Symphony rises to challenge in Ottawa

The Victoria Symphony left on Monday on its first national tour, part of the celebrations for its 75th-anniversary season. Music director Tania Miller is writing about her impressions of the orchestra’s experience as it travels and performs.


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Today’s story is about perseverance and dogged determination. It’s the story of how the musicians of the Victoria Symphony showed the world their indomitable spirit, both individually and collectively. You would have been so proud of them, as I am.

Performing at Ottawa’s National Arts Centre on Friday night was, frankly, a challenge. Southam Hall is a wonderful, plush and glittering environment, but the stage was difficult for us. We were widely spaced apart from one another, and the sheer size of the playing space was daunting. Moreover, we didn’t have the opportunity for an acoustic rehearsal. Why? Because the musicians were travelling all day on a bus from Toronto to Ottawa, and arrived in the mid-afternoon with barely enough time to rest before beginning preparations for the concert. The bus left from Toronto at 9:30 a.m. and arrived after 3 p.m.

The concert at the National Arts Centre was important. After all, the National Arts Centre was the first to invite us to play, and thus got the opportunity for a tour rolling. It’s part of their mandate to present artists from across the country in the nation’s capital. The Program Officer of the Canada Council for the Arts, Daniel Swift, would be there and other dignitaries and important musical minds, not to mention the wonderful musicians of the National Arts Centre Orchestra.

The concert was well attended. It was going well through the first half, but it was in Copland’s Appalachian Spring, a work that requires the ultimate of precision and group ensemble playing, that we started to unravel with the strange acoustics.

What I saw and felt next was what I want to tell you about. When a few measures started to come undone, and there were moments where we couldn’t hear each other with clarity, I literally felt the orchestra bow their heads with determination and defy any acceptance of acquiescing to it. I felt this well-spring of force come out of the orchestra, through their sound, their care, their eyes, that told me that they weren’t going to let this performance down. Not only did they persevere to create in Appalachian Spring some of the most beautiful and heartfelt and human playing we have yet done, but they went on to triumph in the performance of the final piece, Stravinsky’s Firebird.

The Ottawa Citizen review just came out, already on this very night of the performance: “But if the Copland was satisfying,” it said, “Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite was a revelation: a massive, two-ton sound, spectacular brass, electrifying strings, verve and passion and volcanic energy. Who knew such a vehemently Russian performance could come out of prim Victoria?”

That’s what the performance was. It wasn’t perfect, but it was vehement, it was determined to prove its worth, and to share the essence, the inner essence, of what it is to be from Victoria and to be a musician of the Victoria Symphony. You would have rejoiced to see the Ottawa audience leap to their feet in enthusiasm and absolute joy. They loved the concert.

The next morning, the musicians explored the city and took the opportunity to see the Parliament Buildings and the National Art Gallery, among other attractions.

As you read this over your Sunday morning coffee, we have already flown to Vancouver to prepare for our concert in the Orpheum this afternoon. I am personally excited about this stop. Not only did I start my career with the Vancouver Symphony as its assistant conductor, but also, for a moment, I am home with my boys and husband and know that they will be in the audience cheering us on.

The excitement continues to build as we draw nearer to the final homecoming concert of the tour with our own special audience in the Royal Theatre tomorrow night. We look forward to celebrating with all of you.

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