Oesterle : New World: Of Hope and Refuge (World Premiere)
Sibelius : Violin Concerto
Stravinsky : The Rite of Spring
May 11, 2013. Royal Theatre, Victoria, BC — Juno award winning, Julliard educated wunderkind, brilliant violinist, artist extraordinaire — how many superlatives can be heaped on one Canadian fiddler? After hearing star James Ehnes last night at the Royal Theatre they all apply. He was here to perform the virtuosic Violin Concerto in D Minor by Sibelius with Tania Miller conducting the Victoria Symphony as part of their unique Signature Series. On the second side was a celebration of the 100th anniversary of Igor Stravinsky’s dissonant barnburner, The Rite of Spring . Opening the program was the second movement of Composer-in-Residence, Michael Oesterle’s ‘New World: Of Hope and Refuge’, the last of four world premieres of new Canadian pieces commissioned by the orchestra this season. What a thrilling evening of music making and highly skilled musicianship ending a wonderful season of challenging works.
Oesterle’s work explores the immigrant experience in Canada, and is a delightful, modern confection of pathos and hope. This young composer used the orchestra to full effect including a solid part for the tuba which he jokingly acknowledged in a pre-performance talk as “leaving out” in his previously premiered piece. The next two movements will be showcased next season.
Anticipation filled the packed hall before the entrance of Ehnes, rightly praised as ‘the Jascha Heifetz of our day’ (Globe and Mail). Although the concerto premiere in 1904 was a disaster due to the difficulty of the piece with a less than accomplished violinist, Ehnes was the polar opposite. His effortless virtuosity shone in all three movements with cadenzas and double stops flying off his Stradivarius enough to make Victorians gasp in delight. Ehnes had complete command from the first note of the opening Allegro to the stupendous finale. I had the feeling that many of our Victoria Symphony patrons couldn’t believe what they were hearing. Miller’s players ably accompanied the star with power when it was needed and letting the man have his moments. The ovation and stomping at the end prompted two encores, Caprice 24 then 16 by Paganini with delightful shock and awe lighting up the faces of the orchestra. Simply put, James Ehnes is the real deal. Don’t miss an opportunity to see this remarkable artist.
When The Rite of Spring premiered in 1913, it famously caused a riot, and the work continues to push the limits 100 years later. I must admit to a little trepidation before the first bassoon intro. This is raw, challenging music that demands an audience pay attention, an orchestra concentrate like never before, and a conductor with formidable skills to hold it all together. Miller’s interpretation highlighted the primordial savagery to great effect and her players did not let her down. Several of many highlights were the great energy in Games of the Rival Tribes and the Sacrificial Dance where Miller showed exceptional command of her musicians while ensuring she didn’t quite launch herself off the podium.
Following yet another thundering ovation, in typical Victoria style, Maestra Miller commanded section leaders and groups to bask in the applause while the tympanist surely became another star of the evening. What a wonderfully eclectic program to end such a successful season.