Welcome back and welcome to a new season with the Saskatoon Symphony Orchestra! This is season 87!!! Opening night began with some opening comments from Mark Turner, SSO’s esteemed Executive Director. In his opening comments, Mark mentioned some of the really wonderful performers who will be in the spotlight this season including Jan Lisiecki, & Tanya Tagak! He also mentioned that this is our 3rd year with Eric Paetkau as SSO’s Music Director!! Thank you to both Mark and Eric for all the work they do to challenge and feature the talents and efforts of our symphony orchestra!
For Home by Kevin Lao
The concert opened with a 2 minute piece by Canadian composer, Kevin Lao – “For Home” is his musical tribute to Canada and it was one of the 2-minute pieces commissioned for Canada’s 150th. The piece itself made use of the orchestra beautifully – introducing a simple lilting melody in one section that meanders through the work and through the sections of the orchestra. In my mind it combined sounds similar to the work of Elgar and Grieg with an extra inviting sense of comfort. The lilting, whimsical theme travels through the orchestra and is developed and harmonized richly using the entire orchestra, ending with a return to simplicity. In the composer’s own words: “The simple, folk-like melody which recurs throughout the brief course of this work represents my best attempt at capturing feelings too complex for words.”
After this comforting piece, Eric Paetkau spoke to the audience a bit. There was no microphone on stage for him to use, so he had to use his own ability to project. Mr. Paetkau: your projection is on point – very clear from the 2nd balcony in any case! Eric spoke a bit about the opening piece and passionately about the exploration of Czech folk music and the lush romantic harmonies in the Dvorak coming up as the final piece of the concert. He also gave a lovely introduction to the star of the night: James Ehnes! As a side note, I was personally pleased to hear Eric’s un-amplified voice since it tuned our ears up for all the subtleties the SSO and James Ehnes were about to explore in the Beethoven.
photo taken from the SSO facebook page
Beethoven’s Violin Concerto in D Major Op 61
When I first heard that James Ehnes would be our soloist for this concert, I was over the moon excited about it. Every time I get to hear him play on the radio (French CBC 88.7 FM), I know it’s him before they announce it – from his clarity: clarity of tone, phrasing, expressiveness, and communication – creating simple, understandable beauty in the music he plays – leading us along so that we can really absorb it.
And so, James was in fine form with the SSO – leading us through the Beethoven – Beethoven’s only violin concerto – with dynamic expressivity and deep understanding of the demands of the piece – stretching the expressivity in exploring especially the quieter possibilities with the violin – inviting the orchestra to dig deep into their abilities with piano and pianissimo playing in supporting parts.
Beethoven’s violin concerto begins with a long exposition in the orchestra that outlines the gorgeous themes in the first movement. Introduced by the timpani, the long lines are first expressed in the woodwinds with a liquid quality to the phrasing, which is carried through the orchestra to the solo violin part when it eventually comes in. During the orchestra’s introduction, James stood in a ready, but relaxed stance helping the audience to be ready and relaxed in our anticipation of the violin’s entry.
For me, the highlights in this performance were specifically James’ cadenzas – so typical of his style and clarity of interpretation – a real treat to hear it in person! I was also pleased to hear so much dynamic expressivity in a concerto in both the soloist’s part and in the orchestra – I feel like our orchestra may well have gained in expressive ability through this particular work with this particular artist! It was also a treat to be able to see some of the communication going on between soloist and conductor at transition points between cadenza sections and full orchestra sections.
As in all Beethoven – the herald of the Romantic movement – the first movement of the concerto could have been a piece unto itself with all it’s Romantic explorations of thematic development. The second movement is graced with a powerful and recurring harmonized motif that is first introduced in the orchestra and is later explored in the soloist’s cadenza.
After the suspended feeling of the 2nd movement and the brilliant mini-cadenza at the end of it, James launched unassumingly into the Rondo – the 3rd movement – with a carefully chosen tempo – definitely moderato throughout the movement – which created its own kind of excitement in the return of the Rondo theme again and again: an elegant dance tempo!
We gave James a well-deserved standing ovation and he graced us with an encore: the final section of Bach’s 3rd Sonata for solo violin – an excellent display of the capabilities of both the instrument (the “Marsick” Stradivarius of 1715) and the player! Thank you so much for coming back to Saskatoon, James – looking forward to next time!!!!
Dvořák’s 8th Symphony in G Major Op 88
After intermission, we were treated to Dvořák’s 8th Symphony. How I adore Dvořák! I was raised on his 9th symphony and studied the 7th at university. I never consciously paid attention to Dvořák’s 8th symphony and as Eric Paetkau mentions in his Music Notes video, the 8th symphony is very different from the more well-known 7th and 9th symphonies. So, I expected that this concert would be my introduction to Dvořák’s 8th symphony. The first 2 movements were unfamiliar to me, but as soon as they launched into the 3rd movement, I was there with them inside the music to the end – the 3rd and 4th movements were far more familiar to me for some reason.
This is the kind of work that makes me wish I was a conductor – so many fun and enticing tempo changes! Much like some of Brahms’ work! As in most of Dvořák’s work, he explores themes with roots in his beloved Czech/Bohemian background throughout this symphony. One of the most exciting parts for me was the Trumpet fanfare that heralds in the 4th movement. The symphony comes to a close with a wild dancing theme that caught and held our attention beautifully! This is one of the best and most exciting endings to a piece and to a concert done with great energy and flare worthy of an immediate standing ovation!
This marks a great opening to Season 87!! See you at the Symphony for a wonderfully entertaining year celebrating talent and the Performing Arts!!
Thanks for reading,
– Anna Bekolay, BMusEd, ARCT
soprano, violinist, teacher, adjudicator
Anna Marie Bekolay has her Bachelor of Music in Music Education, Orff Level 1, a gold medal ARCT in Voice Performance, and grade 10 Violin RCM. Anna has performed as a soloist and in a variety of ensembles over the years, including Saskatoon Opera Chorus, National Youth Choir of Canada, Collegium Musicum, Voci Strane, and the drowned. Ms Bekolay is continually advancing her musicality through attending and performing in concerts. Her current projects include: Back of the Bus, Troubadours du Bois, The Whiskey Jerks, Mac Talla Quartet, The Stephanies, a recording project of classical vocal pieces dedicated to the memory of her father – recorded under the stage name: Anna Maria Soparlo, and a variety of freelance collaborations that come up here and there.
In addition to rehearsing, performing, and recording, Anna is an adjudicator for the Saskatchewan Music Festival Association and runs Anna Bekolay’s Studio – a very busy Music Studio at her home teaching Voice, Violin, Recorder, and Fiddle. Anna makes her home in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.