UBC Symphony pay tribute to central Europe with Hungarian Dances

This Friday, the UBC Symphony Orchestra took to the stage to perform an “eclectic” concert of works with the strong influence of central Europe. The music was energetic, varied and thoroughly entertaining to experience, marking another uniquely masterful performance in an impressive season.

The first half of the night was an exploration of the works and legacy of composer Emmerich Kálmán (1882-1953) who became a sensation in his time as a composer of Viennese operetta. Since his death, he has been regarded as a composer who ranks in skill amongst such greats as Johann Strauss and Franz Lehár, although his name is not quite so recognizable.

The first of his works played was the overture to Ein Herbstmanöver, the first of Kálmán's operettas which caught the attention of Europe and set him upon a path to amazing success. From the beginning, this is a stirring and confident work with striking crescendos and complex interactions between instruments, all perfectly directed by composer Jonathan Girard.

For the second piece, the symphony resurrected Kálmán's symphonic poem Endre ésJohanna, whose influence by Liszt will be palpable to anyone familiar with his work. This piece was unique, not only for its quality as a piece of music, but also because, as Girard informed the audience, this was the first time that the work had been performed in over 80 years. Even more surprising than this was the fact that in the time before that, it had never been performed in North America, making this concert its debut.

Following this piece was a composition by Kálmán's son, Charles, who was a composer in his own right. In his introduction to the song, Girard informed the audience that Charles Kálmán had been working with the orchestra last year in order to procure the sheet music for Endre ésJohanna, but had sadly passed away before it could be completed. In addition, he said that Charles' wife, Ruth Jarczyk, had died the day before that night's performance.

Girard said that the piece, entitled La Parisienne, was originally intended to be the symphony's tribute to Paris, following the attacks on the November 15, 2015. Now it was also to be a memorial to Charles and his wife Ruth. It was a fitting performance with an emotional range that explored both the energy and melancholy of the city with a deft hand.

The final two pieces written by Emmerich Kálmán to be played that night were “Fein könnt! auf der Wilt es sein” from Gräfin Mariza, and “Heia, heia, in den Bergen” from Die Csárdasfürstin. The former was a genuinely hilarious piece with superb vocals from tenor Scott Rumble, who sung an entertaining lament about his troubles with women. The latter work featured soprano Elena Razlog and filled the room with a romantic ode to the mountainous homeland of a Magyar maiden who is longing for a partner. It was an exciting piece whose finale made for a vigorous end to the first half.

Following intermission, the orchestra performed in quick succession three Hungarian dances by Johannes Brahms under conductor Alex Toa. Each work was full of that uproarious celebratory feeling that makes music of this style so wonderful. However, even these classics were quickly overshadowed by the performance of Edmund Chung leading on violin in Maurice Ravel's Tzigane, which is a mostly solo work with some extraordinarily elaborate compositions that left the audience transfixed. Chung's towering performance marked the undoubted highpoint of a show full of unique and impressive experiences.

The last piece, “Rakoczy March (Marche hongroise)” from La Damnation de Faust by Hector Berlioz, was an excellent ending to a concert chalk-full of so many impressive works.

It was a night for the debut of new works, the celebration of old greats, the mourning of lost musicians and the introduction of new ones full of great promise — a fantastic concert throughout.