Edmonton Symphony Orchestra is back in the saddle Aug. 26 performing its most popular concert series of the season, Simply Symphony Under the Sky. And in this pandemic era, the al fresco seats are more popular than ever.
The Winspear Theatre did not go completely dark during COVID. Although touring concerts were cancelled, the ESO filmed a series of small-ensemble online concerts.
But nothing replaces a live performance of violins, cellos, oboes, bassoons, trumpets and timpani soaring to an emotional crescendo.
In fact, Tuesday, Aug. 17 was the first day in 18 months when the entire orchestra gathered to rehearse and inspire each other. The joyous reunion full of laughter and storytelling occurred as musicians rehearsed the open-air concert series running Aug. 26 to Sept. 5 at Hawrelak Park’s Amphitheatre.
“It was extraordinary. There are no words to describe it. Here we were sitting in the middle of the hall with all these people who are like family. It was remarkable,” said St. Albert ESO cellist Ronda Metzies.
“I was really surprised how in-synch we were. Everybody is highly professional and everybody kept in shape, but I could feel a palpable hunger to play together. We were playing our hearts out.”
This year organizers have streamlined the concerts series into two types of music. Guest conductor Lucas Waldin will showcase the ever-popular Hollywood Hits while ESO Assistant Conductor Cosette Justo Valdés leads Festival Favourites, numerous lush scores of classical compositions.
In past years, the outdoor concert was a five-day event. Metzies noted the policy going forward centres around more repeated performances with a smaller audience so listeners can be spaced further apart.
Prior to COVID, the symphony employed 56 full-time musicians. Currently, the orchestra is in a rebuilding stage, and numbers are down by eight as some musicians retired and others left to pursue other avenues.
Waldin's Hollywood Hits brings back masterly works from Harry Potter, Jurassic Park and Beauty and the Beast as well as Star Wars, Frozen, Pirates of the Caribbean and more. It’s a concert to share and enjoy the film scores of John Williams, Howard Shore, Ennio Morricone and Alan Menken.
In Festival Favourites, Justo Valdés recreates Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5: 1st movement; Rossini’s William Tell Overture; Mozart’s “Posthorn” Serenade: Rondeau and Tchaikovsky’s rousing and triumphant 1812 Overture.
“1812 is an annual thing. We used to do it with loud cannons. The first time I heard it, it was so loud my bow bounced off the instrument and I heard a loud scream. It was me,” laughed Metzies, noting every concert has spontaneous moments.
Festival Favourites also includes a few modern works. Among them is Richard Rodgers’ The Sound of Music, Leroy Anderson’s Bugler’s Holiday, and John Estacio’s King Arthur and Merlin.
“If you are at all curious, this is the performance environment to check us out. We are outside and sometimes we’re accompanied by geese, but it’s a casual, welcoming environment. A lot of people don’t realize they are being exposed to great music every day through TV and movie music inspired by the classical technique. It’s very family friendly and kids under 12 are free.”