The sight of elegant ballet dancers moving to the music of Tchaikovsky’s “Swan Lake” made this year’s holiday concert with the Vancouver Symphony a memorable event. An ensemble of 15 comely ballerinas, all dressed in traditional white tutus, from the Columbia Dance company gave an outstanding performance. Their graceful leaps, pirouettes, footwork, and tableaus delighted a full-house at Skyview Concert Hall on Saturday (December 8) in this first-ever collaboration between the orchestra and a dance company.
The young dancers (all teenagers) negotiated the 10 foot by 40-foot space in front of the orchestra deftly, avoiding any collision with the musicians and Music Director Salvador Brotons while impressively expressing Tchaikovsky’s music. The “Swan Lake” portion of the program consisted of seven excerpts, and the ballerinas – expertly coached by Artistic Director Jan Hurst – performed in most everything except for the ethnic dances.
The eloquent oboe solo by Fred Korman at the opening of the ballet was one of several musical highlights that also included a duet by concertmaster Eva Richey and principal cellist Dieter Ratzlaf, and a lovely solo by harpist Kimberly Houser. Brotons remarkably conducted everything from memory, proving again that he is one of the best when it comes to Tchaikovsky’s music.
The second half of the concert drew from popular light classical music from Viennese and American traditions. Franz von Suppe’s “Light Cavalry Overture” charged things up with a rousing trumpet section and a wonderfully moody Hungarian-imbued melody.
Johann Strauss Jr’s “Emperor Waltz” had the right spirit but needed more shifts in tempo and dynamics. His “Hunter’s Polka” came across with more energy, in part, because of participation from the audience, which created each gun shot with a boisterous clap.
One of the most fun pieces on the program was Leroy Anderson’s “The Typewriter,” which featured percussionist Brian Gardiner as the soloist. He delivered each stroke, carriage return, and bell ring with precision and a bit of panache, generating chuckles of amusement from all corners of the hall. Trumpeters Bruce Dunn, Scott Winks, and Greg Smith distinguished themselves with their playing in Anderson’s “Bugler’s Holiday, sprucing up their tuxes with a dash of seasonal garb.
The orchestra sounded terrific in performing Anderson’s “A Christmas Festival.” The balance between the various sections was outstanding and the melodic line always came through.
The concert concluded with Johann Strauss Sr’s “Radetzky March” with the audience clapping right on cue as signaled by Brotons. It was the second year in row that the orchestra played this piece, and the everyone got into the participatory aspect with vigor.
This Vancouver Symphony has been hitting its stride with its holiday pops concerts over the past three years, but this one, featuring dance and audience participation offered lots of variety, making it the best of all.