The superb Canadian pianist Janina Fialkowska will perform twice this weekend with the Victoria Symphony in a Signature Series program conducted by the orchestra's music director, Tania Miller (Saturday, 8 p.m.; Sunday, 2: 30 p.m.; Royal Theatre; $33-$80; victoriasymphony.ca).
Fialkowska last performed here in 2010 in a solo recital honouring the bicentenaries of Schumann and Chopin. This weekend, she will perform Ravel's radiant G-major concerto.
Earlier this month, it was announced that Fialkowska, 60, would receive a Governor General's Performing Arts Award for "lifetime artistic achievement," though even absent this honour, her return to Victoria would have qualified as big news.
But the two other works being performed by the Victoria Symphony this weekend - Luciano Berio's Rendering (1989-90) and Shostakovich's Symphony No. 9 (1945) - are also noteworthy, making this program one of the more interesting explorations of the "Curse of Beethoven's Ninth," the unifying theme of this season's Signature Series.
Rendering is Berio's fascinating "restoration" of a threemovement, highly experimental symphony Schubert sketched shortly before his death in 1828. (It is usually called Schubert's "Tenth," though in fact he had previously completed only seven symphonies.)
"Seduced" by the sketches, which he described as "fairly complex and of great beauty," Berio fleshed out and orchestrated them in a convincingly Schubertian style, though filled in their various gaps with more modernistic "musical cement" that includes allusions to other works from Schubert's last years. Berio's aim was to create a performable version of the unfinished work "without, however, trying to disguise the damage that time has caused."
Shostakovich's Ninth is no less fascinating, especially in context. Composed near the end of the Second World War, it was expected to be a grand, heroic choral-orchestral work (like Beethoven's Ninth) celebrating the Allied-Russian victory. The end result, however, was if anything mock-heroic: a concise, lean, neoclassical work for orchestra alone, mostly lighthearted and playful in tone.
The work was much discussed in official circles - some interpreted it as a defiant finger in the pocket to the Soviet regime - and the controversy surrounding it would come back to haunt Shostakovich just a few years later.
This will be a weekend particularly rich in modern repertoire, thanks to two other concerts on Sunday, beginning with the Vox Humana chamber choir's Sacred Sounds, part of the Esquimalt Centennial Concert Series (3 p.m.; St. Paul's Historic Naval and Garrison Church; $10, 25 and under free; voxhumanachoir.ca).
The program will include world premières of works by two locals, flutist Lanny Pollet (a professor emeritus at the university) and Thomas Callow (a UVic undergraduate); Canadian premières of works by Deborah Mullan (who also lives here) and Swedish composer Michael Waldenby; music by two other Canadians, John Metcalf and Marjan Mozetich; and a pair of short pieces by Arvo PÃ¤rt, I am the true vine (1996) and Da pacem Domine (2004).
The only represented composer not still alive is Pierre Villette (1926-1998), whose Adoro te, from 1960, is the oldest work on the program. By Vox Humana's adventurous standards, this counts as "early music."
The ratio of new music is even higher in Sunday's concert of the Aventa Ensemble (8 p.m., preconcert talk 7: 15; Phillip T. Young Recital Hall; $20/$18; aventa.ca). The centrepiece of the program will be the Canadian première of The Comedy of Change (2009), by the successful English composer Julian Anderson. Born in 1967, Anderson was the London Philharmonic Orchestra's composerin-residence for 2010-11 and is currently working on a commission for the English National Opera.
The Comedy of Change, scored for 12 performers and intended as both a concert piece and a ballet, "was inspired by the notions of change in nature, as memorably observed and described by Charles Darwin in his classic book The Origin of Species," Anderson writes. "The various speeds of change you can see in nature - from very slow change in rocks or mountains to very rapid changes in animals and man - inspired me to write a set of seven movements which are highly contrasted in sound, musical character, scoring, harmony, and melodic lines."
Aventa will also perform Two Organa (1995), by Anderson's distinguished countryman Oliver Knussen (who turns 60 this year), and world premières of two Canadian works, both Aventa commissions: Dark Matters, by Vancouver-based Jeffrey Ryan; and Tell Tales for piano, horn and ensemble, by Michael Oesterle, who was born in Germany, lives in Montreal and is in the middle of the first of two seasons as the Victoria Symphony's composerin-residence.
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