Saturday, December 3, 2016

Vancouver Symphony Orchestra

Our night at the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra was a total delight.
Laura and I dressed for the occasion.  She put on her formal mauve dress and I wore my new blue sports jacket and black trousers.  I drove us downtown in the immensely maneuverable Mazda Miata getting the perfect street parking spot right in front of the Orpheum Theatre.
The last I’d been to the Orpheum Theatre was with Marc and Aim for the Izzie Izzard comedy show.  Aim was just finishing her Political Science Thesis and I don’t think Marc and her had even married. Now Aim is a full professor at Sydney University and Marc and she just had their first child.
The last VSO I attended was their fabulous Christmas series with musical director Bramwell Tovey.  I love the brass at Christmas but the violins were divine that season.
Then it was with my dear friend Anne who herself plays violin and flute. Her remarkable husband Ivan was still alive, himself a conductor.  Laura and I and they had the  most enjoyable night at the VSO, Ivan and Anne enlightening us during intermission about all manner of things our rock and roll and country music dulled ears had missed.  It always is best to attend the finest in culture in the company of those who aren’t just tourists to the form.
Before the show, Laura and I had dinner at the  Creperie on Granville. My childhood friend Kirk had first introduced me to it. It’s just the perfect light repast for pre show dining.  Not at all too heavy.
I always fear nodding off during a symphony performance. When I was very young I was attending a symphony  in Milwaukee with my first wife and her very sophisticated family.  The lights dimmed and I may well have had a glass of wine and been disco dancing into the wee hours the night before.   Whatever, I woke to being heavily prodded in the ribs by my darling wife.  I thought she was very rough and incredibly rude.  But then I noticed where I was and that  all the audience was staring at me. The conductor had interrupted the performance because my snoring apparently drowned out the horns.  When I awoke, he turned back to the silent orchestra and said in rather haughty voice, “We can begin.”  I was mortified.
That kept me from enjoying symphony for several years.  At the time I was in medical school and call was having a terrible effect on my sleep patterns I could sleep almost anywhere. A return to the  darkened symphony hall with rhapsodic music seemed just the ticket and had my second wife shaking me awake before the show was interrupted. We left early.
I truly love classical music and have  bought all manner of recordings,  especially Bach, Handel and Morart, thoroughly enjoying the music in the safety of my home.
After I left general practice and delivering babies and all night calls I actually  returned to the symphony though  never alone.  Laura is commissioned to slap me awake if she needs to and do anything to stop me snoring should the occasion arise. Naturally it hasn’t. I enjoy a double expresso at the show and that just seems to do the trick. That and my increased appreciation with greater maturity and knowledge of the performers and performance.
Tonight there was a Prelude Concert Program showcasing the VSO School of Music’s Sinfonietto’s String Ensemble directed by Carla Birston. The musicians were so young but so incredibly talented. We really did enjoy their Vivaldi and Bernstein.  I texted a rock and roll friend at intermission to tell him that the symphony now had an opening band.  His band had opened for many other artists but never made the main stage.  I don’t think the VSO will be contacting him but I did think he’d appreciate the genre of the opening band was elevated to this more illustrious sphere.
The Orpheum is a wonderful hall.  I love the venue.  I love the great dome painted with symphony and conductor. We really enjoyed most the visitting conductor Mikhail Agrest. He was thoroughly engaging describing the Dvorak Othello Overture.  The VSO was just magnificent. When the music began, all those incredible performers filling the hall with their gifted playing, it was a bit of heaven on earth.  Each musician is not only an extraordinary athlete with the intricate performance of the finest muscles and nerves but they are artists too. That they can do this together like a flock of birds and the conductor can direct and contain their exuberance is a thing to behold.
I really can’t seem to tire of the wonder of it.  I think how much I enjoy a band like the Guess Who or the Beatles yet they are only 4 musicians and the words of the songs detract from the limitations of the music.  Here it’s just the music, so refined as to cause one to shudder and truly hope that aliens from other galaxies would hear the VSO rather than the speeches of our politicians. There’s something divine in the music of symphony.  It’s all so glamorous and sophisticated.  Laura loved the black outfits and Simone’s fabulous gold and black gown.
Simone Porter was the violin soloist who played the Bruch Concerto No 1 in G minor. What a performance!  I was impressed with the speed of the bow and her fingers and the sounds of her solo violin as it spoke in conversation with the greater orchestra.  Of course the audience applauded forever.
But then came the Tchaikovsky and yes, this is what attracted me. As a major ballet fan for over 40 years I’ve loved Tchaikovsky whose music for ballets’ is legendary.  I loved Mikhail Agrest’s  introduction and discussion of the Orchestral Suite No 3 in G major.  I’ve been to St. Petersburg and his comments reminded me of the beauty of the Winter Palace and the grandeur of the river and the bridges.  The piece itself was indeed more complex and refined than I remember his dance numbers. I loved the brass and the wind instruments. The strings are always so enjoyable but this piece seemed to highlight every instrument even the triangle which reminded me of our Gr 3 band.  Mikhail Agrest became more and more excited as the piece crescendoed till at the end he was nearly jumping up and down like a punk rocker. But was  was okay because the band was in the groove.   The music was just so extraordinary and the VSO so utterly amazing.
When it was over we all stood in the audience. It was an unforgettable performance and we applauded and shouted and applauded and shouted.  Tchaikovsky himself would have loved the VSO this night.  I was transported to St. Petersburg and saw the glory of the city before the Bolsheviks destroyed an era.  Now that the USSR has returned to the Russia of old and the communists are all but gone it’s a delight to listen to the glory of Tchaikovsky and wonder what great art might be achieved if there was less war and less greed.
I was thankful for this performance, that the music of this master was saved for all time.  I fear the destruction of ISIS today and their lack of appreciation of what is truly refined and what is the greatest of culture. The VSO and the composers whose works they perform are artistically akin to the Astronauts who walk on the Space Station. They are the greatest of musicians performing the best of all music, the most complex and most difficult and closest to the divine, yet utterly human.  I  walked out into the streets of Vancouver uplifted by this performance of true greatness. The rain had stopped.  Downtown Vancouver was buzzing as we walked the short distance to the car to return home.
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