Sit, Jessica. Look how the floor of heaven
Is thick inlaid with patines of bright gold:
There's not the smallest orb which thou behold'st
But in his motion like an angel sings,
Still quiring to the young-eyed cherubins;
Such harmony is in immortal souls;
But whilst this muddy vesture of decay
Doth grossly close it in, we cannot hear it.
(5.1.65-71) Merchant of Venice
On May 1st at 3:00, Londoners will be privileged to hear celestial harmony because some of its very finest stars of classical music will be playing earthly music together in a long-awaited community of sound. The musicians of the London Youth Symphony are joined by #WPO members, their soloist is long-time concertmaster Eliza-Marie Castillo, and even the venue’s 1930 Casavant organ is awakened by the fingers of LCO musician, Tom Hart.
What a blessed privilege to be admitted to the dress rehearsal today. The conductor is in jeans, the soloist (wait until you see her in a formal gown on Sunday!) sports Hollister t-shirt and grey sweats, and the #WPO musicians are in equally casual “vesture”. But the effect of their penultimate efforts at perfection are even more thrilling a day before the only performance. To see Len Ingrao conduct this newly formed group is a lesson in excellence- and in passion. “Conductors”, said George Szell, “must give unmistakable and suggestive signals to the orchestra, not choreography to the audience” and Ingrao shows connection to the music and the people who play it with every feature of his face, movement of his body, and meticulous repeating of difficult phases. He know his musicians and his auditorium, warning ”This building loves the horns to death” or cautioning that the soloist’s Sarasate is a glorious piece “for violin and piano”, reminding the ensemble that their mastery of sound will have to be severely disciplined in volume. Eyes both professional and amateur move between the music and the conductor as intensely as I have ever seen them in London’s orchestral ensembles.
And the program itself bears the unmistakeable stamp of Ingrao’s musical sensibility. It begins with a march from Carl Nielsen’s Aladdin Suite in which the horns, trombones, tuba and basses recreate mental pictures of 40 slaves carrying 40 gold trays of gems. The performance of the piece is a stirring start to the concert. Two solos by Eliza-Marie Castillo follow. There may be controversy whether the Chaconne (done with the organ accompaniment arranged by Respighi) was actually written by Vitali himself. Experts say that the wild changes of style and key after the opening are Romantic rather than Baroque in style. That did not deter Jascha Heifetz from playing it in his 1920 New York debut- and you will be grateful that Eliza-Marie has chosen it as her first solo. Her smooth, eloquent bowing is taffy to the ear. Following the Vitali, Ms. Castillo takes on a Sarasate Introduction and Tarantella. This 19th century violinist wrote salon music to display his own stunning technique (Holmes and Watson take an afternoon off in The Red-Headed League to go hear him!) but this young soloist sings the piece with her instrument, from its opening melody over a simple chordal accompaniment to the scintillating Allegro in 6/8 time with fingerboard movement that blurs the eyes.
But, oh my goodness, what a choice The Peer Gynt Suite is! The music was first commissioned by Hendrik Ibsen for his play based on the madcap adventures of a ruffian who dreams of becoming an emperor. His adventures- from abducting a bride (after deserting his own sweetheart), being tormented by gnomes, pretending to be a prophet among Arabs, to suffering a double-cross by an Arab princess…what a romp for Grieg’s Nordic virtuosity!. The combined orchestra musicians have the technique and tone to tempt us into Peer's footsteps through some of the loveliest, most familiar music of the orchestra repertoire. “Ingrid’s“Lament” is both poignant and angry but “Anitra’s Dance” thrills from its first magical chord, its glorious violin melody over a pizzicato background and its challenge to the cellists to imitate the opening melody. The abandoned sweetheart, Solveig, is brought to life in the rich mezzo- soprano of Claire Latosinsky, her sorrow poignant in every clear note. And “Morning Mood” … so familiar but never tiresome. I challenge anyone to avoid humming a bar or two as the E-major theme is announced by the violins, deepened by the oboes and graced with bird-like trills from the flutes.
Another bonus of having a brilliant conductor who is local, committed to his musicians, and tireless! Len Ingrao’s notes admit that he has chosen, abridged, combined, and modified some choral parts for brass so that the Finale is genuine Grieg- but locally cut and polished to end the concert with a stunning crescendo of sound.
This harmony of “immortal souls” is yours for the hearing on Sunday afternoon at Dundas Centre United. Please don’t miss the chance to live through some celestial moments.
Daina Janitis is a Londoner by choice, living in a woodlot just across the city limits, reveling in retirement by volunteering for many of the music groups of the city. She taught English for 33 years in area high schools, planned school travel through Pauwels, managed the London Youth Symphony, and was the last president of the Volunteer Committee of Orchestra London. She continues to be delighted by the unique bounty of creative arts available to Londoners.