In my real life, I am privileged to make a living as a performing musician. This work, and the people I get to meet through it, form the foundation of my experience and my backstage views.
I am lucky enough to direct the Rocky Mountain Symphony Orchestra (RMSO), headquartered in Balzac's Polaris Centre for the Performing Arts. No, you’re not losing your marbles, you read that correctly. We're an orchestra in Balzac.
There is nothing in the world like standing in front of a symphony orchestra. The immense sonic power, the military precision, and the knowledge that the 50 players in front of you have over 1,000 years of combined musical experience is a thrill beyond compare. With a flick of your wrist, they leap into action, creating a tapestry of immense complexity and delicate nuance. I don’t make a single sound. The players do all the work.
Yet, an orchestra needs a conductor.
Much of my work involves spending hundreds of hours with the music ahead of time to know every nuance and detail to support the orchestra and guide them through each piece. For our upcoming concert, I am lucky to be able to work with two pieces that are new to me, including a brand-new work, “The 4 Seasons of COVID-19,” by Airdrie composer Dr. Kristin Flores, which we commissioned in 2021. Dr. Flores has a PhD in music composition, and plays in RMSO’s first violin section. We had our first rehearsal last week, and the music just leapt off the page. What a delight and privilege to hear something literally for the first time! Even though the composer had a vision of what the piece would sound like in her head, but to hear the work performed by live musicians for the first time is always a thrill.
One of the great joys in working with a living composer is being able to rehearse with them in the room. The sheet music always loses a little something in translation, so having the creator in the room where the music finally comes to life is a tremendous privilege. Dr. Flores’ piece is poignant, funny, and combines humour with moments of seriousness, drawing some loose inspiration from the famous Vivaldi work its name is inspired by.
The opening section, which describes the first ‘wave’ of the pandemic, is beautifully orchestrated. The instruments play waves of music, but often at different times, and the resulting effect is much like dropping a single drop of colour into a puddle. One of my favourite moments is when the various instruments of the orchestra are assigned into ‘cohorts’, and are not allowed to play with the other instruments, (another nod to the COVID-19 pandemic). During the final section of the entire piece, the kettledrums erupt into frustration and anger, and, in Dr. Flores' own words, “throw a temper tantrum.”
As a pairing, I have chosen the 7th Symphony by the Finnish composer Jean Sibelius, a poignant and thoughtful work of immense beauty. Finland is a proud Nordic country with beautiful Fjords, active volcanoes, and immense Nordic landscapes that Sibelius deftly translates into a stunning tapestry of orchestral colour. The intensely quiet shimmer of the opening section slowly crescendos into a frenzy of fire and ice, which culminates in the first of three appearances of the epic trombone solo for which this symphony is most famous.
Standing in front of the orchestra, I feel like I am flying over the expansive sky, stoic rivers, dancing Aurora, and God’s paintbrush of the majestic Rockies. All you need to do it sit back, close your eyes, and recall the natural beauty of our stunning province. The music will do the rest.
For some, experiencing an orchestral masterwork with a glass of wine sounds about as good as it can get. Others might just come for the local beer selection the Polaris Centre and stay in the lobby. And that’s absolutely fine. We can’t all have the same tastes. We all have things we haven’t yet experienced, and that is the absolute joy of life.
In conclusion, I’ll echo last month’s call to arms: Do something creative. Experience something new. If you don’t like it, check it off your list and keep hunting. There is so much beauty and creativity to experience right around us.