Venue: Orpheum Theatre, Vancouver
Date(s): April 8, 2002
Reviewer: Ed Farolan
It was a delightful surprise, and good timing,
returning to Vancouver from the Czech Republic, and receiving a
notice that a Dvorak concert was going to show at the Orpheum. I
immediately contacted the VSO for tickets, and was again pleasantly
surprised to see the famous and internationally renowned Czech maestro
Libor Pesek conducting this concert.
Antonin Dvorak is a national hero in the Czech Republic. Statues of him are all over the Czech Republic; in fact, in Northern Moravia where I'm at present teaching, the opera house in the city of Ostrava, Divadlo Antonina Dvorak, is named in honour of him.
What makes Dvorak, in my opinion, a truly great composer is the musical innovation he contributed to classical music. His Slavonic Dances, op. 72, is an example of this new creativity in music in the second half of the 19th century. This was the period of Romanticism in Europe, and shortly after, the era of Industrialism.
Dvorak was inspired by the mood of the times, and his music reflected this duality: the romantic and the pragmatic. Johannes Brahms was deeply impressed with this Czech composer who was in his mid-thirties when they met. In 1874, he applied for a grant available to young, impoverished composers from the Austrian government. At that time, the Czech Republic was inexistent and was still under Austrian rule.
Brahms who was on the panel of judges and who later became a close friend helped win him the grant, and then afterwards, Dvorak was commissioned to compose a set of Slavonic dances patterned after Brahms' popular Hungarian Dances. But unlike Brahms, Dvorak based his composition on original themes inspired from Slavic folk music.
The VSO performed five of Dvorak's Slavonic Dances, op. 72. The first piece was No. 1 in B Major, a lively Slovakian shepherd's dance. The energy in which Pesek conducted the Symphony was amazing! The next piece, No 2 in E minor, was a beautiful, wistful Polish mazurka with romantic violins taking us into that pastoral ambience. Just last Easter Sunday, I was in Roshnoff, a charming town near the Beskydy mountains bordering Slovakia, and it was interesting to experience folk groups with their violins, cellos, and xylophones playing in the Park.
I was impressed particularly with a folk group that had everyone sing along with them. One of the folk songs sung told the story of a shepherdess being courted by a shepherd as she was fetching water in a well. This reminded me so much of Dvorak's No. 2 in E minor. Surely, these folk songs inspired the great Czech composer.
No. 3 in F Major is a Czech skoná, a hopping dance music so similar to Celtic folk music meant for dances. The Roshnoff folk festival I attended had a number of dance groups doing the skoná, always a big hit, inspiring the audience to clap and cheer as the folk dancers hopped along with the music.
No. 4 in D-flat major is a Polish/Ukrainian dumka which features contrasting movements. It starts off ballad-like, soft, sweet, serene, then wakes you up with a loud bang, with quick, animated allegro movements. The VSO ended Dvorak's opus with No. 7 in C Major, a kolo, or a round dance of Serbo-Croatian origin. It is an exuberant dance, and the energy of the VSO performers, inspired by Pesek, resulted in an outburst of wild applauses and whistles from the audience.
Alexander Glazunov's Violin Concerto in A Minor, Op. 82 followed, with the versatile Martin Beaver, a renowned recitalist and soloist, performing. The three movements, Moderato, then the Andante sostenuto, and finally, the Allegro were excellently performed by this Canadian violinist who was trained at The University of British Columbia and now teaches at the Conservatory of Music of Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.
After the intermission, the VSO concluded with Dvorak's Symphony No. 8 in G Major, Op. 88. The three movements, which started with an exhilarating Allegro con brio, were followed by an Adagio, and finally, an Allegretto bringing the audience to its feet with whistles and bravos at the end of this lengthy symphony.
Truly, this was one of the best performances I've seen from the VSO!
© 2002, Ed Farolan
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