Review by Danny Gaisin
Finnish composer Jan Sibelius lived from the mid-19th to mid twentieth century. A passionate anti-Nazi, legend has it that he composed his ‘Finlandia’ after ludicrously firing his pistol at an overhead Luftwaffe fighter plane. His final work, Symphony No. 7, is uncharacteristic in that the work is played as a single movement, although the tempi coincidently varies through seven diverse rhythmic ranges. To underscore the evocative themes, The Hamilton Philharmonic utilized the vehicle of PowerPoint™ projections featuring photographs of the flora & fauna of Bruce Trail.
The images by fifty-five different photographers while redolent with beauty and haunting seasonal imagery, made concentration on the Sibelius interpretation somewhat of a task. Both were magnificent. The work makes demands on the brasses as the diverse seasons create their disparate mood and appearance. There is a noticeable difference to the orchestral sound under Gemma New. She has, in a relatively short time; created a divergent and positive essence from the musicians that can be viscerally felt by the audience as well as by those performing on stage.
Among the supplementary pieces performed was the paean to Benjamin Britten composed by Estonian Arvo Pärt. Creator of the minimalist style of ‘tintinnabulum’; maestra New rearranged the orchestra’s layout into a contrapuntal split in order to enhance the stereophonic aspect of the piece. Dirge-like and melancholic, the cantus is a somewhat captivating piece to both perform and occasionally hear, but like the next work – Bartók’s 4-movement ‘Music for Strings; percussion & Celeste’ something this scribe wouldn’t add to a classical collection. Bartok’s style is diatonic with inversions and chromatic changes. Like Gordon Lightfoot, repetition is a mandate and the 1st movement theme is constantly being reprised. The piano included in the allegro contributes a honky-tonk-ish sound while the adagio 3rd offers an elongated pizzicato riff and a cadenza utilizing four hands at the keyboard. Melody is NOT part of the compositional equation.
Kevin Lau’s “Voices in Time; a portrait of Lake Moraine” was this young man’s first creation and musically interprets the glacier-fed lagoon near Banff, Alberta. As with the Sibelius; this piece had three projected images reflecting the changing moods of this spectacular Canadian gem. Premiered in Hamilton fifteen years ago, the composer introduced the piece by preambling both his intent and rationale when creating the work.
Conductor New exhibits a comfortable familiarity with her HPO audience. She speaks with knowledge; passion and eloquence & completely without hesitancy…a radical change from her predecessor. The imagination she displays in her selections, plus the path along with she’s taking her musicians & audience shows opportunity and excitement on both sides of the footlights.