Regina Symphony Orchestra: A Journey Through Time & Place
· 12 min. read
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The Regina Symphony Orchestra (RSO) is one of the city's oldest non-profit organizations, dating back over a century. The RSO was started by Franklin Laubach in 1904, under the name "Regina Philharmonic Society". They held their first inaugural concert in 1908. Fifteen years and a world war later, in 1923, it was renamed the "Regina Symphony Orchestra, the Regina Choral Society, and the Regina Male Voice Choir", and in 1970 it was renamed again to the "Regina Symphony". Finally, in 1972, after 56 years of existence, it was renamed the "Regina Symphony Orchestra" and has remained that way ever since.
I mention this because the RSO has been a part of our city's collective history since the days of horses and wooden sidewalks. We had the RSO before we had running water, before we had electricity, and only four years after we got our first (paid) fire department. In fact, when Laubach created what would later become the RSO, Saskatchewan didn't even exist yet -- this was the Northwest Territories.
With all that said, the RSO has been an anchor in our collective history since the beginning and has seen the turbulent days of the war, the starving days of drought, the booming days of business, and the dark days of pestilence. Yet through it all, the performances are magnificent, transcending, and inspiring. Symphonies have been around for over four hundred years, with the modern "Classical Style" of orchestras having emerged in the 1800s. Unlike other forms of media that have come and gone over the generations, the symphony orchestra is absolute and timeless, spanning generations, yet connecting us all.
I recently attended Beethoven’s Seventh, which contained songs by composer Marcus Goddard (1973), Robert Schumann (1810-1856), and of course, Ludwig van Beethoven (1770 - 1827). I will fully admit that although I know of Beethoven and of his works, if you asked me to identify Symphony No. 7 over Symphony No. 9 or Symphony No. 5, I would be confidently incorrect. I went into the performance knowing I would hear No 7, but expecting to hear the gorgeousity made flesh that is No. 9. Yet, I did not leave longing, for No. 7 was beautiful in its own measure.
The performance began with Goddard's Wind, Sand, and Stars. During this piece, I closed my eyes and listened, my mind wandering through the dips and valleys of the music. Modern music is arid of melody. Instead, modern music is a myriad of quick bops and short beats, easy to consume and easy to produce. It's fast food music. Schumann's music is not that. It's deep, winding, adventurous, exciting, longing, passionate. Imagine the songs that play when Harry Potter first arrives at Hogwarts, or when Frodo Baggins climbs the Misty Mountains, or when Jake Sully rides through the skies of Pandora. These epic moments are imprinted in your memory not because of the sights, but because of the sounds. Schumann's music does this, by pin-pointing the moments in your brain through the power of music to transport you from the audience to a world of adventure.
This is exactly what Goddard had intended too, as his piece is based on the memoir of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry and his time as an airmail pilot during the 1930s -- one that included a near-fatal crash in the Sarah Desert.
Descending (safely) down from the high that was Goddward's Wind, Sand, and Stars, the concert hall introduced solo cellist Cameron Crozman, who was named "Canada's next big cello star" by CBC's Music and 2019-20 Classical Revelation artist of Radio Canada. Crozman controlled the audience with his performances of Schumann's Nicht zu schnell, Langsam and Sehr lebhaft. During these pieces, I was memorized by Crozman, as well as the nearby violinists. I was intrigued by how they used their instruments not only as a tool to produce music but as an extension of their own body. They would twist and curl and wring the instrument to make it scream, and then smoothly stroke and caress it to make it purr. As somebody who is more familiar with the energy that is rock, I couldn't help but feel similarities to Meatloaf's Wasted Youth when he is about to crash his guitar down onto his parent's bed, and his father says "That's no way to treat an expensive musical instrument!" and Meatloaf says, "You've got a hell of a lot to learn about rock 'n' roll". What Meatlof meant is what Crozman did. It's not just about the music; it's about the emotion.
Although Crozman's genre is different than Meatloaf, the same passion exists between the two artists, and the wringing of the instruments, the yearning, the twisting, and the beautiful angelic screaming emitting from it, are of the same ascendancy. What he was holding was a simple box of spruce and willow or poplar box, but it produced something beyond similar linguistics. It was music, raw, beautiful, powerful. The zenith of creativity. The definition of life from nothing.
Crozman's performance, and that of the entire RSO, was breathtaking, and worth every ovation they received. But, an intermission was also most definitely needed to cleanse our pallet for what was to come.
I was unfamiliar with both Goddard and Schumann going into the performance but was pleasantly surprised by both. However, in the words of Alex in A Clockwork Orange, to give it the perfect ending was "a bit of the old Ludwig van."
Again, I expected Beethoven's No. 9, to be played that night, only because I am not a musical officiato and I am naive to the difference. However, as I waited for the infamous bum-bum-bum bum-bum-bum that is No. 9, I was transported back to a time and place where this music originated, on the sheer cliff of sadness and misery, mesmerized by the shining crack of a golden dawn.
Music Director Gordon Gerrard might have known the confusion between No. 7 and No. 9 to the people like myself in the audience, so he explained the importance of the piece. When No. 7 was composed, the Austrian Empire, Beethoven's home, was at war with Napolean, and cities were falling in and out of occupation. Not only was war and death on the minds of all, but Beethoven was also sick and suffered from headaches and high fever. His doctor recommended he go to the spa city of Teplitz in 1811. While in Teplitz he began composing No. 7. When it premiered in 1813 a concert to benefit Austrian and Bavarian soldiers wounded at the battle of Hanau, it was met with astounding applause and ovation. So much so that they begged for Beethoven to perform it again. The reason is because No. 7 is a cheerful, joyful, and airy piece, full of animation and movement. This was a stark difference between what Austria and Beethoven were feeling at the time. While they were wounded, sick, tired, and dying, this piece reminded them of the miracle and epiphany that is life. A new dawn, a new day, a new start, after a cold dark night.
It is no surprise then, as the Regina Symphony Orchestra's programme writes, that the piece was beloved by all... except for critic Friedrich Wieck, who said that he believed Beethoven was intoxicated while writing it. To be drunk on wine, or drunk on life, is a fleeting moment, yet one that connected us that Saturday night 2023 to those Austrian and Bavarian soldiers in 1813 -- two hundred and ten years apart, but the same melody, the same joy, and the same energy that is timeliness.
In a world where war is on everybody's minds, performances like that of Regina Symphony Orchestra's Beethoven's Seventh should remind us of another constant, one of community, perseverance, adventure, art, and life. All storm clouds pass, all guns fall silent, but forever, and ever, there shall be music.
If you're interested in attending a Regina Symphony Orchestra performance, you are in luck. As part of their Free Concert Series, there is a free performance at Government House on November 24, 2023, at 7:3pm, another at the Central Library on December 3rd at 2pm, and a third at the Glen Elm Library on December 7th at 7pm. There is also a Christmas Special on December 9th at 7:30pm at the Conexus. This one is not free, and tickets can be purchased online.
But, I also understand my readers are ages 27 - 35, and money is tight, and going to the orchestra isn't part of your monthly budget. The RSO understands that too. That's why they have the RSO Soundcheck program that allows any person under the age of 30 to attend a concert for only $20. That's a pretty solid deal for two hours of music.
Thank you to the Regina Symphony Orchestra for giving me the opportunity to attend Beethoven's Seventh. It was an incredible experience, filled with many surprises (some my own fault) and it really helped me better appreciate classical music. I wasn't sure what to expect, but I looking forward to going again soon.
Images of the performance belong to and are used with permission by the Regina Symphony Orchestra.
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Categories: Canada, History, Regina, Saskatchewan