What Did I Learn From The S.S.O. About “An American Salute” ?

On May 18th, I attended the Saskatoon Symphony Orchestra’s last concert for the season “An American Salute,” presented by Sask. Power.  This concert featured the work of George Gershwin and Leonard Bernstein, with a special opening piece by Montreal-based composer Nicole Lizée entitled Arcadiac. 

Maestro Sawa sharing with the audience.
Maestro Sawa sharing with the audience.

Maestro Victor Sawa was conducting, something he does with exuberance and infectious excitement!  I get the sense that if, as he alluded to before starting Arcadiac, he does try his hand at ‘scratching’ records, he’d be good at that too.  Now, I’ll have to back up to explain that point because you may not have been there to enjoy the humour.  Nicole Lizee’s Arcadiac is like nothing I’ve ever heard before – a spine-tingling composition that holds such a wide array of sounds that I’d deem it a must to hear!  In this piece were elements of Pac Man, the Twilight Zone and Star Wars, with twinkles, wind chimes, booming drumbeats and the intermittent feeling that aliens were nearby! Maestro Sawa was saying that, after working with this unique piece which required him to wear special headphones, he’d be good at ‘scratching’ records on the turntable…because the music contained elements that you’d hear from a rocking, scratching DJ!  It was rather funny! The performance also included the addition of two massive screens upon which animations were played that were synchronized to the music.  Very cool!

Nicole Lizee's "Arcadia" animation
Nicole Lizee’s “Arcadia” animation

 

Nicole Lizee's "Arcadia" animation
Nicole Lizee’s “Arcadia” animation

 

It crossed my mind several times – how does a composer hold such a huge, complex piece in their mind?  It is truly awe inspiring to consider how immensely creative the human mind is!  

 

Michael Kim performing Rhapsody In Blue
Michael Kim performing Rhapsody In Blue


The next delight was Rhapsody in Blue, performed by the very gifted pianist, Michael Kim. Kim, Dean of University of Brandon’s School of Music, clearly loves music.  As I watched and listened, he looked so completely immersed in the piece.  And, watching the faces of his fellow musicians, it was also clear that they were swimming in the same ocean, right there, tuned in and performing beside each other.  I am sure George Gershwin would have been very pleased! Beautiful, beautiful work!  Thank you to all who worked so hard to create such an amazing performance!

Leonard Bernstein, a man who had his share of challenges in life, went on to create and lead some astounding pieces of music.  Bernstein crafted the music for West Side Story and when the piece is performed live, it is an unforgettably rich, moving experience.

Spicing up The Cuban Overture!
Spicing up The Cuban Overture!

 

I had not been aware of the Cuban Overture until a special crew, imported straight from Cuba on Mr. Sawa’s dime  ; ), was brought on  stage to add a little spice to the Orchestra’s main dish!  Oh, that was spicy and fun!  (Of course, Maestro Sawa didn’t really ship them in from Cuba, but we all had a good chuckle at the comical suggestion!)

 

My favourite piece, “Somewhere,” was like sailing down a slow-swirling river heading right into the centre of my heart.  So so beautiful!  If you get a chance to hear this, please don’t miss it!  You may want to stash a travel-sized pack of Kleenex in your pocket though!

When George Gershwin went to study in Paris, he ended up writing an aptly-named piece “An American in Paris.”  If you’re not familiar with the title, the notes will leave you with a pleasant “aha!” of remembrance.  This is a stunning piece of work and a huge  pleasure for the senses to hear and watch it being performed.  A standing ovation for the the musicians and the Maestro – this was so beautifully done!  I keep saying that Saskatoon is very fortunate to have the S.S.O.! 

So, what did I learn from “An American Salute?”  Well, when I researched George Gershwin, I found out that he died at the awfully-young age of 38, from a brain tumour.  And, I learned that Leonard Bernstein lived a life that was somewhat atypical to what society would have deemed acceptable, so both these artists had great challenges to deal with in their careers and lives.  What got re-affirmed for me was that immovable wisdom – that, while we are here on this planet, we need to use our gifts and live the life within which we are true to our own leanings.  Newly born or a centenarian, we are not promised our next breath in life so follow your heart – and try not to let too much time skip away while figuring things out because there are many beautiful experiences to be had, and finite human minutes in which to live them.  Oh! And the other affirmation?  …That there is so much beauty in music, that it is a global thread that touches hearts and souls, and that people are amazing when they come together with a common purpose to create something magical.

I want to remind everyone that if you’re interested in subscribing to the upcoming concert season, please keep in mind that until June 7th, there are discounts in place that will keep that smile on your face!  Please Click here for more information.  The future offerings are nothing short of amazing!  Here’s a hint of what your ticket subscription will give you – http://saskatoonsymphony.org/ 

With a standing ovation…!!  

Fabulous Performance!
Fabulous Performance!

 

Members of the S.S.O. just after the performance.
Members of the S.S.O. just after the performance.

 

 

 

 

 

 


Until next time, keep a song in your heart!   <3

Nancy 

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