It’s been said music is one of the greatest expressions man is capable of delivering. From a simple melody to a masterful symphony, music can change moods, thoughts and even save lives.
One of those expressions, that of celebration, was in full effect at the Capitol Theatre this past weekend when the Windsor Symphony Orchestra hosted Ode to Canada, a massive celebration of multiple anniversaries. With as many as 400 musicians, notable soloists and choral singers, WSO’s music director Robert Franz masterfully conducted his way through tributes to Canada and Ontario’s 150 anniversaries, Windsor’s 125th and the WSO’s own 70th anniversary.
If anyone in that audience didn’t already believe the Windsor Symphony is capable of delivering world-class performances, Saturday’s concert should have converted any of the non-believers. Packed with a unique blend of modern and classic pieces, the show featured only five selections, including the world premiere of a new orchestration by Toronto Symphony’s Jordan Pal titled Fallen.
A WSO and TSO co-commissioned composition, Fallen, was written for Canada’s 150th and will receive its Toronto premiere on November 11 with the TSO. It’s speaks of Canada’s fallen victims of war and is based on the last lines of the poem Dark Shadow by Corporal Charles Wahome Matiru.
The short two-minute and 20 second piece is a stunningly deep composition which explores dramatic overtones as it builds to a viciously climactic ending – much like that of an abridged film score.
There’s a sense of beauty as the music begins with a feeling of hope and journey, but eventually it culminates into an unrestrained skirmish as the instruments twist and twirl through gasps of violence and death. As expected, the piece ends in a somber, almost exhausted and painful tone as the instruments come to a rest. It’s an amazingly poignant piece which is about as close to being in an actual battle that any piece music could do. This could very well become Canada’s annual war cry at Memorial Day services when millions remember and lament for our Canadian victims both fallen and shattered.
The show also highlighted a unique interpretation of Johannes Brahms’ “Variation on a Theme of Joseph Haydn”, which was intertwined with highly crafted local poems from the new collection called Because We All Have Lived Here, Poems Along the South Shore, featuring works by local poets Dorothy Mahoney, Peter Hrastovec, Marty Gervais, Daniel Lockhart, Carlinda D’Alimonte, Mary Anne Mulhurn and Vanessa Shields, edited by John B. Lee.
Many of the writers were in attendance as local actors Tracey B Atin and Timothy Maitland passionately read selected passages between themes. Franz matched the variations to the content of the poems to give them a memorable soundtrack, even though the original 1873 composition had nothing to do with the poems. The artful readings gave the poems life and passion and hopefully brought some attention to a great new Windsor book.
The masterwork of the concert was a complete performance of Ludwig van Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 in D minor, commonly known for its fourth movement dubbed Ode to Joy. The orchestra tackled the iconic piece with a sense of pride and fervor as it performed the nine hundred and forty bars in only 65 minutes (it has been known to extend to 79 minutes by some orchestras). Franz was full of passion as he headed the arrangement through emotional waves and articulate inflections.
Highlights of the Ninth included four vocal soloists and about 150 singers gathered from four local choirs (WSO Chorus, Windsor Classic Chorale, University of Windsor Chamber Choir and University Singers). Headed by incredible bass vocalist Reginald Smith Jr., the fourth movement kicked off with a thirst often unheard in orchestras in cities the size of Windsor. Smith is a fairly new voice to the choral scene, but his stunningly deep bass is one of the best in the business and has landed him performances with Houston, Columbus and Tchaikovsky orchestras. Windsor was blessed to hear his voice on this night (and a short “you’re a mean one Mister Grinch” during the pre-show talk).
Each of the other soloists (soprano Margie Bernal, alto Marjorie Maltais and tenor Ryan Downey) were stunning. Each dressed to the max, but Maltais looked striking in her jovial ball gown. Hearing the soloists lead through 150 chorus members and an orchestra was something to behold. Beethoven himself would have been impressed with the sheer ambiance and massive undertaking that this performance was.
The show also came with two surprises. The first was the announcement of a new Steinway & Sons piano, which was purchased through the kindness of the Weingarden family. An official announcement is coming in mid-October, but the piano, which was hand selected at the Steinway factory in Queens, NY, is expected to arrive this week. It will make its performance debut on the Capitol Theatre stage on November 18, with legendary pianist Alain Lefevre, as the WSO performs a pair of beautiful pieces by French-Canadian composers.
The second surprise was an unannounced song, This Is Our Home, performed by the orchestra, soloists, 150-member choir and an additional 132 young voices who stood throughout the isles (Sandwich West PS (LaSalle), Chatham-Kent Secondary School (Chatham), Kingsville District Secondary (Kingsville), Music Moves Kids (Kingsville) and the Windsor-Essex Youth Choirs (Windsor). This made for a gathering of about 400 musicians and singers sharing a pure and unashamed love for Windsor, Ontario and Canada all at once. If you didn’t feel any pride for your home at this point, I encourage you to visit a doctor and get your pulse checked. I left the theatre with so much gratitude, it will take days for that joy to dissipate.
The Windsor Symphony Orchestra continues its astounding 70th season with The Music of Star Wars, another sold out show coming Saturday and Sunday (Sept. 30 and Oct. 1).