On the Road Blog with Maestra Miller
…continued from 75th Legacy Tour page (April 6)
With those final chords still ringing in my ears, I can’t help but reflect on what it all meant.
“Why should the Victoria Symphony go on tour?” That was the question asked of me as we started to talk about this tour three years ago.
Perhaps at the time, I had only a hazy perception of its potential rather than the crystallized version that I have in my mind now. Like all great things we do, risks have to be taken and we have to push ourselves into new places.
Sometimes we discover a hidden capacity and power in ourselves that we didn’t know existed until we take those steps. After all, this was the experience of a young farm kid once, driving away from Saskatchewan with enthusiasm for an unknown future.
Greatness is revealed when you have a vision for that greatness. This is the story of the Victoria Symphony and the story of Victoria itself. This 75th Legacy Tour taught us again that it is in reaching for something that we shed our past and emerge as something new, just as the Firebird of our final piece re-emerges in victory out of the ashes.
On Monday night, the Victoria Symphony felt changed, like we had all grown up and wanted to be understood for our new selves. It was a great feeling to perform for our own audience in our own hall.
The concert felt easy and natural, like we had been performing this way our whole lives. It was great to take a moment to celebrate our community, our supporters, our fans, our culture and to share with our audience all that we had become over the past week, and, indeed, the last years leading up to this moment.
One thing I know from this tour, and wish all of you could have experienced, was the sound of your orchestra in other halls. The Royal Theatre, and its acoustic challenges, prepared us well for the tour. But the past week has re-energized me to find ways to work together to enhance the sound experience for our orchestra and home audience alike.
The tour also demonstrated the ambassadorial role that the Symphony performed for Victoria. The orchestra represented a community that has vibrant interest and appreciation for the arts. “Prim Victoria” re-emerged itself as fiery and full of “volcanic energy”, The small orchestra that was expected presented itself instead like a large glittering force. Whatever it was that these various cities expected, we exceeded it.
Music is about conveying beauty, expression, and humanity through sound. It changes us when we place ourselves in its midst. For the orchestra, the opportunity to perform this great music together while representing our community to the country, and sharing with others who we are and what we stand for, was a unique and precious experience that changed all of us forever.
When you hear the Victoria Symphony perform with an added dimension that you can’t quite tangibly explain, you’ll know that it’s the magic that the music brought to all of us, as the gift that it is, changed us.
And when you join us, or any of the incredible arts presentations in this community, you will feel the blessing of what it is to live in a beautiful community that nurtures and experiences the arts together.
This tour was a special celebration of the 75th anniversary of the Victoria Symphony. May it enjoy another great 75 years. And you, the caretakers of our culture, will ensure that this will be so.
**Printed in the Times Colonist on April 6, 2016**
…continued from 75th Legacy Tour page (April 5)
But wait! Some of the musicians will be rehearsing all day for the coming Victoria Choral Society concert of Mendelssohn’s Symphony #2. Others are practising for Wednesday’s opening rehearsals of POV’s spectacular upcoming opera, Britten’s Midsummer Night’s Dream. Well, some of the musicians must be relaxing. (Again, I assure you that I will be.)
As I write this, we have just finished a spectacular concert at The Orpheum in Vancouver. This old vaudeville theatre was scheduled to be demolished in the early ’70s and saved through public protest and the city’s mayor before becoming the beautiful home of the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra.
The hall was a treasure to play in. We heard our sounds bloom and float without effort, journeying through warm woods and a resonant dome-shaped space with a gorgeous painted ceiling. I think this might have been our best concert yet on the tour, although tomorrow I still have yet to describe our final performance back home in the Royal Theatre.
The Victoria Symphony is so unified now, so focused into one living and breathing musical entity that it almost feels easy to perform brilliantly. After all these days together on tour, we know and trust each other in new ways and read each musical nuance like the unspoken understandings of an old married couple. (I wish I was there to see the musicians’ faces when they read this.)
The audience always sees the sparkling orchestra up on stage, but some of the great heroes of this tour were the silent ones behind the scenes. One of these showed his resilience and determination in the face of significant adversity as we travelled from the east back to Vancouver. This was our gallant stage manager, Eric Gallipo.
You may wonder how we got all of our instruments to the east and back. Small instruments such as violins, horns and even trombones travelled as carry-on luggage on the airplane. You’ve probably experienced the stress and chaos on the airplane when passengers are scrambling to cram their bags into the overhead bins. Well, you’ve never travelled with an orchestra, so count yourself lucky!
Some of the largest instruments, such as harp and timpani, were borrowed in each of the cities we visited. But those in between, including cellos and basses, had to be shipped via cargo plane. Eric had to organize and ship the cargo, fly to Montreal early, rent a truck and from that point drive the instruments around from city to city. As you can imagine, this required many long hours and thousands of kilometres of driving. With a 13-hour drive between Quebec City and Toronto, just to name one, you understand what kind of life Eric was leading for our orchestra.
When we were preparing to fly from Ottawa to Vancouver, disaster struck. Eric was driving the truck from Ottawa to the Montreal airport where the cargo flight was scheduled to ship our large string instruments. Hearing an alarming clunking sound from below, he looked under the truck to see a big fan belt dangling loose. Faced with a decision to carry on or miss the flight, he drove with a white-knuckled grip, braced for smoke or engine failure at any moment.
When he arrived unscathed, more bad news was awaiting him. The cargo flight that the cellos and basses were scheduled to fly on was cancelled! Air Canada, scurrying to find an alternative, could only offer smaller planes that could accommodate the cellos. The basses were left behind and destined to miss the concert.
Eric sent distress signals in every direction, and new basses were located through the Vancouver Symphony.
Defeated and tired, Eric landed in Vancouver at 1:30 a.m., bass-less, sleeping for only a few hours before driving back to the airport, twice, to pick up various instruments coming in on a variety of flights. It seems our own basses didn’t want to miss this exciting concert though, and they arrived just in time.
Wednesday, I plan to share my last thoughts about this amazing experience and opportunity for the Victoria Symphony. Meanwhile, although I look forward to a full night’s rest, and being home with my family, I am sad that this incredible tour is over.
**Printed in the Times Colonist on April 5, 2016**
…continued from 75th Legacy Tour page (April 3)
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.
**Printed in the Times Colonist on April 3, 2016**
…continued from 75th Legacy Tour page (April 2)
All these emotions, and more, were felt by the musicians of the Victoria Symphony as they woke up in Toronto with the task of entering Roy Thomson Hall. A musician told me as she went by: “I’m nervous. I’m not usually, but today is different.” The stakes were high.
Of all of the stops on our tour, Toronto felt the most daunting. As I write this, I know how we played the concert, but I do not yet know how we will be judged. I don’t know what the critics in Toronto will say about our Victoria Symphony.
Let me go back a few steps. After the Quebec City concert, we were all riding high. I left you, in my last write-up, with the impression that the musicians were likely celebrating the night away. From the sight of them the next day at the airport, my suspicions were correct.
After a relaxing short flight to Toronto, we checked into our hotel, a short walking distance from Roy Thomson Hall, by dinnertime. Everyone was excited to catch a piece of Toronto and not to let the night go by without doing or seeing something special, while, at the same time, I knew that everyone was already getting mentally focused on the concert the next day. Musicians scattered in all directions — to the Raptors basketball game, to the Art Gallery of Ontario, to dinners with family and old school friends, but also home to an early night.
In the morning, we had an acoustic rehearsal, our last rehearsal of the trip. Roy Thomson Hall is a large, modern hall that seats 2,600, and I worried it would swallow up our sound. However, it didn’t. It was resonant and, if anything, it seemed to build us up.
Toronto players had warned us that it is sometimes difficult to hear each other on stage, but this didn’t seem to be a problem most of the time. The hall seemed to fit our orchestra perfectly.
Roy Thomson Hall was nicely full at 2 p.m. when the concert began. We were so excited to see a large audience! I think Toronto must have been suffering from a spring-cold epidemic from the sounds of coughing during the concert. But not to worry, there was no coughing in the loud parts of the music, just the quietest moments.
The orchestra performed Michael Oesterle’s opening piece Entr’actes calmly and cleanly, which seemed to bode well for the rest of the program. In fact, this is a perfect opener, as it’s full of surprises, variety and fun. Stewart Goodyear knocked everyone out with his powerful performance of the Grieg Piano Concerto. The audience jumped to its feet in admiration.
After an intermission, the orchestra performed the most beautiful Copland Appalachian Spring I’ve heard them play, and crowned it all with a truly triumphant Stravinsky Firebird Suite. The audience roared and screamed (well, some of them were from Victoria, it is true) and rose to their feet for our Victoria Symphony.
It was an experience that we will always remember and be proud of.
After the show, many of the players went out to celebrate the 50th birthday of one of their beloved colleagues: our bass-trombonist Bob Fraser. Following a night’s rest, we travelled to Ottawa for the next concert in the nation’s capital.
**Printed in the Times Colonist on April 2, 2016**
…continued from 75th Legacy Tour page (March 29)
The musicians woke up to a beautiful snow-filled Québec City, the Old City beckoning us from our Hilton Hotel where we overlooked it’s 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 to fix some last minute notes and jitters!). As a result, most of the orchestra chose to explore Québec 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 which had a Modern Dance exhibit featuring Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring.
Eventually, the responsibilities of the day brought each of us to the concert hall for the rehearsal at the Palais Montcalm. Home to the wonderful baroque orchestra Les Violons du Roy and their 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 they 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 Québec Symphony. As the Palais Montcalm is only a 900 seat theatre, it felt cosy and reassuring to start the Eastern part of the tour here in this place. The concert was excellent (in my humble opinion). The musicians focused, and premiered 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 am I am here in my hotel room writing to all of you, and I have a sneaky feeling that the musicians are all celebrating somewhere special – cheering on their first step in the tour. Next on the tour is one of the big pressures of the tour – 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 tomorrow ready, I think, (I hope), for this next important challenge as we share the great qualities of Victoria with the East.
**Printed in the Times Colonist on March 31, 2016**
…continued from 75th Legacy Tour page (March 28)
Saturday night in Duncan was important. We needed to know that we were ready to take the show on the road, and we were thankful to Duncan to get us started out right. Any final adjustments and ensemble issues needed to be worked out and worked out fast. The Duncan audience was warm and enthusiastic and I rode the bus back to Victoria with the feeling that we could breathe now and let the tour happen.
The program is virtuosic, intended to show different aspects of the Victoria Symphony’s character and talent, but it is revealing and risky as well. Will we be on our game in each new city? How will we be received in the East? We’ve done the preparation, and now like any great musician, athlete or actor, we need to let go, listen to each other, trust ourselves, be the music, and enjoy the experience of sharing it with others.
I am writing this Monday evening from the bus after the orchestra has touched down in Montréal as we make our final journey (for today) to Quebec City. (By the way it is snowing like crazy!) All day, our fellow travellers at the airports and on the airplanes would whisper and ask, “Who are they?”. I heard someone else say, “What’s going on?” The musicians attracted attention with their instruments slung over their shoulders and their look of youth and camaraderie, and most especially of pride. “Oh, it’s the Victoria Symphony. And they’re on a cross-Canada tour!”
What a great way to show the rest of Canada what a gem of an orchestra we have in Victoria. Tomorrow we play in Québec City, and then fly to Toronto. I’ll check in again from there.
**Printed in the Times Colonist on March 30, 2016**