Saturday, January 23, 2010

Sing-a-long at the symphony

Okay, so it wasn't actually an audience sing-a-long at the ESO on Friday night, but the Richard Eaton Singers (a prestigious choir in Edmonton) appeared along side (or above, actually, in the choir loft) the symphony. The first half of the evening was a piece titled The Houses Stand Not Far Apart, and after the intermission was Beethoven's 9th Symphony.

The Houses Stand Not Far Apart was written by a Canadian composer, John Estacio and was first performed in the spring of 2008. The piece was commissioned jointly by four Canadian choirs (Vancouver Bach Choir, Richard Eaton Singers, Grand Philharmonic Choir of Kitchener, and Chorus Niagara). The program notes for the performance tell me that this piece was written during a particularly violent period in the summer of 2006 when Israel was bombing Lebanon, along with other ongoing global conflicts. The events of the time inspired the composer and John Murrell (a Canadian poet) to put together this cantata.

Four movements made up The Houses Stand Not Far Apart, each with their own distinct moods. The first started with a somewhat ethereal quality, while the lyrics set the stage: "Nothing is shared, Though both worlds are the same, The river holds them apart..." I particularly enjoyed the second movement, They Are Dancing, as it was light and joyous with a syncopated beat. Given the theme of the piece, the happy air was destroyed as the third movement began with heavy, war-like drums. Many of the harmonies in this section were slightly dissonant. Both Andrew and I grieved the introduction of two soloist in this section. That's not to say that the soloists weren't good, we just felt that members of the choir could have done just as good a job. The final movement opened with a serene duo of harp and flute and was the final plead for peace: "Forgive what is so much the same and so strange, Let fear, Suspicion, And weeping cease, And you may find yourselves, At last, At peace."

Beethoven's 9th Symphony took up the whole of the second half of the show (the run-time is approximately 65 minutes). I was a little surprised that the collection of gathered instruments was slightly smaller than for the cantata. The harp was removed, as was the tuba, and some of the percussion pieces were not used either. It was still a glorious sound overall. I think I liked the second movement best with the way the theme was bounced around the sections of the orchestra. Unfortunately, by the end of the third I was suffering from a serious case of "stiff-bum." This perhaps sounds trifling, but it really affected my experience during the final movement. Instead of reveling in the glory of a 150 person choir, and a rich orchestra, I just couldn't wait for it to be over. I spent much of the forth movement trying to find my place in the linear notes for the choir so I could try to gauge how much more I had to sit through. I love going to the orchestra, but I can't remember the last time I needed to stand so badly. Both Andrew and I stood to applaud pretty quickly after the final chord.

The moral of the story: always give your legs (and bum) a stretch at intermission, especially if Beethoven's 9th is on the concert bill.

We don't go to the ESO again until March. I don't recall what's playing then, but I hope Bill Eddin's will be back at the conductor's post. He hasn't been there for the last couple of performances, which I find a little disappointing. I like to watch him dance around the podium during the performances and he's always got a good story to tell during the after thoughts portion of the evening.



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