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Having a Blast

Montreal Symphony's Paul Merkelo is the featured soloist

by Jeff Bursey

In February, the Prince Edward Island Symphony Orchestra gives its third performance of the season. This month's featured soloist is Paul Merkelo, whose home base is Montreal, where he has been solo trumpet with that city's symphony orchestra since 1995. In 2001 Merkelo released his own recording, A Simple Song (Amberola Records), which proved especially popular in Quebec.

Conductor James Marks says Merkelo has a terrific reputation and is considered an outstanding virtuoso. "It's always a challenge to have a visiting soloist," Marks says, adding, "I've never conducted any of these pieces, so it's going to be a first for me." Even the orchestra will sound different, as the selections dictated there was no need for trombones, tubas or percussion.

Audiences will hear a diverse performance. In devising the program, which Marks describes as "light, pleasant, enjoyable from beginning to end," both musicians were enthusiastic about Hummel's Trumpet Concerto. As Marks recounts part of their conversation, Merkelo asked, "Wouldn't it be fun to play the Hummel?" There was instant agreement. The second piece is an early work by Bizet, Symphony in C, a romantic, approachable work, written when the composer was a student but not performed until eighty years ago. For the third composer, Marks, who likes to present Canadian music as often as possible, selected works by Sir Ernest MacMillan, who was an organ virtuoso, helped found the Canadian Music Centre and served on the faculty of the University of Toronto. "He was a very active and versatile musician, and is sort of the father of Canadian music." The selection, Two Sketches, is based on two French-Canadian folk songs. They were originally written for a string quartet in 1927 but a year later MacMillan adapted them for a string orchestra. The work is in the tradition of Vaughan Williams.

"The concert will be uniformly enjoyable," concludes Marks, who looks forward to it as much as concert-goers do. "It should be a pleasurable February evening."

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