Celebrate Women In Music
Prince Edward Island Symphony
Review by Ivy Wigmore
The theme for the PEI Symphony Orchestra’s 44th season is “Celebration” and on October 16, that season got underway with a celebration of women in music. October is Women’s History Month; Person’s Day on October 18th commemorates the date in 1929 when women were legally acknowledged to be persons. Little wonder that female composers have always been under-represented, and all the more reason, then, to celebrate the thrilling music we enjoyed in this performance.
The performance began with Joan Tower’s “Fanfare for the Uncommon Woman.” Conductor James Marks commented that he’d written words like “bombastic” and “dissonant” into his introduction but after listening again wanted to rewrite, as the piece transcends those elements to reflect the complexity of the subject. The Fanfare was stirring, with a sense of tumult and tremendous activity simmering below the surface, building inexorably to the triumphant finish.
Paule Maurice’s “Tableaux de Provence pour saxophone et orchestre” was next: Five movements created to evoke the beauty, landscape and culture of Provence. Marcel Mule, a pioneer of the classical saxophone, inspired Maurice to write music that would demonstrate that the instrument belongs in the orchestra, at a time when it was not considered suitable. Soloist Kevin MacLean’s subtle and accomplished performance surely banished any lingering doubt.
Composer Jane Naylor’s “Two Connections for Orchestra” finished off the first half of the performance. The first piece, “A Geological Connection,” represents the development of topography over hundreds of millions of years. Through instrumentation, we heard the rise of the Taconic Mountains along the east coast of the continent and their subsequent erosion into a shallow, inland sea and then the connection that links Naylor’s native Ontario home with her current PEI: the sedimentary layer in Niagara strata revealed to have originated from the Tectonic Mountains. The second piece, “To Life!” is a klezmer-flavoured celebration in itself. “Two Connections” was a gorgeous mix of dualities: earthy and ethereal, majestic and mysterious.
In another duality, soloist Morgan Saulnier performed Cécile Chaminade’s “Flute Concertino” with a combination of articulate power and delicacy. Of Chaminade, born in 1857, Ambroise Thomas once said: “This is not a woman who composes, but a composer who is a woman. Which seems a very back-handed compliment, implying that women composers are not entirely serious—perhaps fitting compositions in between needlework and china painting.
Meaghan Smith finished off the performance with original music that was sort of jazzy, sort of folky, sort of retro – according to a National Post reviewer “as if Bjork recorded an album with k.d. lang and Doris Day." Add the fabulous PEISO and you’ve got quite a show.
Smith was also quite funny. One of the high points was a song based on her “best worst boyfriend” story. She was dating this fellow for a little while but then he was incarcerated. She figured they were broken up, you know, because she didn’t hear from him for six-to-eight months. But then he showed up outside her window early one morning, having busted out. He wanted them to hop a train, run away somewhere exciting. Sounded like fun, said Smith, but she had to go to school. When she sings that song, people often ask, “Is that story true?” To which she responds, “A song is a sacred thing, and I do not lie.” All ends happily, as the singer was ably accompanied by her spouse (not the jailbird), who she said she likes to call her “husBAND.”
We exited smiling, having been treated to such a rich and varied performance. So many incredibly talented women, both composers and performers, and such a rare opportunity to hear them.