This past weekend, the Okanagan Symphony Orchestra presented Festive Fire, the fifth concert in the 2018-2019 Masterworks series.
The evening featured the music of 20th-century Russian composers Dimitri Shostakovich and Igor Stravinsky, as well as guest artist Canadian violin superstar Lara St. John.
The concert opened with Shostakovich’s Festive Overture, Op. 96.
For those concertgoers who would have been more familiar with the dark, Soviet-tinged music Shostakovich had written for his Symphony No. 5, this light, bright, work was a delightful surprise.
Written one year after the death of the Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin, the music was tonal and cosmopolitan.
Opening with a brass fanfare that moved into a racing woodwind theme, the music sparkled, full of unrestrained cheer.
The orchestra was well-rehearsed, and the performance felt comfortable and controlled to the end.
The next work was Stravinsky’s iconic L’Oiseu de feu, The Firebird.
This six-movement work is made up of scenes selected from Stravinsky’s ballet of the same name.
Originally composed 110 years ago, this music is still fresh, lively and pertinent.
The Introduction was ably performed by the OSO with low strings creating a restrained sound, evocative of a murky enchanted forest in the cold hours just before dawn.
The Firebird’s Dance then burst from the orchestra in a sparkling cascade of sound. Quixotic and changeable, this challenging music was well-performed.
Kudos to flautist Heather Beaty for her accomplished negotiation of tricky filigree runs.
Maestra Rosemary Thomson captured the stately character of Round Dance of the Princesses, conducting with clean musical direction and beautifully shaped phrases. Here, kudos go to Lauris Davis for her beautiful oboe solo.
The Infernal Dance of the King pulsed with diabolical energy.
This movement was a veritable tour de force for the brass and percussion sections.
Karmen Doucette’s bassoon solo in the Berceuse deserves recognition as does Sam McNally’s beautifully placed French horn entry in the Finale. From the dark and magical opening to the spine-tingling finale, the OSO performed as a single organism, sharing the same vision of the entire work.
After intermission, the OSO welcomed guest artist Lara St. John to the stage to perform Shostakovich’s Violin Concerto No. 1, Op. 77 in A Minor.
This is Shostakovich at his Soviet prime with writing that is universally dark and introspective, even in the Scherzo and Burlesca movements.
And yet, it was evident from the very first scrape of her bow on the strings that St. John had a clear concept of the music, not just as a whole, but in the minutiae of how each phrase connected to the next to create a vibrant and exciting performance.
The sense of communication between conductor and artist was tremendous and Maestra Thomson and St. John seemed to understand the intent of the composer note-to-note.
The OSO was tight and well-rehearsed with Thomson achieving the perfect balance between soloist and orchestra.
Both Thomson and St. John kept the momentum of this big piece of music rushing to the exciting crescendo ending.
Congratulations to the Okanagan Symphony Orchestra for producing such a high-calibre concert. It was truly a festival of fiery Russian music.
Anita Perry is a music teacher from Summerland.