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Pan and Jupiter: Music of the Gods
PEI Symphony Orchestra

Review by David Malahoff

Here’s how a symphony Sunday begins at our house:
Watch Coronation Street; Let the cat out; Go downtown for breakfast; Watch U.S. political talk shows; Let the cat in; Do household chores; Let the cat out; Get changed; Let the cat in; Go to Confed’ Centre.

But recently there’s been a change. Now, I arrive more than an hour before the performance to catch the pre-concert chat led by conductor James Mark and musicologist Annette Campbell. They make a good team; perched on bar stools in the Studio Theatre, they offer choice musical facts, amusing stories and revealing anecdotes about the featured composers and their music. It’s useful context, painlessly delivered. I first went to one in October and enjoyed it so much, I’ve been back ever since.

The November 26th concert opens with Overture to L’Italiana in Algieri by Rossini. Beginning with the soft, coy sounds of plucked strings and building to the full orchestral stop-starts that created a stirring finish, this was good humoured music played with irresistible energy by the PEI Symphony Orchestra.

Morgan Saulnier, flutist, takes the stage midway through the first half to perform Concerto for Flute and Orchestra by Danish composer Carl Nielsen. Ms. Saulnier’s notes dart, weave and hover amidst the orchestra’s powerful pockets of sweet and dissonant sounds. One wonders if the size of the orchestra will overwhelm and intimidate a lone flutist. But Ms. Saulnier plays confidently and with passion.

The orchestra never holds back through over-caution. When required, it delivers aggressive counterpoint to the flute and, at other times, the orchestra creates a unified sound that acts like a giant, gentle cradle for the sounds of Ms. Saulnier’s flute. This was one of those performances that made me lean forward in my seat in concentration. Completely absorbing.

The biggest revelation of the afternoon was the Suite Hebraïque written by Srul Irving Glick, a Canadian composer. Six compact movements blended Jewish folk melodies and middle eastern sounds. The melodies seemed like smoke—vapourous things—not clearly defined but swirling through the movements. It was difficult to tell which instrument and section was propelling them and this gave the music its mystery and its beauty.

The concert closed with Symphony No. 41, K 551 Jupiter by Mozart. This was a careful, distant performance; enjoyable but not especially moving. Only in the last movement did the orchestra find the vigor and intensity to make an emotional connection with the audience. A slight flat spot in an otherwise thoroughly satisfying afternoon.

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