THUNDER BAY, ON --- April 4, 2011 ---- By some sort of quirk I managed to get my ticket to Thursday nights Masterworks concert a week in advance, I was fortunate enough to get my customary perch in the lodges of the Thunder Bay Community Auditorium. The thought of not being able to get a seat to a symphony concert seems to many of us as remote as finding church filled to the rafters on a Sunday. That hasn’t happened for some time at my church.
Beethoven is a huge draw, we now know that Beethoven struggled with personal issues, realizing that he would never marry is part of that, and then there is the suite for custody of his nephew, whose mother Beethoven thought an unfit mother. By the time he wrote this symphony Beethoven was deaf. In spite of his personal distress Beethoven found beauty, purpose and inspiration in music. As a composer Beethoven managed to make his way on stage to direct the first performance. At the conclusion of the music he was still conducting and had to be turned to face the audience. He had not been able to hear a note of his masterpiece.
For Beethoven’s 9th to be successful requires a lot of planning. It is one thing to have one of the finest concert halls in the country as well as a great orchestra but all of the elements of the symphony, its orchestra, the soloists, and the massed choir have to be equally prepared and directed, and that takes years of planning. The Thunder Bay Symphony Chorus and the vocal ensemble of Lakehead University share the same choral director, Dean Jobin-Bevans. That makes the matter of coordinating and matching the two choirs easier. The Symphony Chorus has its own style of singing derived from the fact that they sing with orchestra. It takes a very large choir to out muscle the orchestra, let alone a beefed up TBSO like we had on stage last Thursday. The singer’s parts are doubled by the instruments of the TBSO, so to be heard and understood clearly the singers put all the emphasis they can on the pronunciation in effect articulating the instruments notes. For members of the University ensemble this would be an experience that would only come once in their entire time at Lakehead University. I suspect attendance was mandatory. The singing style of the two choirs is different yet from where I was seated the words for the Ode to Joy came through loud and clear.
For this performance the TBSO had brought in extra players, there were five French horns, and seven violinists in the first section and four in the second. There was an extra double bass (3) and a contrabassoon player playing the extra low notes. I wish the symphony could find a way to credit these extra musicians in their programme. Arthur Post did a magnificent job bringing all the elements of this performance together. The vocal soloists were located in front of the orchestra and they had the monumental task of carrying Beethoven’s message of joy above and beyond the orchestra.
Soprano Leslie Fagan I felt set the standard for the vocal quartet on stage. Perhaps it was where I was seated but I could hear and understand her clearly. For a soloist in an event like this it takes a great presence of mind to focus a lifetimes training on a few moments of music, She has the kind of experience that is valued on stage by her peers. I thought all four soloists Mia Lennox-Williams mezzo-soprano, James Maclean tenor, Jon-Paul Décose, bass baritone sang admirably.
To be sure there was other music on the programme. Mozart’s Overture to the Marriage of Figaro set the festive mood for this concert. On Piece that I had not heard before was Maxwell Davies “Orkney Wedding” It even featured some celtic pipes played by a member of the Thunder Bay Pipes and Drums.
Our Symphony Orchestra is one of the hardest working orchestra’s in the country. They richly deserved the extended applause at the end of this concert. For that matter I hope that the have more sold out events at our Community Auditorium. There is nothing like a good crowd to give a moral boost to our master music makers. Come hear Anton Kuerti play on April 28th.
Arts Editor: LakeSuperiorNews.com