Orchestra is an essential experience (for me, but maybe for everyone…)

Tonight, I heard an expertly performed version of the Rite of Spring, played by two pianists and a percussion section. Though it was a curiosity, at times delightful, and historically relevant (it was Stravinsky’s own version), it made me ache for the orchestral colours. Not only the frail, plangent bassoon, but the primal horns and earthy oboes, the powerful strings, the fireworks piccolo and mysterious alto flute. The piano version was like a sketch by a great master, deeply attractive, hinting a powerful shapes and colours, but never fulfilling them entirely. Lost was the fragility, the rawness, the great powerful waves of sound and rhythm.

The first record I ever owned was Rite of Spring, played by the Cleveland Orchestra. I could only play the disc at school (Prince George Senior Secondary) because we lived off-the-grid, thirty miles from the town of Prince George. We did have an electrical generator, but it provided the wrong kind of current since my Dad had salvaged it from a train… we blew up a toaster trying to use it (the generator). Anyway, when I went to university, I played the disc in the UBC library and would fall asleep listening to it on repeat. Later, I got to play the piece with Rafael Frubeck de Borgos when he conducted the Curtis Symphony Orchestra, and just a few years later, I got to tour all over Europe with the Montreal Symphony and Charles Dutoit, playing the Rite, including Paris where it all began. We recorded the work and it is written on my soul.

I love orchestral colour… to hear a great symphony from the inside is like living in a great painting… it is indescribable and unforgettable and addictive in the extreme. And it all began for me in a northern logging town that had the foresight to start a music programme and hire a superb band teacher who in turn put in a good word for me when the community orchestra started. So many good things have come to my life from that first experience. Every time that I play Mozart’s 40th, I think of the time I played it with the Prince George Symphony Orchestra — the wind section consisted of me, a flute and an oboe. On the recording, I couldn’t even hear myself! How things have changed yet none of it could have happened without the first opportunity that this community orchestra gave me.