UBC Symphony Orchestra performs soundscapes, symphonies in first concert of the year

On October 8, the UBC Symphony Orchestra will perform their first concert of UBC’s centennial year in the Chan Centre. This is impressive considering auditions were just in September. 

“We do auditions in the first week [of classes] and all of the students have to audition for placement and seating just to figure out which group they go into,” said Jonathan Girard, conductor of the UBC Symphony Orchestra and director of orchestras at the UBC School of Music. 

“The first one is always the most difficult,” said Sydney Tetarenko, principal clarinet. Despite this difficulty, she said she was excited to be playing with the orchestra again and performing. “We practice these excerpts so much on our own and it’s great to finally get to do it with a full orchestra. It’s a totally different experience.”

In fact, it seemed that everyone was optimistic about the performance despite the limited rehearsal time.

“I think that students rise to challenges and that they feel are achievable. I think everyone realizes that this performance is within our reach and that it will be successful. It’s exciting. It adds a little element of pressure, in a good way, that makes people feel some immediacy in their preparation … it actually brings a lot more focus to the performance ultimately,” said Girard. 

If their dress rehearsal was any indication, the UBC symphony has risen to the challenge.

The program starts with the premiere of Soundscape for a Century Past, written by UBC alumnus and composer in residence of the Victoria Symphony Orchestra Jaret Miller. The piece was commissioned as part of a set of 10 fanfares written to celebrate UBC’s centennial. The song is a soundscape that starts quietly and gradually builds while using unique techniques to create sounds such as the use of a cello bow on the xylophone — or what Girard has called a "seagull glissando." 

“If you hold your fingers in a precise position and move them down the string you hear a [sound resembling a] seagull,” said Girard. 

Miller explained these techniques as essential to the environment that his song is trying to create. 

“[When I was writing the piece] I was thinking about … the natural surroundings of UBC and how I could possibly evoke that through music," said Miller. "Some of the effects that I have in the orchestra imitate seagulls in the distance and there are bells being used to [imitate] the bell tower."

The orchestra will go on to perform Debussy’s Prélude à l’après midi d’un faune, described by Girard as “one of the most important works of the impressionist period for music.” 

“It’s very beautiful. It creates this nice warm atmosphere. You can feel it as it passes through,” observed Maria Demček, the concertmaster.

 “It starts with this tremendous flute solo and it has … the ambiance that Debussy outlines for the orchestra. It’s just stunningly beautiful,” explains Girard. 

The final piece before the intermission, Ravel’s Le Tombeau de Couperin, adds to the earlier impressionist theme set by Debussy. The energetic piece was written after World War I as a way for Ravel to celebrate and memorialize his friends who fought. 

The concert concludes after the intermission with Rachmaninoff’s Symphony No. 2. 

“[It] is sort of a mammoth. The adagio movement probably has the most idiomatic writing of Rachmaninoff. It’s just these soaring melodies and lush romanticism — audiences love the work," said Girard on the choice for the final piece. 

After the performance in the Chan Centre, the UBC Symphony Orchestra will also be performing at the Bell Centre in Surrey. 

Tickets are available for $8 at the Chan Centre or online.