The much-anticipated PGSO concert featuring guest conductor Evan Mitchell and Elizabeth Pitcairn as guest artist excelled in meeting the audiences high expectations. It was a superb evening of entertainment and a unique opportunity to hear a Stradivarius played by a world-class violinist.
This concert opened with The Hinterland by Canadian composer Ryan Trew. He played harpsichord with the orchestra and got to hear the audiences appreciation first-hand. Inspiration for this piece came from the lute music used in televised public service-style profiles of animals and birds. Those spots ran on CBC television during the 1960s and 1970s as Hinterland Whos Who. The sensation Trew created in this work clearly reflects appreciation for the grandeur of our natural environment.
The concerts guest artist, Elizabeth Pitcairn, followed carrying her precious violin. Crafted in 1720, the instrument is called The Red Mendelssohn because one of its previous owners was his descendant. The audience heard Pitcairn deliver a flawless performance of Mendelssohns Violin Concerto. From the first notes of the allegro molto appassionato, the reverence in her playing was evident, and likewise her genuine pleasure in performing.
Through the beautiful second movement, the andante, anticipation of the stillness in its finish had a therapeutic, calming effect. By the third movement, the allegretto non troppo, the music became lively and spirited. Pitcairn played a veritable flurry of sweet notes which seemed to emanate like exclamation points! Her energetic playing snapped a few bow hairs just as she finished.
Guest conductor Evan Mitchell introduced Tchaikovskys Symphony No. 6. Describing it as an emotional journey and one of the greatest works of art, this represented the composers last completed work. Played in four movements, it began with a gentle, tentative adagio featuring a uniquely composed set of repetitions playing in behind the melody. The orchestra produced the swelling sounds associated with movie scores. A mood change in the second movement saw a slower, more dreamlike tempo. A light-hearted third movement seemed carefree, like a relaxed ramble through the score. Almost as if he had anticipated his demise, Tchaikovsky composed notes for the cello and bases which played like a funeral dirge. The music eventually scampered into a measured march and with volume increases became intense and stately. For the final movement, the composer provided a quiet introduction with extremely slow, sad notes. We can speculate that Tchaikovsky intended audiences to experience the sensation of a pleasant reverie turning into aching sadness. That effect is best accomplished in an orchestra by mournful-sounding strings.
A few evenings earlier, PGSO sponsors and supporters Bill and Diane Rogers hosted a special fundraising event at their home. That evening, Elizabeth Pitcairn performed accompanied by gifted local pianist, Indra Egan. They performed pieces by Austrian violinist Fritz Kreisler; the fourth movement from the Symphonie Espagnole by Edouard Lalo; and Zigeunerweisen (Gypsy Airs) by Pablo de Sarasate. In that intimate setting, Pitcairn talked about her acquisition of the prized instrument and told some harrowing tales about travelling through airport security as she criss-crosses the world on continent-hopping tours. She said she enjoyed playing in close to an ideal acoustical environment in that living room, but also was looking forward to hearing how her violin would sound Saturday evening in the Vanier Hall auditorium. Explaining that a Stradivarius violin has the ability to project its voice, she said it would be like getting your Porsche out on the Autobahn! After outlining the history of her violin, she spoke reverently of her awareness of previous owners. I believe the violin is happy to be on tour performing with me.
There may be only 512 surviving violins crafted by Stradivari, but there is only one Elizabeth Pitcairn. She made a memorable, lasting impression on her audience.