The Vancouver Island Symphony - a Review-Article
|Photo by Dirk Heydemann
UPDATE: It has been a privilege writing for the orchestra over the years, and as mentioned before, many of the articles on this web site were originally written to promote their guest artists and concerts. The following is but a glimpse into what a performance week entails - from rehearsals and lunch concerts, to NoteworthyKids, community events, and the final performance. It takes many individuals to bring an evening of profound music to full and passionate life - from artistic director and conductor Pierre Simard, to the talented musicians, composers, technicians, CEO Margot Holmes, office staff, sponsors, volunteers, board members, the community and audience. All have an important role to play.
By Rosemary Phillips, Spring 2012
with Maestro Pierre Simard
and piano duo Elizabeth and Marcel Bergmann
NoteworthyKids Music Club special event
Links to more information, their latest season, and tickets
The Vancouver Island Symphony, while entering its 18th season (in 2012), is still considered a ‘young’ orchestra. I have watched (and heard it) grow in fourteen of those years under the direction of founding artistic director Marlin Wolfe and over the last four seasons with their new director, the dynamic Pierre Simard. Musicians come and go, and many have been with the orchestra since its inception. It feels like a family. When talking with musicians they say it is like no other orchestra they have played for – every concert is like coming together with family and friends. There is an exceptional energy of camaraderie, and yet mastery as the orchestra continuously develops enthusiasm and precision to present exceptional concerts filled with magnificent music.
But the VI Symphony is about more than music. It works tirelessly to promote LIVE music to all ages, particularly the young through education programs, the unique NoteworthyKids Music Club, and choirs directed by Patricia Plumley.
The VI Symphony is a jewel on Vancouver Island. Forgive me if I approach this review-article with some bias – I have a soft spot in my heart for this organization that I have seen grow, develop in quality, and struggle through times of recession in their determination to “Keep Music LIVE!” Under the direction of Maestro Simard, who is adored by audiences young and old (as one young lady in her early twenties declared at this concert, ‘Pierre Simard is my favourite conductor’), music is definitely alive, as this following review-article (Rosemary-style, non-classically trained, just enjoying the show) will hopefully demonstrate.
It was a SOLD OUT show! This added to the excitement in the Port Theatre in Nanaimo, BC, as audience members took their seats for what was to be a grand finale to an incredible season of music presented by the Vancouver Island Symphony and Maestro Pierre Simard. It was Carnival, a concert with a theme of music influenced by rhythms from Brazil, France and Mexico, and featuring the incredible talent and romance of duo pianists Elizabeth and Marcel Bergmann. It was an audience of all ages, from seniors to teens and little ones with their parents.
I’m getting ahead of myself here. The concert was but the finale in a series of events over the preceding week where management, under the guidance of executive director Margot Holmes, finalized arrangements, schedules, accommodations for musicians who travel from Vancouver and Victoria, organization of the 2012-2013 season’s brochures and packages to patrons, and prepared for the first rehearsal on Friday evening.
NoteworthyKids Music Club special event
This was the NoteworthyKids Music Club night as about forty youngsters, wearing their bright green NoteworthyKids T-shirts, came through the Backstage door. They were there to participate in a fun-filled evening - meeting a musician, participating in games, and sitting in on a rehearsal. It was a special night in which club members could bring along their parents (normally its just the kids attending).
I got to tag along and took a few photos.
Upstairs in the Harmac Room at the Port Theatre, host Bobbi Kurtz introduced principal oboe player Pippa Williams who answered questions, talked about her instrument and explained her role in the orchestra. Of course the youngsters were fully engaged and actively answered questions, asked questions, and put in their requests for Pippa to play for them. They even participated in a game to nam Pippa’s oboe. The name with the most votes? Midnight!
Quietly, everyone filed into the theatre. Maestro Pierre Simard was busy taking the musicians through their paces to fine-tune the music ready for the concert. Guest conductor John Wynia was called to the podium and given a warm greeting by Pierre and the musicians. He was notably nervous but gained confidence after more special instruction from Pierre. John had won the opportunity to conduct as Conductor for the Day during the Symphony Sizzle fundraising auction. It's not as easy as it looks. Pierre had spent time with John on Friday and gave him a one-on-one lesson along with the gift of his own baton. The music was a very familiar rumba with terrific tempo, and once that tempo was developed, John was off and away.
|Jae Valentine, Bobbi Kurtz and Pippa Williams help NoteworthyKids
give the oboe a name - the winner? - Midnight
|Guest conductor John Wynia during rehearsal
with Maestro Pierre Simard helping him along from the sidelines
As NoteworthyKids left the theatre they once again converged on the Backstage area where staff answered questions and handed out prizes and treats. When the last NoteworthyKid and parent had left all was noticeably quiet.
It warms my heart to see the success of this program. NoteworthyKids was the brainchild of Margot Holmes who is passionate about helping young people become interested in and excited about music. The NoteworthyKids Music Club was started first through schools in the Central Vancouver Island region then was opened up to all children interested in music. It continues to grow and has even included the NoteworthyKids Choir which performed with the VI Symphony for Christmas 2010. It is a joy to see these young faces so excited and full of life. I wonder which of these children will choose a career in music when they grow up? What I do know is that music has definitely become a part of their lives.
On the Saturday afternoon I had the pleasure and privilege of taking in a full rehearsal. It was like I had the whole theatre and orchestra all to myself. After Pierre fine-tuned Darius Milhaud’s surrealistic ballet score Le Boef sur le toit he invited Elizabeth and Marcel Bergmann on stage to rehearse the Concerto for Two Pianos by Francis Poulenc, followed by the joyful Carnival of Animals composed by Camille Saint-Saëns. I thoroughly enjoyed watching not only their playing but their communication with Pierre and with each other over the length of the two concert grand pianos. There were smiles, nods and eye contact. I had written a promotional interview article titled Romancing the Keys for the concert. And that was exactly what it felt like, romance on the stage between the two performers as they played.
During break I snuck backstage into the green room to chat with some of the musicians I hadn’t seen in a while. (I’ve moved to BC’s Interior so I don’t get to the Coast too often.) It was wonderful to see them all again and feel their enthusiasm and friendship. There was Calvin Dyck, concertmaster, Manti Poon viola player, bassoonist Anthony Avery, bass trombone player Greg Passmore, Keon Birney on French horn, Pippa with her oboe, flutist Paolo Bortolussi, and Nicole Arendt on timpani...and more... all who have been with the organization for many years... as mentioned before, like family.
After rehearsal I slipped back to my host’s house to change then returned to Nanaimo’s Downtown for supper and quiet time before the concert. As I sat in Minnos Restaurant in the Coast Bastion Inn, looking out over the harbour and enjoying dinner and a glass of wine, I saw Elizabeth and Marcel walking along the harbourfront, hand in hand like lovers, enjoying the scenery and the spring blossoms.(Visit the interview article on this site about their lives as pianists, and where they met.)
It was a very short walk from Minnos to the Port Theatre. I had already picked up my ticket in the box office, one of the last tickets available, up in the top of the balcony. Perfect. I would be able to look down on the stage and see both pianists in action.
But first, the pre-concert talk. Ticket holders entered the theatre an hour before the concert to hear Pierre elaborate on the music and introduce Elizabeth and Marcel. While Pierre already had on a fabulous pale blue waistcoat, tuxedo trousers and white bow-tie, ready to slip on hisformal jacket, Elizabeth and Marcel were still in their street attire. It was a casual and most informative presentation with insight not only into the music but also the lives of the guest artists.
|Elizabeth and Marcel Bergmann - Piano Duo
Then up in the balcony I sat among symphony enthusiasts and families with children on booster seats. What a view! There was the whole stage before me and clear sight of both piano keyboards. The steep elevation brought back memories of going to see Sleeping Beauty with the Royal Ballet in London, England, when I sat right at the top of the highest balcony. I was just a child yet it was a thrilling experience that has stayed with me all my life!
The house lights dimmed. Concertmaster Calvin Dyck walked on stage, leaned over the grand piano and played an A. He then signalled to Pippa who likewise played an A on her oboe; then all the other musicians followed. A pause, then Pierre walked out to boisterous applause from the audience. He gave a brief introduction to Le Beoef sur le toit warning how some notes may seem wrong, but they aren’t, and then the concert began. It was perfect. Just as expected. From the precision of the orchestra to the brilliance of the duo pianists, and the fun of Carnival of the Animals followed by the hilarious Canadian version with segments from A Canadian Carnival (and other Animal Crackers) by Cameron Wilson. The audience loved it, particularly The Skunk in which a stuffed version of the animal was seen steadily making its way across the front of the stage while musicians on cue sniffed and sniffed...
John Wynia was then received by Pierre at the podium to conduct the rumba. If he was nervous he didn't show it - well - from my seat. With this kind of rhythm I couldn’t sit still. My body wanted to move. So, as the audience applauded John, and as Pierre returned to the podium, I made my way to the standing room at the back of the balcony, ready for Huapango by Mexican composer Moncayo. I just knew I had to stand for this piece and move with the rhythm. The energy in the music is so fantastic... and it was! Lifting. Joyous. The theatre was filled to the rafters with the awesome sounds of Mexico. Ah! So magnificent! I was beside myself and couldn’t help but shout out loudly at the end, “Bravo”. The audience was on its feet, clapping, cheering, whooping. What an incredible season finale!
As everyone left the hall they were greeted by musicians in the lobby who stopped to say hello and chat – something the VI Symphony and its musicians do at every concert. You see, the VI Symphony is part of the community, like family. It’s not just about the great music, it’s also about the musicians, the patrons, sponsors, technicians, staff - and community. It’s about everyone having an experience they will remember – LIVE!
Links to more information
For more information about their latest season, concerts, and more, visit the Vancouver Island Symphony website.
NOTE: There are many more articles on this site about great musicians and artists - (see Index of Articles) - including an interview with Pierre Simard, conductor and artistic director , and a chat with Elizabeth Bergmann of the piano duo Elizabeth and Marcel Bergmann.