Music finale takes flight

NANAIMO - The Vancouver Island Symphony presents Birds of a Feather Saturday (April 20) 7:30 p.m. at the Port Theatre.

Flutist Paolo Bortolussi performs during the Vancouver Island Symphony’s season finale Birds of a Feather Saturday (April 20).

Flutist Paolo Bortolussi performs during the Vancouver Island Symphony’s season finale Birds of a Feather Saturday (April 20).

by Rosemary Phillips

The joyful songs of birds will rise from the instruments of Vancouver Island Symphony musicians during its season finale Birds of a Feather.

The finale is Saturday (April 20) 7:30 p.m. at the Port Theatre with pre-concert talk at 6:30 p.m. The concert combines bird songs and nature with the fascinating and mystical sounds of Cantus Arcticus (Concerto for Birds and Orchestra) by Finnish composer Rautavaara, and the world premiere of Ornithomancy by Vancouver composer Jocelyn Morlock.

Paolo Bortolussi, VI Symphony’s principal flutist, will be centre stage as the soloist to perform Ornithomancy, a work that was commissioned by  the Symphony.

This concert concludes with Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony.

Winnipeg born Jocelyn Morlock is really into birds.

“They are never really at rest,” she said. “Their heads and eyes move constantly. Even when they are restful they can fly at any time. Ornithomancy is about divining. I am intrigued by the concept, and while I’m not convinced of their ability to predict the future, I have a long-held fascination with birds of all kinds, their flight and songs, flocking activities and synchronized group motion.”

Morlock said it’s hard not to associate the flute with birds.

“I experimented with Paolo and tested everything out. There are many different moods, feelings. The opening is slow and mysterious. The second section is fast, flighty, nervous and rhythmic, with bassoon and trombone solos. Flock behaviours do different things, and like a bird, the flute takes off and the others follow. The final section has a peaceful feeling, calm and expansive.”

Morlock said she didn’t plan to become a composer. She started playing the piano at eight and played a bit of flute in junior high. She always made up music but never wrote it down. It wasn’t until she was 22 that she decided to give composing a chance.

Since then she’s been in full flight, earning national and international accolades. Her most recent recognition was a Juno nomination in 2011 for Best Classical Composition of the Year.

Bortolussi has been with the VI Symphony for ten years. A few years ago he performed the Canadian premiere of Flight, which was written by his wife Dorothy Chang. He has appeared as a soloist and chamber musician across Canada and the U.S. He has also premiered more than 100 solo and chamber works, with more than twenty written specifically for him.

“I don’t get the opportunity to solo with orchestra very often so this is really special,” he said. “Ornithomancy is a beautiful piece; you can imagine birds in flight, diving and swooping, a very moment-to-moment type of piece, like watching bird formations in the sky – at times so close and active, and at other times distantly high, seemingly still, yet moving at a high rate of speed.

“There is a connection between flight and flute and birds.”

Bortolussi said he is excited about the huge step the symphony has taken. “This is the first of five annual pieces commissioned by the VI Symphony through the Canada Council to feature principal players from the orchestra as soloists. This visionary project is a pretty big coupe and the list of composers is very impressive, like Jocelyn who is firmly established on the international new music scene,” he said.

Tickets range in price from $18 to $84 depending on seating locations and are available by calling 250-754-8550, at the Port Theatre box office, or