Concert Review: Vancouver Symphony Orchestra – Tchaikovsky Winter Dreams


Tchaikovsky: Winter Dreams

Mon. Oct. 21, 2013 at 8:00pm

Orpheum Theatre

Mei-Ann Chen, conductor

Augustin Hadelich, violin


An-Lun Huang: Saibei Dance

Dvořák: Violin Concerto in A minor

Tchaikovsky: Symphony No. 1 in G minor, Winter Dreams


Roughly once a year, I get a chance to attend a performance of the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra (VSO) in the beautiful Orpheum Theatre. However, these occurrences are so few and far apart that each seems completely new to me. This time, my seat was close to the stage on the ground level, and I was shocked by how good the concert hall sounded. The sound was incredibly clear and intimate, perhaps a bit loud in general, and extremely unforgiving to the soloist. This was truly a concert of many firsts for me: besides my first review outside of Toronto, quite astonishingly this was the first time I had seen a professional orchestra with a female sitting as concertmaster, as well as one conducted by a female conductor, and most impressively, the first time I had seen a symphony conducted from memory.

The concert started with a performance of An-Lun Huang’s Saibei Dance. I had, as I suspect many readers have, never heard of this composer before. Surprisingly, An-Lun Huang currently lives in Toronto and is in fact a significant figure in the Canadian and Chinese-Canadian music environment. Saibei Dance is a selection from a suite that captures the exoticness and energy of the “wild west” of China. It invokes many images of North-Western China and Central Asia, without actually quoting any folk melodies.

It was noticeable from the beginning of the night that the conductor Mei-Ann Chen employed very deliberate and well-rehearsed techniques, somewhat paradoxically combining precise executions of tempo and dynamic cues with a flair for the dramatic. This observation wasn’t surprising during the first piece performed: considering Saibei Dance is not frequently programmed, this concert may very well have been the first time the current VSO roster has had to learn the piece, and thus have warranted a more mechanical method of rehearsing and conducting. However, her conducting style persisted through the concert, and it became clear to me that tonight’s performance by Mei-Ann Chen must have been one of the most prepared conductor performances I have seen. From my seat, every beat seemed clearly given, and every cue seemed precisely choreographed; in my experience, professional conductors often exhibit one or the other of the above in appropriate circumstances, but very rarely both. Furthermore, while I chuckled at the minuscule study score she had on her stand while conducting the Dvořák Violin Concerto, it could only mean that she did not in fact need to see most of its content; later, for the Tchaikovsky Symphony, she opted to forgo the score altogether. To those not familiar, conducting a symphony by heart is a feat of incredible memory and dedication akin roughly to reciting every definition of every word that begins with a vowel out of a foreign dictionary. It was apparent that she was engaging her orchestra as well as her audience, but it did seem a bit unusual and perhaps rather excessive. To be honest, there is not much I can say about the performance of the Tchaikovsky Symphony other than that it was quite good; there was nothing groundbreaking about it while all the nice details were addressed adequately, and the orchestra generally performed very well with few exceptions. However, Mei-Ann Chen is definitely a conductor to look out for in the future, for her ability to engage her audience if nothing else.

Also to look out for in the future, is tonight’s soloist Augustin Hadelich. Hadelich is a relatively young performer who has garnered some attention from extensive touring in the past few years. As mentioned, the Orpheum is an extremely unforgiving concert hall to a violin soloist, especially a loud one like Hadelich; even in the loud tutti sections, I could hear every note that the soloist played. Fortunately, at no point in the performance did Hadelich need cover from a loud tutti section. He performed with impeccable intonation, great dynamics considering the concert hall, and passion and musicality that absolutely won me over. His playing quite honestly reminded me of James Ehnes, whom I saw in concert only recently, but I might even say that the Orpheum made tonight’s concert an even more enjoyable listening experience than the Ehnes concert was. I have never found the Dvořák Violin Concerto to be exceedingly attractive, but I do think that Hadelich did a wonderful job tonight.

I am exhilarated and relieved that I managed to see Augustin Hadelich for my roughly-annual VSO concert. I am glad that I have started recording this roughly-annual surprise, and that this year’s was such a pleasant one. After tonight, I am hoping to see a chamber music concert from the front ground floor rows of the Orpheum the next time I have a chance; I think the sound quality heard in the hall tonight would be perfect for a string quartet or similar small ensemble. I shall report in roughly a year.


One Response to “Concert Review: Vancouver Symphony Orchestra – Tchaikovsky Winter Dreams”
  1. Ron K. says:

    I went last night having been very impressed with Hadelich’s playing of the Sibelius Concerto two seasons ago and agree he made the Dvořák sound much better than usual. Try the upper balcony next time, not too close to the sides where some odd sound reflections can be noticed. Vision is perfect and all the sound comes in a direct to you. Rush seats there are only $20.!

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