“It is not hard to compose, but what is fabulously hard is to leave the superfluous notes under the table.”
Obviously I know practically nothing about the symphony; although I'm pretty sure I like Brahms. At least I think I do. Tonight's concert, which features violinist Ryu Goto and conductor Lahav Shani, will open with Glinka's Russlan and Ludmilla: Overture (which I've never heard of), followed by Brahm's Violin Concerto in D major, Op. 77 and after intermission will conclude with Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 5 in E minor, Op. 64.
As usual, I head to youtube the day before the concert to preview the experience and am delighted that the music seems to be very dramatic and fantasia-esque. It may be wrong, but for better or for worse, this is how I understand classical music; as a movie score.
After a delicious “bites” dinner at The Wine Bar (oysters, beef tongue, 24 hour pork belly, lamb gnocchi, “tofu” francais, duck leg confit and Astrolabe Sauvignon Blanc) we head over to the theater, which is conveniently located a short walk from the restaurant.
The Orpheum Theater is gorgeous. The walls and ceiling are covered in beautifully ornate relief. The whole space is very golden, very elegant and totally inviting. Built in 1927 and refurbished in 2009, the theater is a designated heritage site. And as I look around it occurs to me that most of the other concert goers were probably here on opening night; the place is jam packed with senior citizens all decked out in their finest. We wander around, checking out the various levels and little balconies. It's a neat space with lots of different areas to sit and hang out.
Soon it's time to go find our seats. Once seated, I open my program and read about the composers, the pieces being performed and a bit about the featured violinist and conductor. I learn that violinist Ryu Goto will be performing tonight on the 1722 'Jupiter' Stradivarius, on loan from the Nippon Music Foundation. What an incredible history that violin must have; can you imagine accidentally leaving that on the SkyTrain?
I also learn that over the next two seasons conductor Lahav Shani will be conducting numerous esteemed orchestras all around the world. It's funny but somehow it had never really occurred to me that a conductor would tour around, guest starring with different orchestras. I guess I imagined that if you conducted an orchestra that you'd always performed with them. We read for a few minutes longer before the lights dim and the music starts.
The concert begins with Glinka's Russlan and Ludmilla. Supposedly it tells the tale of the wedding of Ludmilla (a daughter of the grand prince of Kiev) and Russlan (a knight in the prince's service) which is disrupted when the bride is abducted by an evil magician by the name of Chernomor. Luckily our hero Russlan manages to locate the magician's castle and cut off his beard, the source of his evil power, before reviving Ludmilla with the help of a magic ring.
It's incredibly relaxing music to listen to in the darkened hall. I close my eyes and am carried away in my mind, to sweeping landscapes and starry night skies. Apparently Emrys is also feeling relaxed in this packed (oxygen depleted?) room as his head keeps nodding and eyes closing, as he falls asleep for 10 seconds or so before a rousing crescendo awakens him yet again. Would it be rude to ask the musicians to keep it down so he can get some sleep?
Next up is Brahms' Violin Concerto. While notably lacking in evil magicians, this is the centrepiece of the evening and really displays Ryu Goto's amazing violin skills. It's quite impressive and sends shivers up my spine when Ryu's stradivarius sings out, singular and clear, soaring above the crowd. Conductor Lahav is also a sight to behold, as he now appears possessed by his baton, which seems to drive his entire body, sending it vibrating across the stage.
After a brief intermission – where I fight hoards of elderly women for access to the washroom – we return to our seats to take in Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 5. It's quite an enjoyable piece and probably my favourite of the evening. It's really got a bit of everything, from sweeping, swelling raptures, to the dark, quiet moments where the base and oboe seem to lurk. Eyes closed, the music often sounds like little creatures (and sometimes large, lumbering ones) are scuttling across the stage. That's probably the weirdest description of music ever written; but I liked that about it.
At the end of the show, the audience stands and offers a lengthy and enthusiastic applause. If I had to guess, I'd say they were impressed by the evening's offerings. I too enjoyed myself; although I don't see myself becoming a orchestral fiend any time soon. Nonetheless, it was good fun to have such a lovely night out, to enjoy a delicious meal, to attend a beautiful theatre and be entertained by some truly talented musicians.