Thirty Years and Counting
Greater Victoria Youth Orchestra
Yariv Aloni, conductor
University Centre Auditorium
May 1, 2016
November 1, 2015
By Deryk Barker
In terms of human history, thirty years takes us from Sarajevo to D-Day, from the Invasion of Poland to Neil Armstrong's "small step for [a] man".
For the Greater Victoria Youth Orchestra, thirty years is their entire lifespan. Furthermore, as the maximum age for players is twenty-eight, no current member had even been born when the orchestra was formed back in 1986.
It has also seemed, over the past few weeks, as if thirty years might well be the time it takes for this review to appear, such is the effect of writer's block — amusing until it afflicts oneself.
The afternoon opened with the overture to Carl Maria von Weber's opera Der Freischütz, which immediately signalled what a fine ensemble this year's GVYO is, from the pregnant opening chords, the orchestra making a rich, full sound (the horns were particularly good here). The (fairly leisurely) allegro bounced along until the resonant final chord.
I have rarely disagreed significantly with Yariv Aloni on matters of interpretation, but I did feel (and I know that I was not alone) that Ravel's Pavane pour une infante défunte was simply too slow.
The orchestra, it is true, coped very well on the whole with the extreme tempo, producing some lovely tone colours, the winds especially, but I suspect that even a professional orchestra would have had problems make the music cohere at this speed.
Brandon Chow's Tilikum, a GVYO commission, was receiving its first performance — albeit, according to the composer's own note, not quite a complete one.
Nevertheless, what we did hear, roughly fourteen minutes of it, revealed a composer who knows what he wants to say and has the means to say it.
The opening, all glissando string harmonics, was quite striking and its reappearance at the close felt right after the tumultuous Scottish country dance with its battery of percussion.
Discussing the piece with various other audience members at the interval, the general consensus was that it was a fine piece of Canadiana, although opinions were divided as to whether it would achieve its rightful place in the national orchestral repertoire or whether its slightly extravagant demands (five horns, seven percussion) might make it too expensive a proposition.
Only time will tell, but Chow definitely gained an enthusiastic following with this performance.
The second half of the concert took us to Eastern Europe, firstly with Bartók's Hungarian Peasant Songs, his orchestration of a number of pieces originally for the piano.
Although I don't imagine many, if any of Sunday's orchestra had the privilege of playing under the late and still greatly missed János Sándor, it was a performance I am sure he would have enjoyed, from the excellent octave-unison string opening to the exuberant finale. .
Nor do I imagine that many of the youthful players would first have heard the melody of the second of Borodin's Polovtsian Dances from Prince Igor in its guise as "Strangers in Paradise" from the 1953 musical Kismet. (Robert Wright and George Forrest, the creators of Kismet, plundered seven of Borodin's works, almost half his entire oeuvre.)
Which is probably, for their own sanity, a good thing.
The dances themselves sparkled, featuring excellent solo and ensemble work and closing with a rousing, energetic but finely-controlled finale which, quite rightly, brought the audience to its feet.
As enjoyable a way to spend a spring afternoon as I can think of.
Long may the Greater Victoria Youth Orchestra flourish. I can only hope that I am still around to witness their fortieth and (perhaps) fiftieth anniversaries.