On Saturday night, the UBC Orchestra and Choirs finished their second performance of Prokofiev's Symphony No. 1 and Beethoven's Symphony No. 9 in triumphant and near-flawless renditions of both.
The night began with Prokofiev, whose upbeat and somewhat humorous symphony made for an excellent starter to the performance. With a classic sensibility and cheerful subversion of convention, it set a great tone for what was to follow. The conductor, Jonathan Girard, guided his orchestra with an elegant hand, accentuating and savouring every moment of the Allegro, then bringing the finale to an exciting and energetic conclusion.
Truth be told, this piece was swiftly dwarfed by the imposing figure of Beethoven that followed the intermission. Beginning with the slow build in the first movement, Girard led the orchestra into a strong allegro that swiftly sped along into the rest of the stormily-toned opening. The conclusion inventively managed to bring out interesting concepts that the audience might not have previously noted in the work.
The Scherzo and Adagio were also excellently handled — the first keeping a good, lively pace and the second staying slow and never feeling as though it were rushing. It was here that it became apparent how much the string sections were dominating. On the note of the brass and woodwinds, there were one or two moments where they fell somewhat out of sync with the conductor's guidance and missed a few notes. Thankfully these mistakes were not prominent enough to ruin the performance, which continued on unfettered.
The fourth movement boomed into its beginning with the full epic scope of Beethoven. When the string section played through the first notes of Ode to Joy's melody, there was a ripple of excitement throughout the audience and some of the musicians even broke into smiles.
The lead vocals deserve the highest of praise for perfectly performed renditions. Scott Brooks (bass-baritone) and Matthew Gaskin (tenor) projected deep and rich notes that could be felt as much as heard. Charlotte Beglinger (mezzo) and Nicole Brooks (soprano) struck every one of the very high notes with pin-pointed accuracy and skill. It was also a nice touch that the screen above was showing english translations of the lyrics.
When they were joined by the UBC University Singers and Choral Union, the piece reached a spectacular climax of incredible power which filled every square inch of the room with epic music. It was exhilarating and the audience was clearly quite sad to see it come to its sensational end, which Girard brought about with his arms thrown wide.
There could be no better way to bring the semester to its close.
The next performance by the UBC Symphony will be Strauss' Eine Nacht in Venedig from February 4-7.