The Fraser Valley Symphony Orchestra opened its 32nd season on Sunday, November 15 to a sold-out Matsqui Centennial Auditorium. The community orchestra’s first performance of the season featured festive songs ranging from Petyr Tchaikovsky’s “Nutcracker Suite” to more traditional hymns such as “O Holy Night.”
The orchestra is composed solely of premier players from across the Fraser Valley region and plays four concerts per season, which runs from November to June. For this performance, the orchestra was also joined by North Vancouver’s Andrew Greenwood, a renowned baritone vocalist, who has worked and performed in operas around the world, including stops in Spain, Germany, Switzerland, and the Czech Republic.
At first entrance into the auditorium, it was evident the symphony was not taken lightly by most of the audience. Almost all the attendees were dressed in their Sunday best and were chatting quietly with those around them. However, upon the opening of the show and the entrance of the symphony’s concert master, a round of applause erupted and fell to a bated silence as each instrument was granted an opportunity to tune. Once the tuning process was complete, conductor Lindsay Mellor entered from stage right to another storming round of applause. From then on, Mellor would take to the microphone at the front of the stage between pieces to explain some background or history of the song the audience was about to hear next.
The first half of the performance was entirely devoted to “The Nutcracker Suite,” and saw the group move from famous score to famous score as Mellor provided commentary on what was going on in the opera. If anything, it acted as a brilliant preview to the opera as a whole.
The second half of the program was freer flowing; it was here that Greenwood joined the orchestra. He would sing a song, leave the stage for the next, and then come back again to sing — receiving a round of applause each time — and his booming voice did well to break up the performance and allow for some diversity from the entirely orchestral pieces. Mellor also seemed more loose in the second half of the program, and delved deep into the tragic personal lives of some of the composers whose pieces the orchestra was performing. Some examples were the stories of Georges Bizet, whose opera Carmen was torn apart upon its initial performance, but is now arguably one of the most well-known opera in the genre today, and Fredrick Delius, the composer of “Sleigh Ride,” who never considered himself to be an esteemed composer.
However, the star of the show was Greenwood and his robust baritone vocals. The best moment came in his first appearance of the evening, when Greenwood performed the “Toreador” song from Carmen; though this piece was outside of the Christmas theme, I think no one in the audience had a query with it, as Greenwood, without the assistance of a microphone, filled the theatre to the brim with the resonance of his voice. Though Greenwood wonderfully performed classic Christmas songs such as “O Holy Night” and “Ave Maria,” “Toreador” was his true shining moment.
The Fraser Valley Symphony is hosting three more shows this season, and perhaps the most intriguing of the bunch is an afternoon called “Family Fun” which will feature music from popular films such as Harry Potter and Pirates of the Caribbean. While the symphony may not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of going to see a musical performance, it deserves more attention. The amount of musical talent on display was exceptional for a community group and it is surely something that should be experienced by anyone.