Symphony transforms old music into new

Ivars Taurins is the guest conductor for the Vancouver Island Symphony
Ivars Taurins is the guest conductor for the Vancouver Island Symphony's concert Friday (Jan. 21).
— image credit: Photo contributed

By Rosemary Phillips

Grapes are harvested and pressed, and the wine, like good music, sits to become well aged, is bottled and served years hence.

Like a vintner developing character, aroma and bouquet, a conductor takes music from the written page and transforms it through an orchestra into an experience of sound that includes all the properties of a very fine wine.

The resulting Old Wine in New Bottles Festival includes two concerts. Ivars Taurins, well known and highly respected director of the Tafelmusik Chamber Choir and an esteemed Baroque music scholar, conducts the VI Symphony for Festival Concert I on Friday (Jan. 21) while Pierre Simard, the symphony’s artistic director, conducts Festival Concert II on Saturday (Jan. 22).

“The original thought was of wine as a metaphor for old music made new, and so Old Wine in New Bottles,” Simard said. “What has developed is a huge and exciting happening, a festival that gives us the opportunity to present a repertoire fitting a theme of elegance and opulence.”

Baroque music developed in the 17th century by composers looking to create something different from the music of the Renaissance era.

“The Renaissance was all about balance, symmetry and rationalism,” Taurins said. “There was a growing desire from artists for a mode of expression which was more visceral and dramatic – a style filled with passion and energy that could engage the heart rather than the intellect.”

The Baroque era broke all the rules, shocking everyone and what came out of the chaos was new and vibrant, said Taurins.

Baroque music drew Taurins as a teen but it was a single recording – of Nikolaus Harnoncourt playing Telemann piece for four violins – that changed his whole landscape of music.

Since then, choral and orchestral Baroque music have become his life’s passion. For this concert, Taurins will not only be conducting a program of music by Bach, Pachelbel, Charpentier and Handel, he will also be sharing his remarkable insight into the history of the music with words and dramatic images of Baroque art and architecture.

“The whole concert is a celebration of the Baroque style and its wonderful dynamism, of how the music transfers emotion to the listener, and of its spectacular transformation and variety as it passed from country to country and composer to composer.”

The second concert evolved from the idea of old music as seen through more modern composers and from music that is inspired by something much older and transformed through the eyes of the new, said Simard.

Following renditions of the familiar Danny Boy and Greensleeves, Simard then directs the orchestra with Carmina Burana (Songs from Beuern).

“The original music is not even notated,” explains Simard of the 11th and 12th century codex of poems and dramatic texts. “The poems in their original Latin cover many subjects, some religious, some about relationships, wine and drinking, going to war, and some are plainly about sex; and everything is seen through the eyes of monks.”

Simard will take four excerpts from the original codex, creating old music for a modern orchestra. Percussionist Jonathan Bernard will bring some medieval instruments.

The concert concludes with Stravinsky’s Pulcinella Suit, an 18th-century libretto using modern rhythms and harmonies.

Concerts begin at 7:30 p.m. at the Port Theatre. Tickets $46; $44/seniors; $18/students. Please call 250-754-8550.

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