The Georgia Straight
Day of Music brings smorgasbord of free shows
The trailer for the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra upcoming Day of Music is truly something to behold. As musical director Otto Tausk leads VSO players through Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s crashing 1812 Overture, rapid-fire edits show musicians of all sorts—jazz, traditional Chinese erhu, Indian sitar, blues, folk, and so on. They perform in a multitude of venues, including an underground parking lot and at Granville Island.
From this video, it’s clear that something dramatic is about to take place on this, the VSO’s annual Day of Music. On May 15, more than 100 free performances featuring musicians from across B.C. will be released online on DayofMusic.ca.
“It’s kind of a Netflix model,” VSO president and CEO Angela Elster told the Straight by phone. “There are hubs. You can link to world music or you can link to classical music or you can link to jazz or you can link to choirs. There’s a wealth of music, a wealth of talent, a wealth of creativity.”
The Day of Music also invites people to do yoga to classical music, if that’s their thing. UBC president Santa Ono, a talented cellist, will also participate, as will several choirs, the MEI Schools Marching Band, and scores of other artists. It will be eclectic and diverse.
Tausk told the Straight by phone that as part of the Day of Music, the VSO plans to livestream Czech composer Antonín Dvořák’s Serenade for Wind Instruments, Cello and Double Bass in D minor. Tausk described it as “a gorgeous piece celebrating music in a very energetic and positive way with some of the best wind writing ever produced by a composer”.
“Dvořák is a composer that I love very much,” the maestro added. “People that know the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra know Dvořák through the New World Symphony (Symphony No. 9). Now we’re presenting Dvořák in a different light, in a different way. Everything is different this season, so I thought that this would suit very well.”
For Tausk and the musicians, livestreaming will offer the feeling of performing a concert, even though the audience will be watching the show virtually. He also said that this performance will likely be offered in the future on the VSO’s digital platform, ConcertHall.ca.
There’s another reason, beyond showing a new side of Dvořák, that the VSO chose the Serenade for Wind Instruments. “Of course, we have to find works that actually fit on-stage,” Tausk acknowledged. “So if you want to do a Mahler symphony, it’s just not possible at this very moment.”
And because musicians must keep their distance from one another, resulting in smaller contingents for each performance, it has changed the VSO’s repertoire this season. “You dive into all these new things that we hardly ever get to play, like the Gran Partita by Mozart that we played this season,” Tausk noted.
It’s a different experience conducting an orchestra during a pandemic. Because he’s wearing a mask, the musicians can only see his eyes. This means that Tausk must show more with his hands so that the players get a better sense of the conductor’s intentions.
Tausk expressed surprise by how resilient the VSO has been during the past year. Live performances in front of audiences came to an end on March 15, 2020, four days after the World Health Organization declared that COVID-19 is a pandemic.
He pointed out that although orchestras around the world ceased making music, the VSO soldiered on with its digital concerts, aiming to produce 40 by the end of the season. That was on top of planning the 202122 season.
“It’s a very new thing, of course, to just be visible online and not be there in the hall with your audience,” Tausk said. “It’s something we really miss, but at the same time, we’re doing something else that is also very rewarding.”
The Day of Music was launched on January 26, 2019, to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the VSO. It featured 12 hours of music with 100 acts and 15,000 audience members from across the Lower Mainland. Last April, the VSO planned to follow it up with outdoor stages along Granville,
Smithe, Seymour, and Robson streets, but that was kiboshed by the pandemic.
Since the cancellations, Elster said that the VSO has had a year to learn how to better present music digitally. And she pointed to the mental-health benefits that come from listening to music in challenging times.
“We’re continuing to be ambitious because we’re completely dedicated to the power of music and what it does for society,” Elster said. “And to be celebrating the power of music with musicians from all across the province is an honour and a delight.”