Victoria Symphony soars in Quebec City palais

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

QUEBEC CITY — I awoke to the sounds of a flute playing Copland’s Appalachian Spring in a far-off room, and was it a violin shimmering in the distance as well? I think so.

“Surely there is something unusual going on in this hotel,” I heard a man say to his wife in the hallway as I made my way down to breakfast. (Highlight of breakfast being the large bowl of coffee that is a true latté.)

The musicians woke up to a beautiful snow-filled Quebec City, the Old Town beckoning us from our Hilton Hotel where we overlooked its stately beauty and beyond to the St. Lawrence River.

Musicians are not an early-morning bunch at the best of times, and with the three-hour time change everyone was relaxed about getting started for the day.

Our first formal responsibility of the tour day was an acoustic rehearsal in the afternoon (a short rehearsal of 50 minutes where the orchestra can get a feeling for the acoustics of the hall and fix some last-minute notes and jitters).

As a result, most of the orchestra chose to explore Quebec City’s Old Town in the morning and early afternoon.

As I walked around, I enjoyed seeing small groups of our musicians exploring the Notre-Dame Basilica-Cathedral, the beautiful Château Frontenac and the lower Old Town, which we took the Funicular to reach (a small train that climbs the hill and connects the High Old Town with the Lower Old Town).

In this area is the Musée de la Civilisation, a wonderful museum that had a Modern Dance exhibit featuring Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring.

Eventually, the responsibilities of the day brought us to the concert hall for the rehearsal at the Palais Montcalm.

Home to the wonderful baroque orchestra Les Violons du Roy and its director, Bernard Labadie, this was a perfect hall with which to begin our tour.

The acoustics were resonant and warm, although in the rehearsal, perhaps too resonant. We knew that the audience that evening would soak up some of the sound.

I have to say that this was a stressful rehearsal. Everyone seemed to be on edge, and the virtuosic and technical parts of the orchestral pieces were fraying at the edges and scattered.

But we all took this as a good omen for success at the concert. We never make the same mistakes twice!

An imperfect rehearsal is usually the recipe for an extraordinary concert.

I’m happy to tell you that this is exactly what happened to us at the Palais Montcalm.

The concert was attended by a warm audience, some of whom were musicians from the Quebec Symphony.

As the Palais Montcalm is only a 900-seat theatre, it felt cosy and reassuring to start the Eastern part of the tour in this place. The concert was excellent (in my humble opinion).

The musicians focused, and premièred Michael Oesterle’s piece with dance-like precision, followed Stewart Goodyear through a truly spontaneous and riveting performance of the Grieg Piano Concerto, and shone in their performances of Copland’s Appalachian Spring and the Stravinsky Firebird.

I realized this afternoon that I had picked a risky program. Often, there is room for blurred edges in much of the Romantic repertoire that we do.
With this 20th-century repertoire of Copland and Stravinsky, there needed to be clean edges and absolutely unanimous rhythm.

The orchestra really lived up to that risk tonight.

At 2 a.m. I am here in my hotel room writing to you, and I have a sneaky feeling that the musicians are all celebrating somewhere special (after eating the famous poutine at Ashton’s) — cheering on their first step in the tour.

Next on the tour is one of the big pressures — Roy Thomson Hall in Toronto.

I think we are ready to tackle the Big City. This will be a real intensification of the tour and we fly out ready, I think (I hope), for this next important challenge as we share the great qualities of Victoria with the East.

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