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September 19, 2018
VSO US TOUR "American audiences should brace themselves for a program of hurricane intensity..."

David Gordon Duke in the Vancouver Sun:

"This week conductor Bramwell Tovey and the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra launch a winter tour of several western states, a major undertaking that will see the orchestra perform in some eight centres in just under two weeks.

But first the regular Orpheum audience got a chance to sample the tour offerings: judging from the performance on Saturday evening, American audiences should brace themselves for a program of hurricane intensity.

Specially written for the tour is a VSO composer in residence Edward Top's new work Totem. Cast in three short movements, beginning darkly with Angst, this is flashy, highly spiced music, just the right sort of contemporary calling card for the orchestra.

Top has an ear for orchestral colour second to none. Much of the work reflects an earthy neo-primitivism; a sense of ritual permeates the central movement, Rite, and in its particularly effective climactic moment four percussionists pick up frame drums. The concluding segment, Mosh, lives up to the contemporary allusiveness of its title with lots of heat, followed by an enigmatic, cool, edgy, and very beautiful closing.

Soloist for the tour is British Columbia's distinguished gift to the world of pianists, Jon Kimura Parker, who has a long association with the orchestra. His rendition of the always popular Grieg Piano Concerto is powerful and practised, honed to a fine edge and dazzlingly effective. Parker's work steadily increases in depth, colour and subtlety as the years go on, but he can still deliver white-hot intensity — witness his thrilling first movement cadenza, or the blazing final coda. Here is a performance with soloist, conductor, and orchestra all on exactly the same high emotional pitch.

It could be argued that Prokofiev's Soviet era symphonies have been overshadowed by those of his rival, Shostakovich; certainly his Fifth Symphony might at first seem a quirky choice to take on tour.

Judging from Saturday's reading, it's a near-perfect showcase for our orchestra. The Fifth is a thick, complex score with a highly personal sound, often brash and noisy. But it is also one of Prokofiev's singular masterworks, a unique testament of a composer who certainly knew his own mind. And what an orchestral workout. Tovey understands the work's epic sweep, its bitter ironies, and its off-centre range of colours. The VSO players deliver with care, commitment, and enthusiasm, bywords for the entire program, an enterprise that demonstrates the VSO at the top of its game."

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