On the final Friday of November, the Okanagan Symphony Orchestra brought a certain power and panache to its live orchestral performance of The French Connection – Masterworks II at Kelowna Community Theatre. This buzz worthy concert celebrated the lush and visceral music of the French romantics before the impressionists came onto the scene. The program, as selected by OSO Music Director Rosemary Thomson, included these diverse works:  Les Troyens Chasse royale et orage (Royal Hunt and Storm) by Hector Berlioz, Symphonie espagnole (Spanish Symphony), Op. 21 by Edouard Lalo, and Symphony No. in C minor, Op. 78 “Organ” by Camille Saint-Saens. Oui oui – the 650 attendees in the theatre thought these vibrant movements and hybrid sounds were très bien. But without a doubt, everyone left the building raving about solo violinist Timothy Chooi (pronounced chewy), his esteemed instrument, and the thunderous power of an imported pipe organ. After the opening movement by Berlioz that featured two set of timpani and hunting horns, onto center stage stepped the Victoria born-and-raised Chooi. At the youthful age of 23, this millennial has the stage presence of a seasoned gunslinger. Even better, his weapon of choice was a 1717 Windsor-Weinstein Stradivari violin made 300 years ago by Italian violinmaker Antonio Stradivari. Valued at $5.5 million (U.S. dollars), the violin is on loan to Chooi to utilize for three years via the Ontario Heritage Foundation and Canada Council for the Arts. 

Obviously, Chooi took to this prized possession like Gretzky took to the ice. During four movements of Lalo’s Symphonie espagnole, he dazzled with a spectacular performance that made the violin sing like a songbird in love. It was so impressive that most of the audience jumped to its feet and applauded non-stop when he played the final note. Then, almost showing off in a good way, the orchestra went silent and Chooi ripped through a soulful serenade for eight minutes. This young man was mesmerizing and certainly has a firm grasp on the bow strings of his skyrocketing career.

After intermission, it was time to get “organ”-ized. For the Saint-Saens symphony, Thomson and her team called on Allen Organ in Calgary and asked them to ship in a pipe organ to Kelowna. What they received was a digital device with super high-end speakers to replicate the individual pipes. The expression “to pull out all the stops” comes from the organ having all of its colors engaged. At the end of this night, you could feel the powerful pipe-estry in the soles of your feet and depths of your soul.

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The Okanagan Symphony Masterworks II
The French Connection

Okanagan Symphony Warms the Romantic Heart

Heated passion. Lovers walking hand in hand down tiny tree-lined streets. The Eiffel Tower. This weekend the Okanagan Symphony Orchestra invited us to join them on that walk with their second concert in their Masterworks series, The French Connection: Music from the French Romantics.

The concert opened with the Hector Berlioz’s, Chasse Royole et Oroge from his opera Les Troyens. This is Berlioz’s most ambitious work, the summation of his entire artistic career. The work is a highly programmatic description of an idyllic morning (complete with dewy sunrise and chirping birds), a musical romp, and then a storm with thundering timpani. Think of a French romantic version of Beethoven’s Pastorale Symphony and you’ll get it. There was some very fine playing here from Christine Moore on flute and Scott Wilson off-stage on French horn solo.

The next work on the program was Edouard Lalo’s, Symphonie Espagnole, Op. 21 In spite of his Spanish sounding name, Lalo is a French composer born and bred, although his style definitely shows Germanic influence in harmony and melodic structure. This work is in fact a violin concerto and the performance featured 23-year-old Timothy Chooi as soloist. Because the performer is so young, the audience experienced the rare treat of seeing the artist looking exactly like his publicity photos. That Chooi is such a young touring artist is certainly worth noting, but a great deal of fuss has been made over the fact that he is currently performing on a 300-year-old Stradivarius violin. However, arguing that Chooi’s draw is more about his instrument than his ability would be wrong. From the moment this young man walked on the stage, he was poised and self-confident and his playing followed suit. His technical passages were effortless, and his fingers flew up and down the fingerboard with trills so fast they sounded like harmonics. Chooi captured the bombastic character of the Allegro Non Troppo movement, the flirtatious charm of the Scherzando and the celebratory charisma of the Rondo. However, it was in the Andante movement that Chooi proved he was more than a technician. The violin sang, wept and throbbed with yearning and regret. His musicianship was consummate, proving that it doesn’t matter the name of the instrument, but it’s what you do with it that counts.

The final number, Camille Saint-Saëns, Symphony No. 3 Op. 78 in C minor, was a real tour-de-force for the orchestra and one which Maestra Rosemary Thomson had long wanted to program. Of composing the work Saint-Saëns said, “I gave everything to it I was able to give. What I have here accomplished, I will never achieve again,” and it is abundantly clear that the composer poured his heart into every phrase and every harmony. The music is complex, rich with lots of cross dialogues between sections and Thomson kept the orchestra firmly in hand. There were moments when she appeared to sculpt the sound delicately and other times where she drove the orchestra with maniacal energy. Kudos to Rachel Alflatt who played electronic organ and pianist Carol Colpitts for her brilliant passages.

Altogether, it was an evening of heady and heated romance to warm the spirit on a blustery November evening.


They did the mash…….they did The Monster Mash……. it was an Okanagan Symphony Orchestra and Chorus smash…..it caught on in a flash.

Good goblins, that was a frightfully good Halloween SPOOKtacular performed with devilish depravity at Kelowna Community Theatre a few nights ahead of trick-or-treaters taking over the streets. 

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The Okanagan Symphony

From drums loudly throbbing to a barrage of sound,
A ghoulish spectacle sure to astound,
What yonder freaks dare to grace the stage?

The Okanagan Symphony on a rampage!

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The Okanagan Symphony Masterworks I
The Vancouver Symphony

In an unprecedented move, The Okanagan Symphony Orchestra opened its 2017/2018 season by ceding the stage to the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Bramwell Tovey. From the moment Maestro Tovey raised his baton, the VSO’s performance was clean and well-executed.  Perfectly timed and exquisitely placed entries made the music come alive: all 68 musicians played and breathed as one.

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