What is it about the Okanagan Symphony that makes me think it is the best regional orchestra in Canada?
Saturday night was just another evening at the office for Music Director and Conductor Rosemary Thompson but it certainly wasn’t anything blasé for the audience in attendance. Titled Amadeus the entire evening focused on three final compositions by Mozart:
• his last Serenade (Serenade No. 13 for Strings in G, K 525)
• his last Concerto (the Clarinet Concerto in A, K622)
• his last Symphony (the Jupiter, Symphony No. 41 in C, K 551)
It was a wonderful blend that demonstrated the incredible genius of a guy that died in his early thirties – hard to imagine what he might have done, had he lived a more normal life-span.
But I really should start at the beginning. One hour before the concert, Rosemary met with perhaps fifty early birds in a pre-concert chat. The only other person who I ever saw do this kind of activity very well was Stanley Chapell during the Vancouver Symphony’s Pop Series probably forty years ago, and he did it on stage and for about ten minutes. It was good, but the brevity meant that he only concentrated on a couple of key issues. Rosemary explains the evening. She actually sings us various notes of the performance so we will have a really good sense of what to watch/listen for. And she is careful not to become too academic – you can not only understand her, but you get a real sense of the passion, the artistry, the creativity of the music we are about to hear. This pre-concert gig is supposed to last thirty minutes – tonight it went forty, and would have gone longer except she had to leave to go get ready to conduct. I understood she had to leave; I only wish she could have explained just a couple more things!!
Serenade No. 13 is better known as Eine Kleine Nachtmusik – A Little Night Music. So when it starts the tendency is to settle into your seat and drift off a bit. You don’t because you quickly realize this piece is more than sixteen bars of music. Tonight the OSO really treated us to this wonderful piece of music by showing all the textures and colours of the composition. There may have been a small number of musicians on the stage – there was no amount of small music. It was a presentation that could have satisfied me if that was all there was. There wasn’t – we were just getting started.
Next on the program was Erin Fung the Principal Clarinet of the OSO. This lady is one amazing musician. She defines the clarinet and in this particular piece by Mozart all the range and intensity of the clarinet is fully on display. I am not a big scholar of classical music – I just like it – and I certainly don’t have a full appreciation of the clarinet; but, tonight it was magical in the hands of Ms. Fung. And her talents are not confined to the OSO. She is the 2nd and bass clarinetist of the Vancouver Opera. She also teaches at the University of Lethbridge. She has performed with the WindRose Trio, the Instrumental Society of Calgary, and many more. In addition she is a founding member the New Music Collective at Wayne State U in Detroit. She is very big on music education and often takes part in kids’ learning sessions. But as talented as she is, the thing I will remember of this evening is her amazing ability to play this piece on the clarinet. She commands the instrument, she holds the audience silent and still, she puts energy and reflection into every note. She was so good that at the end of her performance, instead of breaking for the mid-concert intermission time of networking and refreshments, those in attendance clapped and yelled for more until she came back out and delivered a stunning encore that had many gasping for breath. She sent everyone into the intermission on a high and definitely excited to see what the second half was going to be all about.
We were not disappointed. Rosemary had chosen Mozart’s last symphony, nicknamed at some point after his death, the Jupiter. Not sure why: Was it because Jupiter was the king of the Roman gods? Was it because the planet is the biggest in our solar system? Does it really matter? Symphony No. 41 in C is a magnificent work. Each of its four parts is different, distinct and in itself an amazing piece of music. But it is the final section, the molto allegro where the genius literally overpowers us all. There are so many layers, somewhat diverse textures and inclusion of instruments almost competing for attention, that the listener gets to fully appreciate the stratospheric talent of the composer. At one point five themes are at play and I believe only great conductors with great orchestras can really pull it off.
Well, guess what, Rosemary and the OSO pulled it off. The standing ovation at the end was not the usual Penticton stand up and clap nicely – this one was thunderous, instant and across the Cleland Theatre. Even people like myself and others in the back row who often are reluctant to stand with the crowd were up on our feet. It was a magnificent end, to a magnificent evening, celebrating a magnificent composer… more people across the city, more people across the land should have had the opportunity to hear this concert. It’s a pity it wasn’t recorded so we could buy the CD and hear it again.
Sometimes I wish I was in Vancouver more often to hear the VSO. My times in Charlottetown, Regina, Saskatoon, Calgary and Edmonton all were enhanced by the local symphonies and orchestras. Last night was one more night that reminded me why Penticton, in fact the entire Okanagan, is so special – it’s the Okanagan Symphony Orchestra and its maestro Rosemary Thompson. Keep it up gang – you are so much better than when I first knew you…