FEBRUARY 11, 2024
KLUXEN – SHOSTAKOVICH SYMPHONY No. 5
For all the hand-wringing over the aging of the classical-music audience, there’s no need to worry about where the next generation of classical-music performers will come from, because it’s already here. In the Victoria Symphony’s 2023-24 season alone, we will be treated to scintillating performances by 23-year-old guitar prodigy Alan Liu, 22-year-old superstar violinist Kevin Zhu, and the orchestra’s new principal flutist, the effervescent, 23-year-old Arin Sarkissian. As for the players hoping to supplant them in future, they’re here too—or at least they will be when the Greater Victoria Youth Orchestra joins forces with music director Christian Kluxen’s forces in music by George Enescu, Camille Saint-Saëns, and Dmitri Shostakovich.
Not all the musicians in the GVYO will go on to become professional musicians, but it’s probable that they’ll remain life-long music lovers, even if this concert is the first and only time they’ll share the stage with true professionals. And to make the occasion truly memorable, Kluxen has a plan.
“The primary thing,” he says, “is to do a program which I know that the youth, they will love to play.”
Now, it’s true that Dmitri Shostakovich seems to have been born old and serious and worried, but the Russian composer’s Symphony No. 5 in D minor has become a youth-orchestra staple, and for good reason. “It’s not overly technically demanding,” Kluxen explains, “but it has a lot of emotional depth to it, and I think young players, teenagers and so forth, they can relate to this whole thing that plays out in the last movement, where all the strings, they just saw away while the brass plays these forceful, anti-triumphant things. You think it’s triumphant, but then you find out that it’s anti-triumphant.”
The conductor sings a bar to make his point. “This is obviously to show that here is a triumphant march which we are forced to sing and we are forced to march, like soldiers,” he says. “Young people can relate to this, where they feel forced into something by their own body, or by their parents, or by not wanting to go to school any more, or by being frustrated by the world… The inner frustration that Shostakovich puts into the music is easy to pick up by a frustrated teenager. So that’s one of the reasons for doing this. But also it’s playable by everyone. It’s well written, effectively well-written, so that young people can play it and have fun playing it.
“In that sense,” he adds, “it has what my old teachers used to call ‘potatoes and gravy’. You can just basically do it, and it will feel good, and it’s tasty in itself.”
Saint-Saëns’s Cello Concerto No. 1 in A minor adds French flavour and Romantic flair to the mix, as well as offering the Victoria Symphony’s principal cellist, Brian Yoon, a chance to shine. Appropriately enough, it’s a score that the BC-raised Yoon has been working on since he was a teenager, but it’s hardly child’s play.
“It’s actually a challenging work,” the cellist contends. “However, it’s also very well-written for the cello, showcasing the full range of the instrument in the most effective ways. Exciting passagework and double-stopping provide ample opportunities for the soloist to dazzle, and beautiful melodies in each of the three parts (or movements) allow the instrument to do what it does best—play a singing line.”
Will Yoon show off a bit in this cello-friendly composition? Well, possibly.
“It’s going to be a lot of fun for me, because I will have some of my students playing in the orchestra,” he says. “It will be nice to share the stage with them!”
For Enescu’s Romanian Rhapsody No. 2 in D major, a 1901 composition with a noticeable Balkan flavour, Kluxen will cede the podium to Yariv Aloni, a wise choice. Not only is Aloni the music director of the Greater Victoria Youth Orchestra, before moving to Canada’s West Coast he was a member of the esteemed Penderecki String Quartet, specializing in Eastern European music both old and new.
“He is a really well-rounded musician: a brilliant viola player and a brilliant conductor,” Kluxen says. “All the work that he does is what we’re feeding off in the community, and it’s not good enough for young people to have someone second-rate. They need people like him.”
The GVYO musicians can consider themselves lucky that they do—and so can we all.
Notes by Alex Varty