The beginning of the 70th season of the Windsor Symphony was studded with several sparkling highlights including its opening selection, the world premiere of Fallen by composer Jordan Pal.
After a warm introduction to the new season by Windsor mayor Drew Dilkens, conductor Robert Franz led the symphony into the short ode Fallen, one of the compositions commissioned by the government to celebrate Canada's 150th birthday. Fallen will have its premiere with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra on Remembrance Day, Nov. 11, 2017.
As its title implies, it is about fallen soldiers. Its title derives from the final stanza of Canadian Master Corporal Charles Matiru's poem Dark Shadow. He was an Afghan vet who died recently due to PTSD. The ode is deliberately unpleasant, a mixture of chaos and frenetic passages intended to give us a glimpse into the soul of those suffering from the psychological wounds of war. In its resemblance to a film score, it tries to evoke emotion in the listener. It has a sincerity to it, which is tough to do in a postmodern society.
A world away from this is the Brahms composition Variations on a Theme of Joseph Haydn, which was delivered in a unique way. Instead of just offering us the music, each of the variations ranging from pastoral to scherzo was introduced by a poetic excerpt. The contributing poets, including Windsor poet laureate Marty Gervais, were in the audience, while their poems were faultlessly read by a young man and woman on stage.
If one regards a frame as part of the picture, the poems were expressing the idea that musical compositions do not end on their final note. It was both a delightful way to breathe new life into a piece over 200 years old, and a daring choice as it could easily have fallen into an unwelcome pastiche. It was a nice way to make a piece that's not Canadian a way to celebrate Canada, and the inclusion of Windsor-based poetry is a nod to the city's 125th anniversary this year.
There was an especially good connection between Variation 5, a sprightly piece where the violins literally dance which was likened poetically to Walkerville by Gervais, which conjures up a famous bicycle race in that part of Windsor in 1896. Variation 7, a stately composition suitable for a river cruise, was paired with a few lines from the poem Windsor by Carlinda D'Alimonte. “I relax into the space, in the small steps I can take.”
Other poems talked about Al Capone and rum running (a well known local pasttime in the 1920s), “a cannonball that won nothing for nobody”, and by Peter Hrastovec “there is an art in everything and in everything a reason.” My favourite was paired with Variation 8: “History is a fable unless you tell it honestly,” from South Windsor by Vanessa Shields. Other poets included in the Variations music-poem combo were Mary Ann Mulhern, Dorothy Mahoney and D.A. Lockhart.
The second half of the programme featured a flawless performance of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, complete with the Windsor Classic Chorale and University of Windsor Chamber Choir. Combined with the symphony, the stage held some 350 performers, including four guest soloists: Marjorie Maltais (alto), Ryan Downey (tenor), Margie Bernal (soprano) and in one of the choicest roles for a bass singer, Reginald Smith.
Instead of going for a punch to the jaw early in the performance, conductor Franz wisely saved it for the ending. While he held back, he added just enough emphasis to titillate the musical taste buds. It is sometimes good to show restraint! In the end, the assembled performers knocked it out of the park, to borrow a sports analogy, no mean feat in a venue originally designed as a cinema.
For a finale with several children's choirs standing along the side and in the aisles, the audience was treated to a rousing rendition of Canada This Is My Home. With the instrument plus vocal power boosted to more than 400 in a venue that only seats 640, it was truly an impressive way to begin the 70th season.
Thanks to Mitch Raeck for his musical expertise in the preparation of this article. Photo by C. Cunningham
The next performance of the symphony, the music of Star Wars on Sept. 30, is already sold out.
Visit their website for details on other upcoming shows: