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PEI Symphony Orchestra

Review by Ivy Wigmore

On April 23, the PEI Symphony Orchestra finished its 49th season in fine style. Well, “fine” is quite an understatement, really. I’m sure if I surveyed audience members as they exited, “fine” would not be a word chosen to describe the performance. “Amazing” would probably be the general consensus, with some variations along the lines of “astonishing” quite likely.

First up was “Voyageur,” by Andrew Staniland, commissioned for the Toronto Symphony’s 2007 Northern Residency tour. The New Yorker described his music as “alternately beautiful and terrifying.” (According to one violinist, that might depend on which side of the stage you were on.) By Staniland’s own admission, composers must embody the spirit of the early exploratory voyageur, “charting new courses of statement and expression,” to satisfy the human need to “reach out, go further, take risks and explore.”

Mozart’s Symphony No. 35 rounded out the first half. The popular symphony is also known as the Haffner for the family who commissioned it on the occasion of the son’s elevation to nobility, and the grand music befits the occasion. From the thrilling first movement, marked “allegro con spirito” (quick, with spirit), to the final “presto” (very fast) last, the Haffner is an exuberant piece of work. How fast is presto? As fast as possible, according to Mozart. By another definition, presto describes something brought about suddenly, possibly by magic. That works too.

In the second half of the performance, soloist Marc Djokic took the stage for Sibelius’ Violin Concerto — and did he take the stage. I’ve been thinking ever since of how to characterize the special quality of Djokic’s performance. The Concerto is famously difficult and it’s not that he made it seem easy, exactly, but there was a certain inevitable perfection to his playing, as if he could not make an error or fail to deliver a single nuance to a note. I could only think of what is commonly known as being in the zone, the point where skill and challenge find their fulcrum and magic enters performance of all sorts. Christopher Bergland, an ultrarunner, calls it superfluidity: “... a state of performing with zero friction, zero viscosity, and superconductivity — it is a state of absolute harmony and endless energy.” That’s the zone where Djokic was, stepping squarely into it each time he picked up his bow. And the orchestra was with him every step of the way. I think I’ve got to resort to “astonishing” to describe it. 

It never ceases to amaze me that we have this remarkable symphony orchestra here — in our own tiny province, our own little town — that we have had it now for almost half a century. The PEISO officially launched its 50th season May 1, dedicated to the memory of founder John Clement, who left us on April 13. In his honour, Clement’s widow Jenet joined the orchestra on piano for “Ashokan Farewell.” So soon after his death, the tribute must have cost her dearly but was, as PEISO member Margo Connors commented, “expressed the best way she knows, in her own language.” The language of music, that is, that the Clements had dedicated their lives to fostering here.

In his introduction, PEISO president Bruce Craig announced the creation of the “Send a kid to the symphony fund,” also dedicated to the memory of John Clement. The fund will be used to provide free symphony tickets for young people, in the interests of getting them to performances and thus helping to ensure the future of the PEISO. As a woman sitting nearby said, “all you have to do is get them here once. Then they’ll be hooked.”

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