Okanagan Symphony Orchestra members, performing in a previous show, turned up the heat this past weekend with Latin Fiesta. Black Press file photo

Review: The Okanagan Symphony is hot stuff

Concert goers were treated to a hot concert this weekend as the Okanagan Symphony Orchestra presented its Latin Fiesta.

Concert goers were treated to a hot concert this weekend as the Okanagan Symphony Orchestra presented its Latin Fiesta.

The evening opened with American composer Gabriela Frank’s Three Latin-American Dances. Coming from a multi-racial background herself (Frank’s mother was Peruvian/Chinese ancestry ad her father was of Lithuanian/Jewish descent) it is no wonder that this piece boasts musical influences from Africa, Argentina and Mexico.

The first movement Jungle Jaunt had driving energy and lots of varied percussion. Kudos to Dominique Bernath for her superb and acrobatic timpani playing. The second movement, Highland Harawi, took us to the misty mountains with lots of special orchestra effects and tasteful use of tubular bells, tam tam and rain stick. The orchestration was compelling with layering of rich orchestral sound, led by the inexorable throbbing of the bass drum and the gradual crescendo into a thunder storm. The final movement The Mestizo Waltz, was scored in the South American folk style, very similar in character to the Mexican Mariachi Band. In spite of the changing rhythm there was a steady pulse throughout, driving to the end.

The next number was Spanish composer Joaquin Rodrigo’s Concierto Pastorale for flute performed by Canadian flautist, Christie Reside. The first movement, Allegro, bolted out of the starting gate with Reside barely seeming to take a breath. The music flew from her flute, at times bird-like and fluttering, at other times sweeping in great runs and feats of technical prowess. What was remarkable about her interpretation was the speech-like quality of her phrasing—it sounded as if she were having a lively conversation complete with syntax, but in a musical language whose underlying meaning was clear. The second movement Adagio, was a plaintive serenade, with periodic rhapsodic sections. Reside’s playing boasted a variety of colour from rich low harmonics to a clean piccolo-like quality of her high tones. Kudos to English Horn player Laura Davis and Clarinet player Erin Fung for their throbbing solos. The third movement Rondo, was a light infectious tune in a rolling 6/8 time, that lilted and danced right to the sparkling ending.

After intermission, the orchestra launched into Mexican composer José Pablo Moncayo’s piece Huapango. This work boasted a relentless forward motion and sweeping violin lines over rhythmically pulsing brass and woodwind parts. A varied percussion section made this piece interesting and lively. Kudos to trumpet player Audrey Patterson for some fine work.

By now, OSO audiences know to expect the unexpected from Maestra Rosemary Thomson and the next work on the program was no exception. Famed Argentine tango composer Astor Piazzolla’s second movement from his Tres movimentos tanguisticos portenos not only featured lush orchestration and beautifully prepared solos, but also dancers Heather Stranks and Jens Goerner who performed a tango while the orchestra played. This pairing of movement and music brought to the fore the seductive nature of the tango and the experience was a visual as well as an aural treat.

For the finale, Mexican composer Arturo Márquez’s Danzón No. 2, the OSO was joined by the Okanagan Symphony Youth Orchestra in a “side by side” concert. With the stage groaning beneath 130 musicians, it was amazing that Maestra Thomson didn’t have to resort to using an aircraft marshalling wand to keep everyone together. The 70 string players provided an incredibly lush sound and the padded percussion section struck every cue perfectly. The massed orchestra was astonishingly tight in spite of demanding scale passages and complex rhythms. The resulting tidal wave of sound was exhilarating and the audience wasted no time in surging to its feet for a standing ovation.

Thus persuaded, the double orchestra played American composer Leonard Bernstein’s “Mambo” from West Side Story. That professional and student performers enjoyed this piece was evident from the energetic swaying and bobbing as they performed the work. Every face was wreathed in smiles as the orchestra took their final bows, then warmly shook hands.

So, if we’re having a heat wave, you can blame it on the warm camaraderie and spicy sounds of the Okanagan Symphony Orchestra’s sizzling Latin Fiesta Concert for bringing the sultry weather.

Anita Perry is a symphony reviewer living in the Okanagan.

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