Three Orchestras — One Sonic Boom

On April 17, at the UVic Farquhar Auditorium, the SPO, the Victoria Chamber Orchestra, and the Civic Orchestra of Victoria present a joint concert. Have you ever wondered what an orchestra of around 120 musicians would sound like?  The two works to be presented by this large combined orchestra – Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet and Elgar’s Enigma Variations – provide overwhelming opportunities for drama, heartbreak and fun.

Norman Nelson tells us:
“Ever since I left the BBC Symphony in 1965 I have plagued all and sundry in the Nelson household by playing CDs considerably louder than the family’s decibel comfort zone. They all thought I was going deaf and told me to turn it down, but not a bit of it – I was reliving the days of giving my violin a lot of smack in the middle of 120 or so fired-up crazy musicians. There’s a great deal to be said for loud, and our aim on April 17 is to somehow get the maximum decibel level from all those bangers, blowers and scrapers – great happiness, great satisfaction. Of course, the other perhaps more important and certainly the more difficult side of the coin is in diffusing all this energy and producing the magic stillness and poised beauty of music’s innermost message – and we all wait for the bits that make us cry inside.

Judging from our first rehearsal together, I think that the sheer numbers make both sides of the equation more easily achieved – another enigma perhaps.”

More than forty violins, almost forty lower strings, eighteen winds (including five bassoons), eighteen brass (including seven horns), not to mention a full complement of percussion, timps and harp – Tchaikovsky and Elgar would have loved it.

String players, of course, are used to playing as a group, but for the brass and woodwinds the experience will be a little more unusual.

We asked Larry Hobson (viola, SPO) how the viola players feel about a section made up of violists from three orchestras. Here’s his answer:
“So, violists are the queen of the orchestra.  And more queens are a good thing.  One problem is that each conductor wants his own leaders at the front – musical chairs at the completion of each piece are an added hazard.  Also bowings are hard to synchronize as changes take time to percolate from band to band.  The sound is worth it”

The organisation of such a complicated endeavor has necessarily been carried out by many people. The original idea came from Yariv Aloni, and the three conductors got together for several meetings in coffee shops around Victoria. A committee was formed, headed by Sue Hyslop, with representatives from all three orchestras – the three presidents, business managers and publicity people, etc., and the emails have been flying back and forth ever since.

Stephen Smith (husband of Mary Smith, cello, VCO) is official Stage Manager, and has the assistance of Lee Anderson (viola, SPO) and Sandy Sandford (horn, Civic).  Colin Millard (Board member, VCO) is the official business representative, and Don Kissinger (viola VCO,), Gail Nash (oboe, Civic) and Terry McGinty (General Manager, SPO) are taking care of publicity.

As a bit of a respite, the Victoria Civic Orchestra rounds out the programme with its usual, more modestly sized orchestra, and soloist Cary Chow, in the Saint-Saëns Piano Concerto no. 5, conducted by George Corwin.

Don’t miss this musical sonic boom at UVic on April 17!

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