Bet you’ll walk out humming The Maple Leaf Forever
As we go through life in this seemingly topsy-turvy world, there are a few important lessons to keep in mind.
Life Lesson #1: Don’t tug on Superman’s cape.
Life Lesson #2: Don’t spit into the wind.
Life Lesson #3: Don’t mess with success.
But when it comes to programming a family concert, the most important lesson William Rowson learned out west, where he’s currently in his first of two seasons as assistant conductor with the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, is that you need to “come up with the perfect themed show where every piece has multiple levels of logic and narrative, and then just put ‘Star Wars’ in the middle anyway.”
Yup, just slip “Star Wars” or something similar in between all that classical stuff, and presto, you’ll get the visceral reaction you’re after. Works every time. See Life Lesson #3 above.
And Rowson, formerly the Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra’s librarian and also resident conductor of the 2016 What Next Festival where he led, among other works, his camp, one-act chamber opera inspired by 1920s German cabaret, “The Virgin Charlie,” will be implementing that lesson when he returns to Hamilton this Saturday to lead the HPO’s “Songs and Stories of Canada” family concert at 2 p.m. in Mohawk College’s McIntyre Performing Arts Centre.
The Canada-themed concert, which will spotlight Anglo, Franco, and First Nations elements in our nation’s life story, will open with Rossini’s “Overture to The Barber of Seville.”
Now, as classical music aficionados well know, there’s no connection between this popular Rossini overture and Canada’s sesquicentennial. But as The Bard wrote, “Though this be madness, there is method in ’t.” Yes, there is a reason for the Rossini.
“I’ve learned from my experience conducting at The Orpheum (in Vancouver) which has 3,000 seats and when you fill those seats up with Grade 3 kids you sort of need something of Bugs Bunny (Rabbit of Seville) fame to get them right away,” said Rowson over the line from Vancouver.
The Canadiana begins in earnest with the string orchestra version of Ernest Macmillan’s “A Saint Malo” from his 1927 “Two Sketches for Strings.”
“As the concert unfolds, it unfolds a little bit like a peoples’ history of Canada,” said Rowson. “We’re going to have some projections, some pictures. And I talk about the voyageurs and how they were celebrated.”
The voyageurs will cede to the story of the Canadian Pacific Railway. That 1881-1885 achievement will be celebrated with Johann Strauss Jr.’s “Pleasure Train Polka,” a work from 1864 inspired by the opening of the Austrian Southern Railway.
If you’re wondering whether there will be an echt-Canadian work from 1867 on the bill, look no further than Alexander Muir’s “The Maple Leaf Forever” during which a short film on Canada by local filmmaking collective Camp 905 Productions will be screened.
Hot on the heels of the Muir will be the 1986 reorchestration of Canadian composer Jean Coulthard’s “Lullaby for a Snowy Night” from “Canada Mosaic,” a work originally commissioned sometime around 1973 by the VSO for a planned tour to the People’s Republic of China which eventually fell through.
Alas, there’ll be no “Star Wars” this time around. After all, it was played at the HPO’s family concert last October 30. However, there will be another work from John Williams: “Theme from Harry Potter.”
Edvard Grieg’s “In the Hall of the Mountain King” will set up “The Sleeping Giant” by the HPO’s Dundas-based composer-in-residence, Abby Richardson-Schulte. Written in 2007 on a commission from the Toronto Symphony Orchestra for its Northern Residency in Thunder Bay, this programmatic piece is based on a legend about the giant Nanabosho who saved the Ojibwe from the Sioux.
The HPO, in particular its brass section, is pumped for Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries,” which will be followed by Dolores Claman’s “The Hockey Theme” arranged by Howard Cable. A singalong on “O Canada” will bring things to an end.
The day begins at 11 a.m. with an hour and a half of activities for kids including a create-your-own-instrument station and an instrument petting zoo.
Leonard Turnevicius writes on classical music for The Hamilton Spectator. firstname.lastname@example.org
William Rowson knows how to capture the attention of a really young audience.