Review by Gayle Lunn
Last Friday evening’s OSO performance, aptly named Musical Giants, treated a near-capacity Kelowna audience to towering talent and grand visions. By extension, what follows is a (hopefully, appropriately) super-sized review.
Mikhail Glinka’s lively overture to his opera Russlan and Ludmilla opened the evening, showcasing the energy and precision of the orchestra, not to mention the extremely nimble fingers of the bassists. Under the baton of dynamic Maestra Rosemary Thomson, it provided an energetic warm-up for the evening’s showpiece that awaited.
“I wrote it for elephants,” Rachmaninoff reportedly said to famed Russian pianist Vladimir Horowitz about his Piano Concerto No 3. In saying so, he was referring not to the weight but the grandiosity of those who would attempt it. Widely regarded as a Mount Everest for concert pianists, Rachmaninoff composed it to suit his own immense technical capabilities and of course, his legendary ownership of two very large hands.
The evening’s guest artist, 23-year-old Jaeden Izik-Dzurko, arrived more than ready to take on what the Washington Post has called ‘40 minutes of finger-twisting madness.’ Somehow, his calm composure made the whole spectacle seem deceptively sane.
What a treat to hear Salmon Arm’s Izik-Dzurko perform during this moment of such momentum in his career, having collected multiple wins in 2022, including the Hilton Head International Piano Competition. A virtuosic shape-shifter, Izik-Dzurko effortlessly revealed one musical personality after another, from the exuberant staccatos of the ringmaster to the delicate contemplation of the poet.
His command of tone and deep sensitivity took this highly expressive composition and stretched it even further. Lightning-fast cadenzas in the first movement were executed with crystal clarity and purpose, while breathy legato passages were treated with such a feather-light reverence that the notes seemed to float off the keyboard and into the front rows. By the time the orchestra reached its powerful final climax, the audience was more than ready to take to its feet for a well-deserved and extended ovation.
Following the intermission, the OSO presented two modern compositions evoking the power and resilience of two giants of the natural world.
Jeffrey Ryan’s Panthalassa (Water, Because It Sings) is an ode to an element so familiar we often overlook its complexity and its history. As prefaced by the Vancouver-based composer himself in a stage introduction, Panthalassa refers to the original superocean that covered the planet at a time when the world’s continents were all part of a single landmass. Ryan’s inspiration came from a poem by BC writer Patrick Lane who observed “water… drags its beauty slowly”.
Supported by the imaginative use of glissandi, harmonics, stopped horn and percussive techniques, Ryan evokes the shimmers, textures, and tensions of H2O on the move. For anyone who has ever wondered how it feels to be water, Ryan shares some vivid ideas. In the sensitive hands of the orchestra, the audience found itself riding the crests of waves, engulfed in a maze of undercurrents, and finally, re-emerging under the weight of a cloud.
Further extending the theme of natural giants was Florence Price’s orchestral tone poem The Oak. The first female African-American composer to earn a national reputation, Price composed this piece in 1943 as one of over 300 works during her lifetime. The struggles and ultimate transformation of the mighty oak tree were beautifully captured by tender moments of vulnerability and hope in the woodwinds anchored by the strong foundations of strings and brass.
An annual OSO tradition concluded this evening of titans, with 60 members of the Okanagan Youth Symphony Orchestra joining OSO players on stage for a side-by-side performance. These moments in concert represent just the tip of the iceberg of the activities that go on all year with the OSYO, under co-conductors Maestra Thomson and Dennis Colpitts.
Setting off with a grand total of 100 players filling the stage (including a record crowd of seven double-basses), the collective rendition of Richard Wagner’s Prelude to Die Meistersinger was approached with energy and confidence. The opera’s five main themes were vividly brought to life and carried forward right up until the majestic ending. The resulting ovation was as deserved for the performance as for the collective preparation leading up to it.
In absorbing this final moment of the evening, came the reminder that giants as we know them today are the product of time, effort and circumstances. It wasn’t all that long ago that the internationally-applauded Izik-Dzurko was himself the age of today’s OSYO performers.
With the continued work of organizations like the OSO and the support of our communities, it’s inspiring to imagine that tomorrow’s musical giants are already well on their way.
Gayle Lunn is a pianist, former Berklee Online Capstone mentor, and local arts supporter living in Kelowna.