The Vancouver Symphony Orchestra
The Orchestra’s Season Opener

Dates and Venue Friday, Sept. 22, 2017, 8pm & Saturday, Sept. 23, 2017, 8pm | Orpheum Theatre

Conductor Bramwell Tovey Featured performers Australian String Quartet

Programme Bramwell Tovey’s Time Tracks (North American Première); John Adams’ Absolute Jest for String Quartet and Orchestra; Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 5 in E minor

Reviewer John Jane

This weekend (September 22, 23) the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra raised the curtain on their 99th season, and music director Bramwell Tovey’s 18th and final season. When Maestro Tovey picked up the baton from the late Maestro Sergiu Comissiona in 2000 he couldn’t have foreseen that he would be embarking on such a mutual love affair with the Vancouver concert-going public.

Perhaps then, it was fitting that the Orchestra kicked off this season opener with Tovey’s own Time Tracks, a collection of orchestral themes from his opera-in-concert, The Inventor. Much like the opera itself, Time Tracks is an elaborately structured score that carries a narrative through recitative passages. The rhythmic orchestration, with interspersed explosions of rambunctious percussion, give this work an evocative perspicacity. One passage is particularly evocative of a train hurtling down the tracks.

I’ve never found it easy to fully enjoy John Adams’ music, and feel that his operas (Nixon in China is an example) are very political. Absolute Jest for String Quartet and Orchestra borrows from many of Beethoven’s recognizable motifs. With featured musicians Australian String Quartet (ASQ) joining the orchestra, it provides an opportunity to welcome former concertmaster Dale Barltrop back to the Orpheum stage. Barltrop (first violin)and his fellow-members of ASQ: Francesca Hiew (second violin), Stephen King (viola) and Sharon Grigoryan (cello), give the work their all and certainly weren’t overwhelmed by the orchestra, but without the fragments of Beethoven motifs woven into the textures it might sound rather colourless.

Works by the Russian masters always seems to spark atmosphere and passion and Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 5 in E minor is no exception. It’s a cyclical symphony, with a recurring main theme heard in all movements. However, each movement is distinctly structured. The symphony opens with the Andante – allegro con anima, a gently moving theme played lightly by the woodwinds. The second movement presents one of the composer’s notable themes, a poignant melody that allows a seductive lyrical flow. The third movement, Valse allegro moderato is a minor-key waltz that calls for playful passages from the strings.

Overall, this concert was a excellent start to the VSO’s Masterworks Gold Series.

© 2017 John Jane