This weekend, the Okanagan Symphony Orchestra celebrated its 60th anniversary with a diamond-studded concert of old and brand-new works.
This side-by-side concert with the Okanagan Youth Symphony Orchestra boasted the premiere of Ernst Schneider’s second piano concerto, as well as performances by OSYO Alumni oboist Kira Shiner, violinist Alicia Venables, cellist Nicholas Denton-Protsack, pianist Jana Luksts and composer Kolby Zinger-Harris.
The evening began with Kolby Zinger-Harris’s Three Views of the Okanagan.
It is always exciting to hear a new work and this piece did not disappoint.
An Okanagan Symphony Youth Orchestra graduate, Zinger-Harris wrote the piece as a tribute to the Okanagan Valley and the people in it.
From the first spine-tingling notes, it was clear this was music from a confident young composer. Excellent use of orchestral colour and clear development of ideas brought the music to life. Zinger-Harris is definitely a rising star to keep an eye on.
The next work on this celebratory program was the premiere of Piano Concerto No. 2 by Penticton’s Ernst Schneider.
This work, seven years in the making, displayed Schneider’s meticulous approach and attention to detail.
Imbued with lovely lines, complex harmonies and intelligent orchestration, the concerto was well-crafted and satisfying.
The grand first movement, Allegro Moderato, shone with clear musical ideas, brimmed with dialogue between orchestra and soloist and boasted some very competent playing by another OSYO alumnus, pianist Jana Luksts.
The second movement, Scherzando, was impish and playful, bringing a chuckle from audience members at its conclusion.
The third movement, Largo, was the heart of the work with long wistful melodic lines and truly sensitive playing from Luksts.
The fierce opening of the final Allegro Moderato gave way to a determined, almost relentless drive toward the end with Luksts’s fingers flying over the keys. There was a tremendous sense of musical unity throughout the entire concerto that left the listener with a sense of having experienced something profound and honest.
The audience surged to its feet for a well-deserved standing ovation that brought the composer to the stage.
Antonio Salieri’s Triple Concerto in D major was the first piece after intermission with OSYO alumni Kira Shiner, Alicia Venables and Nicholas Denton-Protsack as soloists.
The three young musicians performed with excellent understanding of musical style.
Oboist Kira Shiner’s gorgeous warm tone lit her light runs and coloured her lyrical phrases in the second movement Cantabile.
Violinist Alicia Venables’s playing boasted beautiful, well-shaped phrases and sparkling runs.
Cellist Nick Denton-Protsack’s long phrases were sensitively drawn and his nimble interpretation of technical passages was a delight.
In a daring move appropriate for celebrating a significant milestone, Maestra Rosemary Thomson commissioned Denton-Protsack to “reimagine” the last theme and variations movement of the concerto.
This movement Iterations on a Theme began in Salieri’s 18th century musical language, then morphed into increasingly complicated and challenging writing that included multi-phonics for the oboe and microtonality for the strings.
The resulting mashup was a stimulating musical journey of the past joining the present, with a look toward the future.
For the final number of the evening, the OSO invited the Okanagan Symphony Youth Orchestra on stage to perform Tchaikovsky’s monumental work, the 1812 Overture.
Written in commemoration of the successful Russian defense against Napoleon’s invading Grande Armée in 1812, the 116-person orchestra created a suitably impressive sound.
Thomson effortlessly held the massive forces together, pulling the emotion and musical nuance from the musicians.
The 15-minute overture provided an appropriately rousing finale to this sparkling celebration of the Okanagan’s premiere orchestra. The audience surged to its feet for a, ovation.
Under the direction of Thomson, the Okanagan Symphony Orchestra has enjoyed unprecedented success.
This season alone has boasted several sold-out concerts. Thomson’s supportive and respectful relationship with the orchestra’s musicians has produced an ensemble that is highly professional and completely committed.
The Okanagan Youth Symphony Orchestra is a wonderful opportunity for children of all ages to experience the discipline and camaraderie of working in an extended team. And the OSO Educational Outreach Program brings the magic of the symphony orchestra to children who would not have the opportunity to experience orchestral music.
While Thomson would be quick to acknowledge the dedicated team that works tirelessly to bring these initiatives to fruition, the impetus, inspiration and energy all originate with her.
Anita Perry is a Summerland music teacher.
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