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All Aboard: From Scotland to Vienna
PEI Symphony Orchestra

Review by David Malahoff

Many years ago during a visit to London, I had three hours to spare. So, in a moment of callow tourism, I decided to “see” the British Museum. Strolling past the Elgin Marbles and the Egyptian antiquities, I gave a passing nod to the Rosetta Stone before entering the Documents Room. Three hours later I was still there, moving from one glass case of memorable paper to another. I saw the diary containing the last words of doomed South Pole explorer Robert Scott. There was Shakespeare’s mortgage. There was a copy of the Magna Carta. Then my eye was drawn to a case that had papers with hundreds of dots and lines and swirls—these were the musical scores. Here, in their own hand, were original works by Beethoven, Mozart and other famous composers.

This memory of this was brought back to me at the final concert of the PEI Symphony Orchestra’s 40th-anniversary season. In that memory is the marvel that marks made on paper outlive their authors but still have the power to communicate with untold generations.

Here was the orchestra delivering a vibrant version of Mendelssohn’s “Hebrides’ Overture,” written in 1832, and all but dripping in sea mist and roiling surf. Mozart wrote “Eine kleine Nachtmusik” in 1787 and it lives on in countless recordings and classical hits packages. But to hear it done live is to appreciate anew his distinctive layered melodies and arrangements.

When the featured guest performers, cellist Julia MacLaine and violinist Matia Gotman, performed Brahms Concerto in A Minor, Op.102 they played this piece (composed in 1887) as if it was written for them. Such was the freshness of the performance. Violin and cello traded musical phrases, finished each other’s lines and weaved together in rapid and intricate passages. In the second section—the Andante—they played the gentle melody so expertly and with such tenderness that it ranked as the most moving moment of the concert.

The power of words and music were uniquely demonstrated when Island poet Dr. Brent MacLaine read “Boat People.” Inspired by the water journeys of refugees who flee troubled homelands, Mr. MacLaine spoke unaccompanied until the last line of his poem. Then Ms. MacLaine and Mr. Gotman underlined the poem’s final words with the first notes of James Blachly’s “Boat People,” a composition inspired by the poem. Both poem and Blachly’s composition could have stood alone but here they were brought together in a glancing collision and both were stronger for it.

You’re wondering: Brent MacLaine. Julia MacLaine. Any relation? Yes. Father; daughter.

The concert ended with Beethoven’s “Symphony No.1”. This same piece was played by the PEI Symphony forty years ago in its first concert: There was nothing dusty about the work or its Sunday performance. The symphony uncoiled with the same riveting tension Beethoven intended when he first scratched those notes on paper more than two hundred years ago.

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