Big names, new work for Victoria Symphony's season ender

What: Victoria Symphony (Signature Series): Beethoven 9, conducted by Tania Miller
When/where: Saturday, 8 p.m. (pre-concert Tania Talk at 7 p.m.); Sunday, 2:30 p.m.; Royal Theatre
Tickets: $30 to $80. Call 250-385-6515 or 250-386-6121; online at rmts.bc.ca; in person at the Royal Theatre Box Office or the Victoria Symphony (610-620 View St.)

Several times in the recent past, the Victoria Symphony has brought a season to a close with a Signature Series program devoted wholly or mostly to a single monumental choral-orchestral work.

These have included Verdi’s Requiem, Brahms’s German Requiem, and, in May 2012, Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony.

The Ninth is coming around again this weekend, to close out the current season. The symphony’s finale will feature the combined forces of the Victoria Philharmonic Choir and the Victoria Choral Society — about 160 voices — as well as four Canadian soloists with national and international reputations: soprano Leslie Ann Bradley, mezzo-soprano Susan Platts, Victoria-born tenor Richard Margison and bass-baritone Robert Gleadow.

Beethoven’s Ninth is a reliable sell (the 2012 performances sold out), but it presents a programming problem: It typically runs a little over an hour, making it too short to be a concert unto itself, but long enough to overwhelm whatever is put next to it.

The Victoria Symphony has dealt with this imbalance by making the shorter part of the program as noteworthy as possible.

In 2012, it commissioned Rodney Sharman to compose a curtain-raiser specifically for performance alongside the Ninth.

The result was his Second Symphony, which, he wrote, was “in dialogue with Classical form” — Beethoven’s symphonies in particular — and was conceived as a “companion piece” to the Ninth.

This weekend, several works, together running about half an hour, will serve as appetizers before the Ninth. The first of them will be another première: Palimpsest, by Canadian composer Jared Miller, who is completing the second leg of his three-season tenure as the Victoria Symphony’s composer-in-residence.

(His first work for the orchestra, Echoes of Autumn, was performed in November.)

Palimpsest is also in some respects a companion piece to Beethoven’s Ninth, and Miller himself chose to program it this weekend.

The Ninth is “one of my all-time favourite pieces,” he says. “As I was writing the piece, I’d be lying if I said Beethoven Nine wasn’t in the back of my mind.” His piece has the same instrumentation as the Ninth, and includes quotations from it (and from other works).

There is an element of personal nostalgia in Palimpsest, which was triggered by an incident last fall. Helping his parents downsize their home, Miller came across some musical scores from his youth, of favourite pieces by Beethoven and Tchaikovsky, in which the ink had faded or run, distorting the music.

The incident prompted him to reflect on the passage of time and on his changing perspective on music.

This is reflected in the music of his new piece, and in its title: A palimpsest is a manuscript in which the original text has been erased and overwritten, but with traces of the original still showing — in Miller’s words, “something that has changed over time and shows evidence of that change.”

Miller, 27, lives in New York, where he is a doctoral fellow in composition at the Juilliard School, but he will be here to speak about his piece before this weekend’s performances.

The first part of the program will also feature Gary Karr, the great American-born double-bass virtuoso, who has lived in Victoria since 1994. Karr formally retired in 2001 after a 40-year international career as a concert soloist, though he still performs in public, occasionally.

An appearance in the Victoria Symphony’s 75th-anniversary season is apt, not only because of his longstanding relationship with the orchestra: He will celebrate his own 75th birthday this November.

Karr will perform two short, contrasting works with orchestra, Reverie and Tarantella, by Giovanni Bottesini, a 19th-century Italian bassist, conductor and composer.
The pieces are old favourites of Karr’s, great vehicles for both the lyrical and bravura sides of his art and for the sense of humour that has so endeared him to audiences.

(An impressive and charming concert performance of these pieces that he gave in Lisbon in 2013, with pianist Harmon Lewis, his longtime partner, can be viewed on YouTube.)

Incidentally, the Victoria Symphony is holding a rehearsal tonight that is open to the public (7 p.m., Royal Theatre).

No tickets are required, but those interested should notify the orchestra (rsvp@victoriasymphony.ca).

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