will also feature several other short works: Dvorak’s Slavonic Dances, Tarantella for Bootleggers by Canadian composer John Estacio, Raider’s March by John Williams, and John Fenwick’s Charlottetown Festival Suite. Conductor Jamie Mark wanted to make sure the program included some light classics that everyone could enjoy. “They [the audience] may come to hear Doug Riley, but we want them to hear a little bit of what the orchestra can do too,” said Mark.

The Charlottetown Festival Suite by John Fenwick includes music from Anne of Green Gables and Johnny Belinda. Fenwick was the orchestrator and arranger of Anne, and he also scored Johnny Belinda and The Legend of the Dumbells during his time as Music Director of the Festival in the 1960s and 1970s.

For Mark, the excitement of the concert is “inviting a new soloist who lends a new dimension to things.” In this case, he feels it’s a great privilege for both him and the orchestra to get a chance to work with Doug Riley. “He’s been referred to as one of the great icons of Canadian jazz,” noted Mark.

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