Victoria Symphony director Kluxen back with orchestra after 18 months in Denmark

MUSIC

What: Victoria Symphony plays Schubert Symphony No. 9 in C Major
Where: Farquhar Auditorium,
University of Victoria, 3800 Finnerty Rd.
When: Sunday, Sept. 19, 2:30 p.m.
Tickets: Sold out
Information: 250-721-8480

The wait is over.

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The Victoria Symphony returns to in-person performances on Sunday for the first time in 18 months, with a performance of Franz Schubert’s Symphony No. 9 in C Major. Adding yet more excitement to the proceedings, the kick-off to the symphony’s upcoming 2020-2021 season also marks the long-awaited return of music director Christian Kluxen, who arrived home in Victoria last Sunday.

The performance at the University of Victoria’s Farquhar Auditorium, which is sold-out, caps a year-and-a-half absence during which Kluxen was forced to work remotely from his native Copenhagen.

He kept in contact with the symphony almost daily through email, text-messaging, and video-conferencing, and remained involved in all artistic decisions as the company moved to an online model.

He also greeted audiences via video chat before each pandemic performance, which kept him in the loop on stage and off.

“It has been a patchwork of possibilities. It has been incredibly rewarding,” Kluxen said. “But it was also hugely important for me to experience how the orchestra develops with me not being there.”

“Apathy and shock” was how Kluxen described the early stages of COVID-19, when the symphony wasn’t staging any performances, online or otherwise. He remained in Europe at the behest of Mette Frederiksen, the prime minister of Denmark, who ordered all ex-pats home immediately at the outset of the pandemic. Kluxen said he left the symphony in a hurry, on March 12, 2020, thinking he might be gone a couple of months at most.

“All of that, in its suddenness, felt quite dramatic. Had I known that I would not be back for one year and six months, it would have felt even more dramatic.”

When he landed back in Victoria last week, Kluxen hit the ground running. He joined the orchestra for an in-person rehearsal on Wednesday, throughout which emotions ran high. “Coming back and going onto the stage, it felt like I had just left yesterday,” he said. “I was very happy to see everyone again. This is an orchestra I put my soul and my sweat into.”

The celebratory atmosphere was eventually replaced by one of stern commitment to a cause, he added. “We all wanted to get on with it. Everyone is so tired of dwelling on waiting periods — people are just dying to get back to a world where you can go to work and make music without there being any drama. We don’t need much. We just need to get back to work.”

Kluxen remained hands-on as chief conductor of the Norwegian Arctic Philharmonic while he was away from Victoria, but he is happy to turn his attention back to the Victoria Symphony. He purposely chose Symphony No. 9 in C Major as a soundtrack to the celebration, a technical and complex hour-long symphony that is often referred to as The Great.

Kluxen figured if he was going to come back big, he might as well come back reallybig.

“It’s a huge piece,” he said with a laugh. “It demands that you put something into it, it’s really not a piece that just plays itself. It’s not just making the sounds, it’s knowing the form. If I picked a random conductor to conduct it, it could been seen as punishment. I would not give this to anyone.”

The Victoria Symphony’s new season features a hybrid of in-person and online concerts, with reduced-capacity performances at both the Farquhar Auditorium (300-person capacity) and Christ Church Cathedral (120 capacity). The symphony will be under Kluxen’s baton Sept. 26 for another symphonic staple — Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 9 — so both he and his musicians will need to find a rhythm in a hurry.

He isn’t worried in either regard, nor is he doubting the role the audience will play as the Victoria Symphony comes out of a very difficult period. “The value of the audience actually being in the hall is really not to be underestimated. That will give us a great, wonderful energy. We are not always so priveleged to have a sold-out hall. It feels comforting to know that we can make music again.”

mdevlin@timescolonist.com

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