Stuck in Denmark, symphony conductor sends valentine to Victoria

ON STAGE

What: A Greeting From Denmark
Where: victoriasymphony.ca
When: Premieres Thursday, Jan. 21, 7:30 p.m.
Tickets: Free (donations accepted)

Adjusting with little notice to ever-changing COVID-19-related protocols is no easy task, but it can sometimes yield something original and worthy in its own right.

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A Greeting From Denmark is evidence of that. The Victoria Symphony presentation, which premières tonight on victoriasymphony.ca, is a valentine to Victoria from music director Christian Kluxen. The conductor, who has been stationed in his native Denmark for the past year, used a program of music from Denmark as a way of reconnecting with his colleagues and audience on Vancouver Island, while sharing a bit of his homeland with his adopted one.

“He left once the lockdown started in March, fearing that he might not be able to get back to Denmark, but he has been very active in the programming of this virtual season over Zoom,” said associate conductor Giuseppe Pietraroia, who has been overseeing orchestra activities with concertmaster Terence Tam in Kluxen’s absence.

The orchestra was under Pietraroia’s baton for the taping of A Greeting From Denmark several weeks ago. The finished product will include the 40-minute performance, along with several additions, including a video address from Kluxen.

Kluxen has appeared on camera during several virtual performances by the Victoria Symphony, but he wanted to up his presence on A Greeting From Denmark. While he has been programming the symphony remotely since October, in previous years, he would spend up to five months here during the symphony’s season.

Pietraroia said the symphony has had a good response to its virtual season, which runs until the end of June. “I think a lot of people are really appreciative. You have to stay vibrant, you have to keep a connection with your audience, and this is one way we can do it.”

But he said not having an in-person connection with the ensemble has been difficult for Kluxen. “He’s been here a few years and he has built those relationships. You don’t want to lose that. You don’t want have to start over again.”

Pietraroia described the program as “a musical postcard” from Kluxen, as several substantial pieces from Scandinavia are included. Kluxen chose music by the Danish String Quartet for its vivid evocation of Scandinavian folk music, while composer Carl Nielsen’s Suite for String Orchestra was included because of Nielsen’s long-held reputation as the national composer of Denmark.

Kluxen asked his childhood friend Rune Tonsgaard Sorensen, a violinist with the Danish String Quartet, to arrange a suite of folk songs from Denmark’s Faroe Islands for the program, and the results were surprisingly Canadian, Pietraroia said with a laugh. The two friends will appear together in the video premièring today.

“When we were playing it, at one point one of the tunes could have been from a Nova Scotian kitchen party,” he said. “It’s a charming piece, very colourful. A very lively piece as well.”

The symphony recently taped an upcoming performance on the stage of the Royal Theatre, its longtime home (recent performances were taped at either the University of Victoria’s Farquhar Auditorium or at Christ Church Cathedral). Going back into the Royal Theatre, whose stage has been redesigned to accommodate an increased number of socially distanced orchestra members, was inspiring as a step in the right direction, Pietraroia said.

But much more will have to change before the old-fashioned feelings return, he added — namely, audiences.

“The biggest difference is not having an audience there. You feel the audience, you feel the energy when you come out and feel it during a performance. When you’re performing for a bunch of cameras, you finish — and there’s nothing. There’s no applause, there’s no sort of reaction. I didn’t realize how nerve-wracking it would be to play for an empty hall, and only cameras.”

mdevlin@timescolonist.com

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