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Beethoven Symphony No. 7

5 November 2023 @ 2:30 pm

Kalena Bovell has a distinctive voice as a maestra, speaker, and poet. The Panamanian-American conductor is an Awardee of the 2022-2024 Taki Alsop Conducting Fellowship, and serves as Assistant Conductor of the Memphis Symphony Orchestra. She premieres a VS/VSO co-commission by the Metchosin-born composer Cassandra Miller and welcomes the award-winning B.C. guitarist Alan Liu for courtly dances in the Concierto de Aranjuez. Wagner proclaimed the praises of Beethoven’s Seventh, calling it the “apotheosis of the dance” for its endless and varied rhythmic drive.

Concert underwritten by the Potash Family Foundation


Kalena Bovell, conductor

With her distinctive voice as maestra, speaker, and poet, critics praise Panamanian-American conductor Kalena Bovell as “one of the brightest stars in classical music.” (Channel 3 News, Connecticut). Propelled by a steadfast commitment to musical excellence and community access, her recent achievements include receiving the prestigious 2024 Sphinx Medal of Excellence—the highest honor bestowed by the Sphinx Organization—and becoming the first Black woman to conduct an opera in Canada, conducting a world premiere reimagination of Scott Joplin’s Treemonisha.

Bovell’s 2023-2024 season sees her traverse Canada, the U.S. and Switzerland: in North America, including debut performances with the Minnesota Orchestra, Louisiana Philharmonic, Cincinnati Symphony, Colorado Music Festival, Hamilton Philharmonic, and the Victoria Symphony. Her career has had particularly memorable moments, including leading the Chineke! Orchestra at the BBC Proms and conducting Kevin Thomas’s Firebird with the Collage Dance Collective as a part of the Kennedy Center’s “Reframing the Narrative”. In 2022, her featured appearance on the Chineke! Orchestra’s 2022 album Coleridge-Taylor (Chineke! Records) earned praise as “overflowing with descriptive imagination” from The Financial Times.

Until 2023, Bovell made her home in Memphis as Assistant Conductor of the Memphis Symphony Orchestra and Conductor of the MSO Youth Orchestra. There, she led some of the MSO’s more memorable events, from sharing the stage with Hamilton star Leslie Odom Jr. to conducting former Music Director Mei-Ann Chen’s farewell concerts.

Off the podium Bovell strives to inspire potential artists from overlooked backgrounds, hoping to help those like herself who entered music later in life than their peers. Her unconventional career path has been chronicled by the BBC, the League of American Orchestras, and similar news outlets, organizations, and universities.


Alan Liu, classical guitar

“Just wow.”

When named as a 14-year-old teenager to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s “30 Hot Musicians Under 30”, Chinese-Canadian guitarist Alan Liu’s talent was recognized by the commentator’s succinct and compelling summation: “Just wow.”

Beginning with the earliest stages of his musical journey, Liu was an active competitor, receiving his first national prize at seven. From age twelve to fourteen, he earned several awards in North America and Europe, including first prizes in the Guitar Foundation of America International Youth
Competition, Guitare Montreal International Youth Competition, Northwest International Artist Competition, and Federation of Canadian Music Festivals Guitar Competition, as well as additional prizes in the Parkening International Youth Guitarist Competition and Michele Pittaluga Junior Guitar Competition. Recent awards include first prizes in the Mercatali Gorizia, Josefina P. Tuason, Indiana, and Houston International Classical Guitar Competitions. He also won third prize in the most prestigious competition for solo classical guitar, the Guitar Foundation of America International Concert Artist Competition.

In addition to concerti performances with the Vancouver Symphony, Prince George Symphony, and Juilliard Chamber Orchestra, he has played on the Philadelphia, Seattle, Toronto, and Vancouver classical guitar societies’ concert series. In 2023, he debuted at Lincoln Center in New York with Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez. Additionally, he has been a featured performer at the Crown, Montreal, and QinLing International Guitar Festivals.

Currently 21 years old and a Master of Music degree candidate, Liu studies with Sharon Isbin at the Juilliard School, where he receives the Augustine Fellowship, McCabe Guitar Fellowship, and C. & H. Lewine Scholarship. Liu received his Bachelor of Music degree from the Curtis Institute of Music, studying with David Starobin and Jason Vieaux. He is also an alumnus of the Aspen Music Festival.

Liu plays on Augustine Strings, inventor of the nylon strings for guitar, and uses instruments made by renowned luthiers Martin Blackwell and Altamira Guitar’s Hanson Yao. He is both an Augustine and Altamira Artist.


NOVEMBER 5, 2023

Cassandra Miller’s Swim was co-commissioned by the Victoria Symphony and Vancouver Symphony Orchestra supported by the Hugh Davidson Fund at the Victoria Foundation, and Royal Northern Sinfonia. The first performance was given by Royal Northern Sinfonia conducted by Dinis Sousa at Sage Gateshead, UK on September 16, 2023.

This is a piece about Robert Schumann, imagining him going for a swim, letting his psyche dissolve there in deep waters, in the repetitive motion of arm-arcs one after the other, left-right, left-right. Swim grew out of a short excerpt of a plaintive brass chorale, found in the fourth movement of Schumann’s Symphony No. 3. It is his “Rhenish” Symphony—however Swim imagines him bathing not in the Rhine (as he did once, almost fatally), but in a cool lake—in a link to the work of Canadian poet Anne Carson. The piece is, all told, as much about Carson as Schumann.

At first, I took each two-chord gesture of the Schumann excerpt and repeated it, in right-left slowness (and blurred it, as if underwater). Each section of Swim then explores images from Carson’s essay, “Water Margins: An Essay on Swimming by My Brother” (as found in the publication Plainwater: essays and poetry, 1995). In Schumann’s original, his chords are imbued with heroic, romantic ideologies, sounding grandiose. In Swim, they take on my own ordinary and resolutely non-heroic feelings about swimming, via Carson’s imagery: dull and vivid colours, quotidian repetition, and cold revery.

Swim is dedicated to my mother, the lake swimmer.

Note by Cassandra Miller

More about the composer

Cassandra Miller is represented by Faber Music

Reliable statistics are hard to come by, but it’s probable that the guitar is the most popular instrument on at least five of the world’s seven continents—and perhaps six, if you count the regular jam sessions held at McMurdo Station, a research facility just off the coast of Antarctica. Yet it’s remarkable that the instrument is almost never featured in orchestral concerts—although, admittedly, there are good reasons for this, mostly having to do with the difficulty of finding an acceptable balance between ensemble and soloist.

Acoustic guitars are too quiet, most conductors and composers say, while electric guitars are too loud.

And in the rare instances when the guitar is featured, as it will be in this Victoria Symphony program starring virtuoso Alan Liu and guest conductor Kalena Bovell, the odds are good that the work being performed will be Joaquin Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez. Such has been the case ever since Regino Sainz de la Maza premiered the work in Barcelona in 1940; with dashing rhythms borrowed from traditional flamenco and sensitive orchestration, it is simultaneously exotic, folkloric, accessible, and sophisticated.

Performing Rodrigo’s masterpiece is a rite of passage for any classical guitarist, and the 21-year-old Liu will be in good company. Julian Bream, although perhaps best known for almost single-handedly sparking a revival of interest in English composers from the Elizabethan era, made a landmark recording of the Concierto de Aranjuez in 1951, when he was only 17, and went on to record it four more times. Flamenco innovator Paco de Lucia reportedly learned to read music so that he could perform the Concierto de Aranjuez; Rodrigo counted it among his favourite interpretations. Andres Segovia, oddly enough, never recorded Rodrigo’s masterpiece, but considered it “a wonderful success” and “truly beautiful”. And Jim Hall, jazz guitar’s intellectual titan, recorded a somewhat abridged version with a band including Chet Baker, Paul Desmond, and Ron Carter. Rodrigo’s opinion, as far as we know, is not on record.

Ironically, though, the most famous version of the Concierto de Aranjuez did not involve a symphony orchestra, nor did it feature the guitar. This came about because, in 1959, a friend had played Renata Tarregó’s recording of the concerto for the jazz trumpeter Miles Davis, who had promptly fallen head-over-heels in love. “After listening to it for a couple of weeks,” Davis told jazz journalist Nat Hentoff, “I couldn’t get it out of my mind.”

Davis soon enlisted his Canadian-born arranger, Gil Evans, to arrange the Concierto’s second movement, along with an excerpt of Manuel de Falla’s 1915 ballet score El amor brujo and three folkloric themes for their 1960 Sketches of Spain album. It was a hit, but not with Rodrigo. Although the composer was credited he had not been consulted beforehand, and he was initially outraged by this oversight. Rumour has it, though, that he was considerably placated when Sketches of Spain made the Concierto broadly famous, and American royalty money came rolling in.

At this point you may well be asking what Rodrigo’s beautiful but essentially conservative 20th-century concerto has in common with the other featured work on this program, Ludwig van Beethoven’s innovative 19th-century classic, the Symphony No. 7 in A major. It’s a good question.

Perhaps these two pieces, joined here by the premiere of a work by Metchosin-born composer Cassandra Miller (* see note above), are best seen as mirror images. Despite its generally sunny disposition, the Concierto de Aranjuez contains an undercurrent of despair that emerges fully only in its second movement. It had been generally supposed that this was in some way an elegy for the Spanish Republicans who had died in the country’s brutal civil war, but some years after the Concierto’s debut it was revealed that while Rodrigo’s sorrow was genuine, it had a more personal source: a miscarriage his wife had suffered during the compositional process.

The Symphony No. 7, in contrast, is marked by Beethoven’s usual seriousness of purpose, but its final allegro con brio movement is a change of pace—in this case to a madcap sequence so rollicking that the composer himself, conducting its 1813 debut, was seen leaping on the podium like a feral goat, and “tearing his arms with a great vehemence asunder”, according to violinist Louis Spohr, who was on the stage. Off stage, the audience was similarly impassioned, demanding a repeat performance of that final movement.

Both then and in the two centuries since, others have been less enthusiastic. Pianist and critic Friedrich Wieck accused Beethoven of having written the Symphony No. 7 while drunk, and the conductor Thomas Beecham took the goat metaphor a little further when, assessing the third movement, he commented “What can you do with it? It’s like a lot of yaks jumping about.”

Frankly, many of us would pay good money to see yaks and goats cavorting on the Farquhar stage; consider the international success of Cavalia. A new revenue stream for the Victoria Symphony? Probably not, so we will have to content ourselves with the orchestra’s stock in trade: energizing performances of excellent music.

Notes by Alex Varty


Cassandra Miller (1976—)
Swim – premiere, VS/VSO co-commission
Supported by the Hugh Davidson Fund at the Victoria Foundation, and by Royal Northern Sinfonia

Joaquin Rodrigo (1901—1999)
Concierto de Aranjuez 
Allegro con spirito
Allegro gentile


Ludwig van Beethoven (1770—1827)
Symphony No. 7 in A major, Op. 92
Poco sostenuto – Vivace
Allegro con brio

BEETHOVEN: Symphony No. 7 in A major
Performed by the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra
Conductor: Iván Fischer


RODRIGO: Concierto de Aranjuez
Performed by the Berliner Philharmoniker
Conductor: Kirill Petrenko


Capriccio Diabolico, Op. 85 by Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco
Performed by Alan Liu



5 November 2023
starts at 2:30 pm


Victoria Symphony


Farquhar at UVic
University Farquhar Auditorium, Ring Road
Victoria, BC V8P 5C2 Canada
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Concert Programme

  • Cassandra Miller
    Swim – premiere, VS/VSO co-commission with the support of Hugh Davidson Fund at the Victoria Foundation
  • Rodrigo
    Concierto de Aranjuez
  • Beethoven
    Symphony No. 7 in A major