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A Flourishing Start

Fall Fanfares
PEI Symphony Orchestra

Review by Anne Bergstrom

Fall Fanfares, The PEI Symphony’s first concert of the season, began with a brass fanfare by 16th century Italian composer Giovanni Gabrieli. Two groups of brass players faced each other on opposite sides of the hall, playing antiphonally, answering and echoing each other. Conductor James Mark explained that Gabrieli was the organist and composer for Venice’s Basilica San Marco, and the church features large upper balconies where the brass choirs would play.

The three movements or canzoni played by the brass featured a good blend between the two choirs. There was a satisfying balance, even though we were sitting closer to one group, because the closer instruments were aimed away from us.

Edvard Grieg’s Suite “From Holberg’s Time” for strings has five movements using several 17th century dance forms. The opening Praeludium had a lively rhythm alternating with a more pleading one. The Sarabande, slower and melancholy, was highlighted by a lyrical cello trio.

The Gavotte was gentle, lilting and cheerful. The Air had a poignant melody in the violins, repeated in the cellos. The lower strings, at full strength, provided a good anchor for the string orchestra throughout. The final Rigaudon opened with a bouncy, dance-like violin solo, followed by solo viola.

Canadian composer Kelly Marie Murphy wrote Utterances in 1999 on commission for the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra. It is filled with contrasts in colour, mood and texture. It began with exciting rhythmic energy, drama from snare drums and accented chords from the orchestra. An intriguing combination was wood block with muted trumpet.

The central slower section had a brief oboe solo, then an atmospheric violin solo with sliding notes, played with confidence by concertmaster David Adams. A short, slow clarinet solo and a cluster-like chord led back into a fast section, like the beginning with drums and a building, driving rhythm. The piece drew to a quiet close with high violin dissonances.

Dvorak’s Symphony No. 5 in F gave the woodwinds a chance to shine. It opened with a gentle theme in flutes and clarinets, followed by an energetic and bouncy second theme. These two themes were tossed around in the rather long first movement, which could have used a pick-me up before finally giving way to the Andante.

This began with the cello section presenting the melody. The first four notes are reminiscent of the descending motif of the first movement of Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1, which, interestingly, was written the same year as this symphony, 1875. It makes the listener wonder if one of them heard the other’s piece and was inspired to use the same musical fragment. The Scherzo was bouncy but not very fast, with excellent clarinet solos from principal Karem Simon and give-and-take with principal flutist Kay Diviney.

The Finale: Allegro molto started menacingly, again with the cellos, supported by the basses. The mood was immediately different from the other movements. A mellow bass clarinet solo was followed by a gradual buildup to an exciting finish, an extended romantic ending with brass flourishes and a timpani roll.

Much Mozart

PEI Symphony

by Anne Bergstrom

The final concert of the season for the PEI Symphony, on Sunday March 28 at 2:30 pm, will feature four of the Symphony’s principal wind players in Mozart’s Sinfonia Concertante in E flat. A sinfonia concertante is a piece for more than one solo instrument with orchestra; for example, Mozart also wrote one for violin and viola. The one for four winds, according to music director James Mark, has an interesting history.

Mozart originally composed this piece for flute, oboe, horn and bassoon with orchestra, in 1778 at the age of 22. The music was performed, but he never got the score back. This did not present a big obstacle for Wolfgang: years later, when he decided to do it again, but to replace the flute with clarinet for a good friend of his, he simply wrote it out, from memory. The piece retains the youthful exuberance of the early Mozart, though the version with clarinet appeared a number of years later.

The soloists will be Belinda Code, oboe, Karem Simon, clarinet, James Code, horn, and Robert Lewis, bassoon. All are presently playing first chair in their respective sections of the symphony. Both Belinda and James Code are on the music faculty at Mount Allison University, and Karem Simon is on the music faculty at UPEI. Robert Lewis plays and teaches bassoon in the Moncton area, and plays in Symphony New Brunswick. Both Robert Lewis and Belinda Code have played solos with the PEI Symphony before. The concept of a solo group is a bit different. The four soloists have to work together very closely, and even play a cadenza together—usually a passage where the solo player can show off alone.

The symphony will also be performing Symphony No. 5 in D by Ralph Vaughan Williams, possibly a first for the orchestra. Vaughan Williams was a British composer of the 19th and 20th centuries. James Mark says that the fifth symphony, composed between 1938 and 1943, is a pastoral and beautiful work. The fourth symphony, written in the early thirties, is an angry and dissonant piece. Perhaps the fifth symphony was an attempt to express hope in the midst of the horrors of war, though Vaughan Williams refused to ascribe a meaning to the symphony’s content.

Another Mozart piece will be on the program, the Overture to his opera The Magic Flute. This lighthearted and fanciful music was written near the end of Mozart’s life, at age 35, and the melodies are joyful and bouncy.

All Bach


J. S. Bach by the Strathgartney Chamber Orchestra and Chamber Choir

by Anne Bergstrom

The Strathgartney Chamber Orchestra and Chamber Choir, under the direction of Gerry Rutten, will be joined by the choir of the Kirk of Saint James, directed by Frank Nicholson, for a concert featuring solely works of Johann Sebastian Bach. Bach’s musical output was so prodigious that one could make many such programs without repeating anything. Says Rutten, “The variety of the program will indicate that Bach has provided a wide field of ideas to be enjoyed featuring material for choir, concertos for the keyboard, and solo material for voice.”

The Strathgartney groups were scheduled to perform at the Kirk this past December, a concert which was cancelled due to a snowstorm. In discussions about rescheduling, it was decided to have the two choirs join forces, and Nicholson suggested an all-Bach program. The piano soloist will be Fran McBurnie, a well-known Island performer and teacher who is also organist at the Kirk. She will be playing the first two movements of the Concerto in d minor for keyboard. They’ll be played separately, one on each half of the program. McBurnie says she played the first movement as a student at Mount Allison, but not with orchestra. It’s never quite the same with another pianist playing the orchestra’s part. The piece is “very collaborative­ the piano and orchestra play together all the time.” She finds Rutten to be a “precise, sensitive conductor.”

Nelleka Stam, a member of the Strathgartney Choir, will be vocal soloist for Bist du bei mir. She sang two solos with the group at its last concert in Crapaud in December. There will be three selections for combined choirs with orchestra: Jesu, joy of man’s desiring, O little one sweet, and Zion hears the watchmens’ voices. The choirs will also sing And grant me, Lord, to do, and another chorale, without orchestra. The two conductors will divide up the directing duties. The Little Fugue in g minor and the haunting Air on the G-string will be played by the orchestra, as well as the Sonata in g minor for woodwinds and cello.

The Strathgartney Choir and Orchestra were founded in 1998 to provide an opportunity for “classically trained or inclined musicians...to play or sing and develop their skills”. Gerry Rutten, originally from the Netherlands, received his music education in Canada and has conducted choirs and concert bands in Canada, the Netherlands and Germany, including many years as director of the PEI Regimental Band. For thirty years he was teacher and music coordinator for the Unit 3 School Board, and helped develop and implement the school instrumental program on PEI.

J.S. Bach’s musical genius was not appreciated until many years after his death. He was a humble man who considered he was simply serving God and his employers by composing music. Three hundred years later his music still sustains musicians and audiences, and an all-Bach program is to be anticipated with pleasure.

Singing Satire


Nancy White is the guest performer with the PEI Symphony Orchestra

by Anne Bergstrom

Nancy White

Nancy White first made a national name for herself writing and singing zany songs for CBC Radio’s program Sunday Morning, from the late seventies to the early nineties. As a journalist she had followed the news, but she found she preferred poking fun at current events to reporting them. Many of us tuned in to that show mostly to hear which of that week’s happenings her latest zinger would be about.

Locals, however, may also remember Nancy growing up in Charlottetown on North River Road, attending West Kent School and Queen Charlotte High School. She took piano lessons and sang in choirs, while her dad played the banjo and the clarinet. She listened to Broadway shows, Spike Jones, and maybe a bit of Tom Lehrer, all of which probably had a later influence. At Dalhousie she majored in English, then worked for The Guardian, writing the first review of the musical Anne of Green Gables.

Nancy says that “playing with a big band is a thrill.” In fact she has appeared with the PEI Symphony before, quite a few years ago, and is about to do it again, on Sunday, February 15 at 2:30 pm. James Mark wrote the arrangements then, and he is doing some more for this concert. She has selected songs from her most recent CD, Stickers on Fruit, as well as from Momnipotent: Songs for Weary Parents, and Homely for the Holidays, which is about PEI. She’ll also do a song from a show called Anne and Gilbert, a sequel to Anne which has never been produced. The song will be a lament by Marilla for a lost love.

Satirical numbers have been Nancy’s specialty, but without a regular venue for them she is no longer writing so many. In the last few years she has written a quite a few songs on commission, for example about World War One for CBC TV’s The History Project. I asked her if these were funny and she said no: they were about the Spanish flu epidemic.

She does a lot of touring, to folk festivals and comedy festivals, and has made appearances on other CBC Radio programs, as well as her own special on CBC TV’s Comics. Over the years Nancy has released a total of ten topical song collections.

About her life’s work Nancy comments, “What I do is hard for people to categorize. It’s journalism and theatre, comedy and music, satire and sometimes serious balladry—it doesn’t fit into any niche.”

The Symphony will also perform Tchaikovsky’s Overture to Romeo and Juliet, a medley of John Williams’ tunes from Star Wars (arranged by Burden), and selections from Carousel by Richard Rogers (arranged by Paul).

The Symphony’s annual Citrus Sale will offer fruit at intermission— without stickers.

Opener

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.

Symphony Concert

Pianist Frances Gray to perform George Gershwin’s Concerto in F

by Anne Bergstrom

Frances Gray

The first concert of the PEI Symphony’s 2003-2004 season, on October 19, will feature Frances Gray performing George Gershwin’s Concerto in F. Gershwin is probably better known for his many songs, his opera Porgy and Bess, and his earlier piano piece with orchestra, Rhapsody in Blue. He is one of America’s most popular composers of mostly popular music.

This concerto is often found on recordings with Rhapsody in Blue. It was written soon after the Rhapsody and is longer and more ambitious. It was premiered in December 1925 at Carnegie Hall with Gershwin as soloist. The audience was immediately taken with it, but critics weren’t so sure. They doubted that a musician who had come up through Tin Pan Alley could have written in classical form and orchestrated it himself. However, Gershwin had studied these things in order to write the piece, and some consider it his finest work

The first movement, “Allegro,” opens with some booms from the timpani which lead into a Charleston rhythm, followed by a pentatonic theme. These are worked in variations, fragments and combinations with great skill. The second movement “Andante con moto” features two blues themes and this movement itself is a work of genius. The third movement, “Allegro agitato,” uses themes from the first and second movements in a rondo form with a driving rhythm.

Frances Gray performs extensively as chamber musician and piano soloist, and has been heard frequently on CBC and Radio-Canada broadcasts. She has performed throughout Canada, the US, and in Europe, and every year at PEI’s Indian River Festival. She has recorded two CDs of solo piano music: Poems for Piano (nominated for an East Coast Music Award) and most recently The Evocative Piano.

Dr. Gray is Professor of Music at UPEI. She received her Bachelor of Music from McGill University and her Master and Doctor of Music degrees from Indiana University, where she studied with Menahem Pressler. She is a member of the Symphony as pianist and keyboardist.

When she performed Rhapsody in Blue with the Symphony, Gray says she had “a wonderful time with it. Since then I have also taught the piece. I’m not a jazz musician, but I love jazz. It’s always uplifting to practice; it’s very high-spirited.” She has many recordings of both Gershwin pieces, since they are so often paired, and decided she would like to perform the concerto, which is a lot longer. This concerto is often programmed on pops concerts, but the PEISO has not done so. The piece is a lively blend of jazzy themes in a classical form.

Also programmed for this concert are Mirage by Canadian composer Stephen Chatman, and Beethoven’s Symphony No. 8.

Lionhearted


Chor Leoni

Review by Anne Bergstrom

From the opening processional by the forty male voices of Vancouver's Chor Leoni to the second encore, a large audience at St. Mary's Church in Indian River sat enchanted. Founder and director Diane Loomer is an expert at drawing the best in tone quality, intonation, pianissimo, and enunciation from her singers-in six languages.

The choir members "love to sing in Russian, especially in this church," and gave us two beautifully blended and balanced motets. Some of the basses were able to reach low notes that resembled organ pedal tones, beyond what I knew the human voice could produce. There were also some prayers by Poulenc sung with clarity and sweetness, and Schubert's setting of the Twenty-third Psalm.

The featured soloist, Steve Maddock, is a former choir member who has gone on to make his own career. He has a strong and clear baritone that was a pleasure to hear. Also soloing a number of times was second tenor Ray Horst. He played the clarinet with "Song for the Mira," and sang the falsetto lead in "The Lion Sleeps Tonight," getting the timbre just right. The talented accompanist was Ken Cormier, who sang whenever not needed on piano.

The remainder of the program consisted of folk songs and spirituals. These were a varied mixture, but on the slow side-I would have liked a few more of the lively songs. The printed program listed all the tour repertoire, to be selected from at each concert; I'm sure there were others wishing for numbers like "We'll Rant and We'll Roar," or "Squid-Jiggin' Ground." The first encore was "Make and Break Harbour," a poignant Stan Rogers song, but we had hoped for "The Mary Ellen Carter." However, everyone was delighted when the strains of "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" were heard, and shouts of laughter when one chorister burst out vigorously during the song with "Can you feel the love tonight?" and soon after, "The circle, the circle of life!"

Almost as impressive as what this choir can do is who they are: teachers, doctors, students-in other words, amateurs. They range in age from early twenties to sixties, have won numerous awards, and have released six CDs. With one rehearsal a week, it takes dedication and hard work to reach this high level of music-making.

Good at Their Game


Choristers Chor Leoni and harpsichordist Luc Beausejour

by Anne Bergstrom and Isabelle Gallant

A slice of Chor Leoni, renowned male choir from Vancouver

This summer's Indian River Festival will feature a return visit on July 3 by the renowned all-male choir, Chor Leoni, directed by Diane Loomer. These Vancouver-based singers were finalists in this year's European Broadcasting Union's "Let the People Sing" International Choral Competition, and triple winners in last year's CBC Radio National Competition for Amateur Choirs.

Their program will highlight works by Canadian composers and arrangers, some with an Atlantic connection, others with Vancouver composers or arrangers. Canadian selections will include Away From the Roll of the Sea by Cape Bretoner Allister MacGillivray, arranged by Diane Loomer; We'll Rant, We'll Roar, arranged by Willi Zwozdesky; Ubi Caritas by Ramona Leungen; Jing-ga lye-a by Bruce Sled; and two Stan Rogers songs, Make and Break Harbour and The Mary Ellen Carter. International composers include Sandstöm, Nikolsky, Tchaikovsky, Sheremetev, Tormis, Schubert and Poulenc. And more!

Chor Leoni is known for its rich, smooth sound and its appealing choral personality. If you have listened to them on Jürgen Gothe's program Disc Drive on CBC (the show originates in Vancouver and he likes to feature West Coast talent), there is another dimension to a live performance. These fellows are not a "stand in a row and sing" type of ensemble. Choreography and changing formations will be part of the presentation.

The group previously appeared at Indian River in 1997, and members were charmed both by the acoustics and by the audience of Jersey cows which gathered at the fence across the road when they rehearsed with the church doors open. Second tenor Bruce Hoffman recounts that the cows "didn't cough once"!

Another concert to look forward to at the festival during July is the appearance of harpsichordist Luc Beauséjour on Sunday the 13th. Beauséjour, hailing from Montréal, has appeared in recital across North America and Europe, and at several festivals, including the Lanaudière International Festival and the Lamèque Early Music Festival. He has recorded 15 CDs, many of which have been critically acclaimed across the globe. Beauséjour holds a doctorate from the Université de Montréal, and has studied under harpsichord masters such as Ton Koopman and Mireille Lagacé. He currently teaches harpsichord and organ in Montréal.

Beauséjour continues to present great works for solo harpsichord, as he will in his performance at Indian River. The entire program consists of music written between the late 1500s and the early-to mid 1700s, which covers the end of the Renaissance era and the entire Baroque era; it was during these years that the harpsichord knew its heyday. Beauséjour will play J.S. Bach's French Suite in G major and Jean-Philippe Rameau's Suite in E, as well as two Scarlatti sonatas and two pieces by François Couperin. The program also features music by the lesser-known composers Sweelinck, Froberger and Forqueray.

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