REVIEW: Okanagan Symphony Orchestra dazzles
The Okanagan Symphony Orchestra presented a wonderful concert entitled Round Dance featuring a variety of musical styles that pushed the boundaries of classical music on January 20th in Kelowna. Classically trained cellist and composer Cris Derksen (of Cree and Mennonite origin) gave captivating performances of her own music. She has received numerous awards, including a DORA Award for Best Theater Sound Design and a Banff Center for the Arts String Quartet Residency for White Man’s Cattle, in addition to many commissions. It is a privilege to see and hear creativity in action and she created a new genre by taking the cello and experimenting with it, using it as a drum, setting up a microphone and using special effects to create music like no other seeks. It’s refreshing that space is being made in classical music today for new voices and experimentation.
The concert in Kelowna with another performance in Penticton on Saturday night was a perfect example of how music can strengthen friendship and understanding between our cultures. The audience rose to the Syilx/Okanagan national anthem, The Okanagan Song, sung by Cori Derickson.
First Winter by Dinuk Wijeratne, a Sri Lankan-Canadian composer, opened the concert. It is a nine-minute tone poem that contextualizes the dichotomy of “nature” and “humanity” when humans first set foot on Canadian soil more than 12,000 years ago. Tone poetry isn’t about technical knowledge of music, it’s about letting the imagination wander as you listen, perhaps with your eyes closed. This music explores the range of emotions a person can experience when seeing a new land for the first time with fear, excitement and trepidation.
French composer Albert Roussel’s ballet The Spider’s Feast was commissioned in 1912 by Jacques Rouchè, a Parisian impresario. In a corner of a garden in summer, various creatures can be heard escaping the spider’s web before a butterfly and then a mayfly fall into the trap. The woodwind, later joined by the strings (as marching ants) introduced by the snare drum, create a lovely insectic soundscape.
Overture to the Spider Creature, composed and performed by Derkson, also has a spider as the main character, this time in a Cree creation story in which the sky people ask the spider creature to lower them to earth and, of course, be people they could. not following the rule of not looking back on the descent, which caused chaos. War Cry was envisioned by the soloist as being written during a painful time in her life when she felt disenfranchised by the Canadian government. Visceral pain was evident in her singing and playing, drawing the audience into an emotional response and a standing ovation.
The second half of the concert opened with Edvard Grieg’s Peer Gynt Suite No. 1 Op. 10. 46, based on a play written by Henrik Ibsen in 1867. The title character is a wild, selfish young man whose fantastic adventures lead him to become a caring individual. Beautiful alternating solos by the flutist Heather Beaty and the oboist Lauris Davis determine the first movement Morning Mood. The entire string section joined Peer Gynt in mourning his mother in Aase’s Death and danced with a delicate and textured beauty of sound in Anitras Dance. In the final movement In the Hall of the Mountain King, Peer Gynt tries to avoid drawing the attention of the trolls in the mountain but ends up running for his life, while the mighty brass and percussion represent the fearsome trolls chasing him.
Sonny-Ray Day Rider’s Blackfoot Sunrise was impressive in its spaciousness and conjured up visions of the prairie. The composer and pianist is of Kana blood lineage and is currently pursuing a postgraduate degree in music composition at the University of Lethbridge. He currently serves on the Library and Archives Canada Indigenous Advisory Circle and is a former faculty alumni of the Banff Center for Arts and Creativity.
The program ended with two more pieces by Derksen, Buffalo Girls End, a musical description of how “brown girls go away,” as the soloist put it, and Round Dance, which was significant both as the name of the concert and for the final piece on the program because it refers to the round dance, or circle of friendship, which for thousands of years has been a central focus of gatherings created for socialization and community building. This concert demonstrated how music speaks to the heart and motivates people at all times to make music together.
Another standing ovation earned an encore, New Heya. Derksen reminded us that the performance of the piece required the orchestra and soloist to listen carefully to each other, “like a reconciliation.” Is this how it starts?
Karen Krout is a retired musician and violin teacher who is grateful to live, hike and make music with friends in traditional Syilx/Okanagan territory.
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