Sunday, August 27, 2017

Classically Speaking

Classical music is becoming an increasingly big deal for me.  I've listened to it since I was a small boy, rifling through my parents' extremely random, small selection of LPs, immersing myself in such as Gustav Holst's "The Planets."  On and off my whole life I've dipped back in for a time, mainly the extremely obvious 'popular' classics, then drifted away from it to continue my rock 'n' roll life's journey. 

However, with Susan also having a deep appreciation for the genre, it has become a permanent feature of our listening pleasure, and over the last couple of years we've been listening to it more and more, exploring composers and works new to us.  Having previously gone about our individual morning routines without a soundtrack, this year we've started playing music over breakfast and when getting ready for work.  It's usually instrumental, sometimes jazz, but more often than not classical.  It's a great way to start the day.

This newfound and prolonged rediscovery has led to us, when thrift shopping, looking out for great or interesting classical CDs to add to our rapidly burgeoning collection, now numbering in the hundreds.  And at work I'll look out for interesting stuff, sometimes guided by regular customers and classical music authorities, Bert and Murray.  My appetite for all music has always been vociferous, but getting stuck into a genre that spans centuries, with hundreds of versions of everything, is a unique challenge presenting many great rewards.

Naturally, this has crossed over to our social life, and this year the two most powerful live concert experiences I've had have been classical concerts.  At the end of Orff's "Carmina Burana" at the Royal Theatre in Victoria, I was so moved by the power of that extraordinary piece - incredibly performed by the Victoria Symphony, under the direction of Maestra Tania Miller, and the Victoria Choral Society - that I was shaking, with tears running down my cheeks.  It's a massive piece, and to hear it live is akin to standing in a full force gale, trying to keep upright. 

Then two weekends ago we experienced a great double-header of classical awesomeness, firstly with Susan's Aunty May at Maffeo-Sutton Park for the annual free "Symphony by the Sea" concert with the Vancouver Island Symphony, under the direction of Calvin Dyck.  This concert traditionally presents the very well known variety of classical and light classical music, this year including movie themes.  Nonetheless, sitting in the sunshine with a picnic, listening to a full orchestra doing their grandiose thing, is one great way to spend a few hours.

The following evening we went to the Port Theatre for a free concert by the astonishing National Youth Orchestra, performing as part of the Canada 150 celebrations.  Oh my, what a night this was.  We sat in the 5th row downstairs, feeling the full, colossal power of this remarkable group of young musicians.  The first half had me absolutely enraptured, as one of my very favourite pieces - Modest Mussorgsky's majestic "Pictures at an Exhibition" - nearly brought the house down, provoking a five-minute standing ovation.  And this was just part one.  Part two, after a much needed interval just to calm down, brought Sergei Prokofiev's Symphony No. 1 in D Major (Op. 25), and Richard Strauss' epic "Death and Transfiguration," so after that we left the theatre euphoric and exhausted.

There is absolutely nothing in a live music scenario to match the enormous power of an orchestra.  What it must be like to be part of that, I just don't know, and cannot imagine.  When watching Canada's finest young musicians play, I spent time watching individuals - their expressions, attention to the conductor and so forth - and, though I may be reading too much into this based on my own emotional response to the music, I swear I saw one female violinist struggling to hold back tears during "The Great Gate of Kiev," the enormous, soul-stirring climax to "Pictures at an Exhibition."  It seems only natural to react in such a way, as it seems for all the world a melody sent from another planet, such is its remarkable power to move the listener.

So, as you do, we've started checking out the classical concerts taking place in Victoria in the first half of next year!  There are many concerts we fancy, particularly a performance from the Tallis Scholars at Alix Goolden Hall; an evening of the fantastic Tania Miller (whose feet left the ground several times during "Carmina Burana") conducting Rachmaninoff; Verdi's "Requiem" and, oh yes indeed, "The Planets."  There is no way I can miss that one, it being something of a portal to this world of music for me.

There is a reason classical music is still listened to hundreds of years since it was composed.  It is immortal and timeless, emotionally rewarding, and always will be.  And right now, we just cannot get enough of it.