UBC Symphony Orchestra Perform Verdi, Haydn, Hamel and Shostakovich

The theme this season is ninth symphonies and, as such, the latest performance by UBC’s own Symphony Orchestra ended triumphantly with Dmitri Shostakovich’s energetic No. 9 in E-flat major, Op. 70 — an immensely entertaining and slightly sardonic celebration of the Soviet victory over the Germans at the end of World War II. 

The performance encompassed a well-curated assortment of works combining into an elegant narrative of joy and melancholy. It began with the epic overture to La Forza Del Destino by Giuseppe Verdi and led by Assistant Conductor Alex Toa. Then moved on to Franz Joseph Haydn’s Symphony No. 49, also known as La Passione, which was a slower and more melancholic piece. After intermission, the audience was introduced to Keith Hamel’s Overdrive, which brought a stormy presence to the stage, bringing us to the conclusion with Shostakovich. 

The opening was excellent and Alex Toa handled his musicians with precision and unfailing emphasis. The Overture carried all the heft expected of a work by Verdi and was played without flaw. 

Symphony No. 49, by Haydn, brought a suitable calm to follow the opening. Jonathan Girard, who conducted the rest of the performance, really drew all of the emotion from the work. The orchestra itself was pared down to a third of its size for this one and that, coupled with Girard’s delicate lead, made the experience an intimate one. The skill of the violin players was particularly noticeable here.

After intermission, the full orchestra took to the stage once more joined by the piano and an assembly of interesting percussion instruments for Hamel’s Overdrive. The beginning carried a strong lead by the piano into a tempestuous mix of themes and instruments that comprised the rest of the work. Overdrive is wild and thematic with a violent fun in it. However, it's nonstop pace also hinders the piece. Instead of giving each of its ideas their time on stage, Hamel has every different aspect of the work vying for dominance with little interweaving. This makes it rather confusing as times, although none the less dramatic.

The finale was the aforementioned Shostakovich and it was excellently done thanks to the Girard's superb and amazingly entertaining conducting. Rather than limiting himself to his baton, Girard directs his orchestra with his whole body, becoming as much a tool of expression for the work as any other instrument. The passion he feels in his direction is evident and manifests in the performance. He moves about his podium as though it were much too small — lunging and gesturing with such gusto that he looked once or twice as though he were about to leap into the Violin I section, whose impeccable solos were led by the very talented concertmaster, Billie Smith.

The performance was an impressive ensemble of talent and passion that made for an enjoyable and insightful night. 

The Symphony Orchestra’s next performance will be a rendition of Beethoven’s ninth symphony on December 4 and 5, which will be in Girard's capable hands once more.