This Remembrance Day marks one of the most important – and in some ways most difficult – commemorations in history: the centenary of WWI. This is a war of our time, of our people, of our country. This is a war that has left haunting memories for our city. There is archival footage shot right here in Victoria, of excited men marching, saying goodbye to family and friends, and embarking on ships full of pride and promise and hope for imminent success – unaware of the long years of tragedy and horror and death that lay ahead.
Lest We Forget is the Victoria Symphony’s theme for this commemoration. We must not forget; we must remember, and try to understand and feel what those who went before us felt. Music has the ability to give us understanding and feeling where words sometimes cannot. War poet Wilfred Owen, whose words Benjamin Britten set to music in his War Requiem, put it this way:
“My subject is War, and the pity of War. The poetry is in the pity. All a poet can do today is warn.”
At the Bay Street Armoury this coming Saturday, October 25th at 8pm, the Victoria Symphony presents what I know will be for all of us a uniquely evocative and moving experience in words, images and music. Real war video footage will blend with beautiful music written for the time by Ralph Vaughan Williams and John Adams. And a major new premiere by West Coast composer Tobin Stokes, focusing on the story of the Canadian Scottish Regiment’s J.C. Richardson: a piper who inspired many and received the Victoria Cross.
And then there is Britten’s War Requiem. I believe that no one should miss the opportunity to experience this monumental work. Here is a message about peace; a drama that carries us inside the horrors and confusions of war, and takes us on an emotional journey that is unparalleled in the repertoire. If you want to understand, if you want to feel, then experience Wilfred Owen’s haunting war poetry and experience Benjamin Britten’s artistic reaction to it. Owen wrote his poetry as he lay and suffered in the trenches along with so many others, before ultimately being killed in battle close to the end of the Great War. Almost half a century later, Britten turned to it for inspiration as he composed a work for the consecration of the new Coventry Cathedral, to replace the building destroyed by bombs in World War Two.
I have been steeping myself in this amazing score for some time now, and I want to share it with you in every way I can. You can join us at a free open public rehearsal, as part of the new Behind the Music series; that’s on Thursday November 6th at 7 pm. Get to know the music better along with the performers, and hear me talk about it.
Then, I hope you will plan to attend one of the two concert performances, in the Royal Theatre on Saturday evening and Sunday afternoon, November 8th and 9th. I also invite you to join me for Tania Talks a personal discussion of the music in the lobby of the Royal, one hour before each concert. That’s Saturday evening at 7 pm and Sunday afternoon at 1:30 pm.
I have no doubt that this music has the impact and power to describe and to communicate, to bring understanding and feeling, to ensure that we never forget. I look forward to sharing this life-altering experience with you.