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PEI Symphony Orchestra

Review by Anne Bergstrom

The opening concert of the PEI Symphony season brought out the George Gershwin fans to hear Island pianist Frances Gray playing Gershwin’s Concerto in F. The piece was enthusiastically received. The opening of the first movement Allegro seemed a little subdued, and the whole movement under tempo. I was trying to imagine myself in Carnegie Hall for the premiere back in the 1920s, with Gershwin at the piano. It worked during the more lively section, with echoes in the piano of “I Got Rhythm,” but I expected the percussion to be less restrained.

The second movement blues suggested a smoky bar late at night, with atmospheric trumpet solos from principal trumpeter Dan St. Amand. The piano was dancing and playful; there was a singing theme in the strings, leading into a quiet ending.

The final Allegro Agitato was truly agitated, with a feeling of bustling traffic, horns honking, and crowds of people in a hurry. There was fast finger work from the winds. A loud gong led into a slower theme played by the full orchestra; the finish was exciting. Aside from occasional communication problems where the orchestra did not quite synchronize with the soloist, the work was convincing, and seemed to be appreciated by both the audience and the musicians. Gray played with confidence and verve, drawing the maximum of snappiness from the syncopations.

The concert opened with the overture to Alexander Borodin’s opera Prince Igor. After a slow moody beginning, the tympani led into a brass fanfare. The strings and some wind solos intertwined some of the opera’s colourful melodies. Canadian composer Stephen Chatman’s Mirage had some interesting program notes, and may have been fun to play, but was not all that enjoyable to this listener. The piece was partially improvisatory, so it turns out differently with each performance. We heard long chords in dissonant clusters, with gradual sliding changes in the strings, and short repeated patterns. It did seem to suggest changing weather, with clouds moving across the sky and occasional rays of sunlight. The ending came with rumbles of thunder from suspended cymbals, and quiet pizzicato sprinkles of rain.

The mood changed with the final work, the 8th Symphony of Ludwig von Beethoven. This music is cheerful, clean and crisp, and the orchestra seemed very much at home in it. There were some good solos, from the principal clarinetist Karem Simon, horn players James Code and Allie McCrady and others. This was a strong performance.

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