La Scena Musicale

Monday, 3 August 2015

Vancouver Symphony Orchestra Revels at Bard on the Beach

Matt Hanson

Gerrard Gordon, conductor

Mozart isn’t exactly casino music. In 1788, it was. “So you can see how far we’ve come,” said Vancouver Symphony Orchestra conductor Gordon Gerrard, reminding a full house audience of how, at times, historical progress is truly linear.  

In an evening dedicated to Mozart, that unfathomable prodigy of Western music, the splendorous airs of Vanier Park ascended sky high under a soft dusk light. Solar crepuscules trickled into the outdoor theatre. The evening was set with a lofty ambiance under the illumined jade hue of the North Shore Mountain horizon. 

The calm flow of False Creek sped off in the visible expanse behind the tuxedoed performers, a respectable collection of brass, woodwinds, strings and a percussionist. The Impresario: Overture led people into the entrancing harmonies of a sound that has captivated the minds of the world for over two hundred years. 

The bygone classical era is nostalgic for the modern ear of the 21st century. Listening to Mozart, the public, whether consciously or not, is still swept away by a music that seems to speak, and not only briefly, or in monologue. The music of Mozart is conversational, an aural discourse of diverse musical traditions performed and heard. His music speaks as in multiple languages, various regional manners, styles and accents. Some statements are profound, others light, though, reflective of the human mind--all are complex and move through a development of pure emotional ideas. Every note speaks from the heart and dances in a dynamic call-and-response between many performers simultaneously. 

Jeanette Jonquil, clarinet

Clarinet soloist Jeanette Jonquil then stepped onstage, adorned in a sparkling indigo dress. Her performance poured original strength, and heartfelt soul into one of the most admired pieces of music ever written. Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto in A Major opens with a melancholic depth, though one not lost to the persevering optimism of the artist at work. As the movements changed hands, Jonquil performed the clarinet through its barrelling range with a solemn beauty. Her breath fed into the spiralling scales, as she edged into each tone, descending and ascending, and back, as spontaneous as gravity, and yet with a mindful strength. She intoned all of the classic verve of the clarinettist who achieves a spirited complexion of harmonic rhythms that move and speak with the rushing grace of natural grandeur. Her performance transcended acute technicality, and as a great performer at the height of her prime, she so elegantly hit that nerve, alleviating the need for lasting art that so stirs masses with the pure passionate intensity for life.

Jonquil’s clarinet gave life to what once edge music, contemporary, and on the fringes of society, where it could best earn a dying, original artist his dues. Now clearly music of the establishment, the question one must ask in every new context of long-standing compositional music, especially as a lover of classical music, is: How does this music speak to people now?  

Does Mozart still speak to the public? Or, is Mozart simply an icon for the public to set among the pantheon of Western culture in order to justify historical progress in the wake of the Industrial Age with quaint memories of a more pastoral Europe? If the unwavering exuberance of Jonquil’s virtuosity is any indication, Mozart still stands on firm ground in the heart of ensuing generations, as she performed the entire concerto from memory. 

The penultimate symphony of Mozart, Symphony No. 40 in G minor, concluded the evening. The Vancouver Symphony Orchestra showed vigorous pride for the people and lands that have cultivated their popularity in British Columbia. Throughout, conductor Gordon Gerrard appeared a step ahead of the beat, swaying and dancing to the embedded rhythms like a silent prophet, omniscient amid the genius soundscapes.

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