Monday, April 27, 2009

Blogging the ESO at "Showcase" Concert

If I was a serious Music Reviewer for a mainstream media outlet, I would be somewhat guilty of being tardy at getting an article posted- an article that is to be a critique of sorts for the "Showcase" concert of the ESO. I got somewhat sidetracked by what is a timely discussion of the twittering at ESO Concerts in general. Being firmly entrenched in the media worlds of "old and present and new", my jury is still out on the decision whether tweeting is a mode that will be mainline or not. Being somewhat of a "Devil's Advocate"I emphasized that I was and still am quite sensitive to the feelings of adjacent patrons of the symphony and how they will accept the new technology becoming part of their entertainment experience. May I say right now that I prefer to leave that subject to those more experienced in"The art of Twitter" and be confident in the fact that it will all be solved in an amicable and rational fashion. Having grown up in the communications industry - my Dad was a telegrapher for the CPR; you know, the dots and dashes, and I spend more that fifty years in television and film production. All this gave me the experience and background in publicity and marketing.
Attending concerts is a very exciting and exhilarating experience for me. I prefer to
regard each performance as an example of what the orchestra and guest can and will do for the next and subsequent performances. I have lived by the saying that you are only as good as your last performance. We as bloggers and twitterers are publicists in kind. I believe our duty is to provide publicity about the upcoming performance by providing enthusiasm for the enjoyment we are about to experience. In the ESO, we are pretty well guaranteed of that enjoyment. The Showcase was just that - a display of what it is very capable of doing . Each and everyone of the players and guest artists excelled at their proficiency.

As I mentioned in previous blogs, I have been involved with the orchestra in various situations for many years. Sometime in the 80s, I was official photographer. Brian Priestman called me his "shadow" - every time he'd see me, I'd be seated somewhere withing the various sections, shooting. My musical background is diverse enough that I know I can, with good authority, comment on the ESO concerts.
An important item we should note in our programs is that a variety of sponsors have, over the years contributed to this great city by sponsoring our orchestra. Without their participation, our musical enjoyment would be somewhat lessened. There are too many to mention in this blog, therefore I urge you to take a moment to familiarize yourself with the sponsorship and in some way show your gratitude for their community service.
This could be a long blog entry this time so I am choosing to break in up into two separate writings. More comments will be forthcoming about the "Showcase in my next Blog, "Part Two - Showcase".


Tuesday, April 7, 2009

ESO a Sunday with Carmina Burana

The E.S.O - Sunday With Carmina

BIG.... That is one of the words I must use to describe the E.S.O's Sunday afternoon concert that featured the performance of "Carmina Burana". It was an astounding afternoon. As soon as I saw the assembling of the 140+ members of the five mass choirs, I knew that something exciting was bound to happen. It was certainly something that didn't disappoint in any way - there are so many expletives to use that it is impossible to select just one. What an afternoon. I was invited to attend the concert and provide a blog - sharing my feelings of this April 5th concert. It would be my first opportunity to sit up in the beautiful Winspear Centre's gallery that offered a very unique vantage point of the orchestra and choirs. It was more than I expected as it provided a pretty well unobstructed view of all the players and choristers. One who has any insite into the scores or "charts" would be able to follow the path to each instrument's "plays". I got the idea that this might be a place to seat youngsters that might like to study the instrumentation during a concert. By the way, the Sunday Master's concert was abundant in youngsters in the audience, a sign that parents were paying attention to their children's musical development. I have always maintained that giving children the opportunity to absorb some variety in music is a good start to their appreciating the arts. That too was very evident in the young members of the Kokopelli choir - one of the five very professional choirs participating in the afternoon spectacular.
The concert wasn't totally about Carmina Burana. Borodin's Prince Igor: Polovtsian Dances opened the show. I expected something very Big from the union of the five choirs and Symphony and they sure delivered. The powerful strains of the familiar "Stranger in Paradise" enthralled the audience, bridging the gap between highly classical and popular genres. Being familiar with "Prince Igor" allowed me to really study the orchestra and witness each players handling of the score. Sensitivity and emotion was so evident in all these professional musicians by their handling of the phrasing and timbre. They all displayed their intense dedication to their craft. Setting the musical content aside for the moment, I must recognize that extreme dedication - even as relating it to this particular concert. The many hours of time everyone was required to spend in rehearsals and preparation would only be spent by those totally immersed in their love of music. I spoke to one of the members of the Ukranian Men's Choir who traveled in fro Two Hills every week to attend rehearsals and sessions for the choir. I am sure there are many others in the same situation, making sacrifices for that love of music.
I very much appreciated the several genres of music provided. Prince Igor was an excellent choice for the mainstream not-so-high classical minded listener. The many very interesting moods of "nighttime" was presented well by the orchestra
in Benjamin Britten's Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Strings. It was an intriguing study in coloratura, made even more interesting by the french horn. Allene Hackleman was certainly one with her instrument, a not always easy instrument with which to display sensitivity. She certainly displayed all the control and passion required for the Serenade. She also helped in exhibiting the versatility of the Winspear Music Chambers. Who would know that the hard-walled back-stage hallway would offer up such a great ambience in the final passage of the number. Both Tenor, Bonaventure Bottone and Baritone, Hugh Russel performed the three "characters" of the title selection exquisitely.
As I said earlier, I got what I had expected in my appreciation of Carmina Burina. I have only been familiar with the selection for a short while. It had been a prominent theme in several motion pictures. As the first strains of the opening blasted out into the Winspear, I felt an appreciative exuberance. Everything was right about the whole performance. Choir and orchestra came together as though they had worked together for years rather than weeks. They are all class entities - and this writer - the accordion player with true pitch wasn't at all disappointed. There were no cracking trumpets, woodwinds or any audience distractions. If I were to be at all critical, I might only hint that on occasion I found it hard to separate the tenor's singing from the orchestra. One has to appreciate that it is an almost impossible task to overpower a large symphony in a totally acoustical environment. Mr.Bottone was excellent in his performance in Carmina... as were his singing partners, Hugh Russel and lovely, Hana Davidson. Everyone in attendance seemed totally mesmerized by this Grande gathering of professionals.
I remember commenting to my girlfriend on the ages of the younger members of the choir. The Kokopelli Youth Choir members are at such young ages, representative of youth that will be guided through the years with a great musical grounding. There's little doubt in my mind that the young need an interest in the arts like this to shape them as Lovely young adults.
We can be very proud that we are living in an environment such as Edmonton. Our Arts community is rife with Great Theatre, and Great Musical interest and performing groups, especially in our Symphony Orchestra, Choirs and performance venuse such as our Winspear Centre. Professional can be a tagged description far more in meaning that "for a living". This concert was very memorable and I am surely looking forward to the exciting season that the ESO is embarking on.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Our ESO - Our Treasure

While sitting, deeply immersed in the high-spirited sounds coming from the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra, I reflected on what this valuable entity means to me. The free concert held on the 3rd of April, to introduce the upcoming season was just one of the many highlights of my long years enjoying the orchestra. I was taken back - waaay back to the early days of the orchestra, in the 80s, when I was official photographer for the orchestra. I remembered the high-profile artist musicians that graced the stage; people like Anton Kuerti and the late and incomparable Arthur Fiedler. I laughed when I thought about Fiedler's sharp tongue as he whipped the orchestra into shape. I thought they were excellent but I guess Fiedler found enough in their playing that they had to be literally "tuned up". After all, what did I know? I was the photographer on hand. As the one Senator Tommy Banks told me once "there's nothing I hate more than an accordion player with true pitch" - said while I was engineering a recording session by his group. I cherish those events. My, how far the ESO has come since those early days.
Every time I get the chance to attend an ESO concert, I think of what I would actually write should I want to "send a note to the editor". The free concert the other day is one of those. Not to forget the Space-themed concert featuring George Takei, a well crafted and performed jewel of a show. There is no doubt that the ESO's series will provide exciting entertainment for everyone - every member of the family. That was very evident in the faces of people in all age brackets. The many young kids sitting near me were mesmerized by the many facets of the orchestra, too numerous to mention. And, I don't want to leave out the fact that this was the first performance conducted by Bill Eddens. What a great personality to guide the orchestra.
This is not a stuffy genre as many are finally realizing. Only the high-classics performances will probably garner a more formal black tied orchestra. Audiences can feel totally comfortable in casual dress attending the concerts. Mind you, it is nice to be decked out in more formal or semi-formal attire occasionally in our fabulous Winspear Centre.
I will write more on the many feelings that are inspired by the ESO. You'll certainly hear more about the many professional elements of the world of music performances available to us in Edmonton. I am quite proud that I have been immersed in that world.

Oh yes, I can't leave without complimenting a particular violinist on his socks - I love vibrant mauve.