The Rocky Mountain Symphony Orchestra (RMSO) will make a triumphant return to its home base at the Polaris Centre for the Performing Arts stage in Balzac with its “Nordic Masters” concert series on Oct. 8.
“Nordic Masters” will feature Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg’s “Piano Concerto” and Finnish master Jean Sibelius’ famous “Symphony No. 7.”
A less conventional, but very welcome, addition to the Balzac-based symphony’s season premiere concert will be Airdrie composer Kristin Flores’ “The Four Seasons of COVID-19.”
RMSO originally commissioned Flores, who also plays first violin with the orchestra, to write the piece in 2020, and helped organize an Alberta Foundation for the Arts grant for the Airdrie-based composer.
It was originally set to premiere in 2021, but the debut was cancelled when RMSO had to suspend its concert season due to ongoing concerns surrounding the pandemic.
Flores told the Rocky View Weekly it is exciting and a bit nerve-wracking to see the composition she has been living with for the past two years finally debut during the Thanksgiving weekend performance.
“I am looking forward to this,” she said. “I am a bit nervous, and I am just hoping everything sounds the way I thought it would sound. Because up until now, I have just been listening to the piece through computer speakers, and now I get to hear it with real instruments.
“I hope the audience laughs at points, and I hope it cries at others. When I was writing the piece, I was experiencing all the emotions, as I was writing it during 2020 at the very beginning of the pandemic.”
Inspired loosely by the structure of Vivaldi’s “The Four Seasons,” the suite also includes four movements: “Spring, The First Wave,” “Summer, Time to Reflect,” ‘Fall, Second Wave is Coming,” and “Winter – This is Never Going to End.”
“Writing this piece definitely felt very healing for me during the pandemic,” Flores said. “It was something for me to focus on that was positive. You had to keep busy when you felt like the whole world was falling apart in 2020 there, and it was just something to focus on.”
Flores, who does have a Norwegian background, said she is honoured to have her original composition played live by the RMSO musicians alongside these seminal works of Greig and Sibelius.
Calgary-based pianist Ian Robertson, who will be featured on Grieg’s “Piano Concerto” during the “Nordic Masters” concert, felt Grieg and Sibeluis both have a sense of isolation in their works that seems to be fairly typical of many composers that come from more northern climes. But, he added, there is also a desire for warmth, connection and community in those works. In that sense, expressing feelings of isolation and longing for connection, Robertson felt Flores’ work comes from the same place emotionally.
“I think it's important that we have a little look back, even though it is still relatively fresh in our minds, to see how the shutdown and isolation of the arts during COVID-19 affected not only musicians, but also composers and writers,” he explained. “What did that do for people creatively? In a lot of cases, it actually spurred a lot of (creative) output.”
Robertson said he was honoured when he was asked to take part in RMSO’s first concert of the season paying homage to Grieg, an accessible and “ear-wormy” composer he has long admired.
“One of the things I love most about Grieg is he was very humble and very charming,” explained Robertson. “He was quite sort of famous for saying people like Bach and Beethoven built great cathedrals of music, and he just wanted to build a really comfortable home everyone could be happy with.”
Similarly, Robertson said, Sibelius – who is now considered among the greats of Romantic era composers – is also very accessible and popular. He felt RMSO’s picks for the “Nordic Masters” concert series would attract a lot of eager listeners and ensure a great kick-off to the season.
“I think we have been seeing more and more opportunities to go out and experience live music together,” he said. “We have kept it as alive as could within our radios, computers and headsets over the last couple of years, but nothing beats live performance where you can feel the energy of everyone in the room, the players and the audience. I think it is a great start (to the winter season).”
For more details and ticket information on the RMSO’s “Nordic Masters” series, check out the event listings at polariscentre.ca