This weekend, the Okanagan Symphony Orchestra presented Joie de Vivre, the fourth concert in its 2018/2019 Masterworks Series.
Featuring Shuswap native pianist Jaeden Izik-Dzurko, a piano concerto written by Penticton Citizen of the Year, Ernst Schneider and the Okanagan Symphony Youth Orchestra, the evening was replete with sumptuous sonic delights.
The concert opened with Izik-Dzurko playing Andante Spianato and Grand Polonaise Brilliant, op. 22 by Frederic Chopin.
The first movement “Tranquillo,” is entirely a piano solo and this young pianist was able to demonstrate not only his expressive ability and understanding of touch and colour, but also his poise and stage presence. The playing was honest and heartfelt with bubbling runs and beautifully handled phrases.
The second movement “Allegro Molto” Polonaise, was lively and engaging with great energy and a sense of fun. Passionate sections transitioned seamlessly into lighter sequences with Izik-Dzurko skipping across the keys. It was a dazzling performance which left the audience spell-bound.
The next number on the program, and certainly a highlight of the evening, was the Romantic Piano Concerto by Penticton’s own Ernst Schneider. A true maverick, Schneider was recognized with a presentation from the Canadian Federation of Music Teachers’ Associations naming him Honorary President.
This humble genius has given countless hours, expertise and creativity to musical endeavours in the Okanagan, throughout British Columbia and across Canada. As such, it was a delight to experience his music in the capable hands of Izik-Dzurko.
The opening “Allegro” was mystical in character, featuring rapid, filigree piano passages, lyrical haunting melodies interspersed with energetic segments.
The second movement “Adagio” opened with solo piano spinning a gorgeous melody that told a story in the language of music. Schneider’s orchestration here was done with a light, transparent touch, so appropriate to the character of the music.
The third movement, “Allegro Con Brio” was a driving rhythmic romp that featured syncopation and cross rhythms. The whimsical interplay between orchestra and soloist was a delight and the crescendo to the final chord came all too soon.
Schneider commented that the piece came together quite handily when he wrote it in 1980, the greatest challenge being writing out the score plus all the orchestral parts, by hand. Thank goodness he did! Both Izik-Dzurko and Schneider merited the standing ovation they received.
After intermission, the concert continued with Maurice Ravel’s Ma Mere l’Oye (Mother Goose). Inspired by fairy stories (rather than nursery rhymes), Ravel first takes us into the trembling and tremulous world of Sleeping Beauty and then into the meandering melody that represents Tom Thumb. “Empress of the Pagodas” shimmered with muted and tremolo strings, and “Conversations of Beauty and the Beast” was composed and scored with care to the colour of each voice.
The final movement, “The Fairy Garden” was Ravel at his finest. Exquisite orchestration and fine composition brought a sense of magical flora pulsing with life. Thomson conducted without baton, drawing forth colour and emotion from the orchestra with her fingertips.
For the last number, Ravel’s iconic La Valse, the OSO was joined by the Okanagan Symphony Youth Orchestra swelling the total number of musicians on stage to a whopping 120. It was a sea of strings. While the piece is evocative of the Strauss waltzes of the late 1890s, Ravel’s music is complex, demanding much from the musicians.
From the misty, indistinct opening to the frenzied passionate finale, Maestra Thomson effortlessly controlled this behemoth orchestra through music that grew in complexity and difficulty. Kudos to Dennis Colpitts, co-conductor of the OSYO for his tireless work in training these young musicians.
As an extra treat, the orchestra provided a lively encore—the “Bacchanale” from Camille Saint-Saëns Samson and Delilah. This quintessential statement of Joie de Vivre was an appropriate finish to an exquisite evening of inspiring and joyful music.
Anita Perry is a concert reviewer living in the Okanagan.