This past weekend, the Okanagan Symphony Orchestra concluded its highly successful 2017-2018 season with a concert entitled Triomphe. What a triumph it was.
The program opened with Regenerations by 21st-century composer Marcus Goddard. This sonic poem played with unusual orchestral performance techniques including microtones, clarinet multiphonics and tone bending. In fact, some of the sonorities sounded electronic, especially the harmonics-producing low drones of the double basses and bass trombone. According to the program notes, Goddard states the work is “a reflection on the constant rebirth of innocence.”
The form was circular rather than forward moving and relied on the building of texture to carry it through. Kudos to Maestra Rosemary Thomson for programming this work and promoting new music.
Next was the highlight of the evening, the Gryphon Trio’s performance of Beethoven’s concerto for piano, violin and cello in C major, Op. 56—the Triple Concerto. Celebrating its 25th year, this ensemble, consisting of Annalee Patipatanakoon on violin, Roman Borys on cello and Jamie Parker on piano, is considered Canada’s pre-eminent piano trio.
The challenge of performing this work is that even though it is billed as a concerto for three soloists, it is really a concerto for the cohesive unit of piano trio and orchestra. As such, this was the sparkling secret ingredient to the success of the performance. After 25 years, the Gryphons know how to communicate with each other, their ideas are solid and cohesive and their music-making is unified and intelligent.
From the joyful Allegro first movement to the rollicking Rondo final movement, the music was thoughtful, polished and a total delight. Of particular note were the lightening-speed runs of Parker’s piano playing, the sensuous phrases shaped by Borys on cello and the energetic attack of Patipatanakoon’s violin entries.
The final number of the evening, and of the Okanagan Symphony Orchestra’s 2017-2018 season, was Antonin Dvorak’s iconic Symphony No. 7 in D Minor Op.70. This work is considered by many the pinnacle of his achievement as a composer. Dvorak spent five years planning and writing this challenging music, and the OSO is to be commended not only for taking it on but especially for a performance that shone.
The Allegro Maestoso first movement began with a deceptively gloomy theme introduced by the strings. However, this angst-filled opening was quickly transformed, becoming energetic and electrifying. Maestra Thomson held the reins with a sure hand, guiding the orchestra through sweeping melodies and lush harmonic progressions.
The Poco Adagio second movement began with bucolic woodwind section playing and there was a simple, contented quality to the meandering melodies. In any music, repeated melodic lines can be challenging to interpret and Maestra Thomson excelled at bringing out the subtext of the composition. There was some gorgeous brass choir playing and lush string ensemble work in this movement.
In the engaging Vivace third movement, Thomson highlighted the disparate dance forms of a Viennese Waltz and a Czech Furiant while keeping the driving forward momentum. Quixotic harmonic and rhythmic changes contributed to the engaging nature of this movement and tight ensemble work by the orchestra carried it off admirably.
The opening melodic fifths of final Allegro set the tone for the determined nature of this movement. Thomson led the orchestra through the many cross-rhythms and contrapuntal lines with confidence and finesse. The entire 40-minute symphony is an exhausting work and yet Maestra Thomson maintained the necessary energy required to pull it off to it’s blazing and glorious finale.
The concert, and indeed the entire 2017-2018 OSO season was an unqualified Triomphe, and the Okanagan Symphony Orchestra more than merited its standing ovation. It is worth noting that, according to Maestra’ Thomson’s glowing description of the 2018/2019 season, better music is yet to come. Seasons tickets are available—for now.
—Anita Perry is a concert reviewer living in the Okanagan. Perry reviewed the OSO’s Penticton performance. Some details may differ from performances in Kelowna and Vernon.