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WENDY ROSE: In awe of the raw power of classical music

Guest conductor Jeffrey Rink greets the excited audience at “Ra Ra Rafael,” the second Masterworks Series performance from the Newfoundland Symphony orchestra.
Guest conductor Jeffrey Rink greets the excited audience at “Ra Ra Rafael,” the second Masterworks Series performance from the Newfoundland Symphony orchestra. - Wendy Rose photo

The second installation of the Newfoundland Symphony Orchestra’s Masterworks Series was held at the Arts and Culture Centre on Friday, Nov. 16, featuring guest cellist Rafael Hoekman.

A St. John’s native now living in Calgary, Alberta, Hoekman was one of two guests at “Ra Ra Rafael,” performing with guest conductor Jeffrey Rink, who most recently worked with the Tokyo Amadeus Orchestra before joining the NSO for the one-off show.

“Ra Ra Rafael” featured selections from a trio of Russian born composers — Mikhail Glinka, Dmitri Shostakovich, and Alexander Borodin, the carefully chosen songs spanning more than 120 years of Russian history.

After opening statements from NSO CEO Hugh Donnan and The Telegram’s own Tara Bradbury, the show began with Glinka’s 1936 opera “A Life for the Tsar” overture, conducted by Jeffrey Rink.

With a slow and haunting start, the music seemed to tell a dark and nefarious tale, an air of excitement and adventure floating out with the notes. Reading the synopsis later, I learned that this piece is based on a 1916 plot to kidnap and murder the Tsar.

Once again, the symphony orchestra had me feeling in awe of the raw power of classical music, and its ability to say so much without a single word. It was truly extraordinary.
Hoekman entered the stage, taking a seat front and centre next to the guest conductor, as we began our journey through Shostakovich’s 1959 “Cello Concerto No. 1,” a four-part symphony spanning a full half-hour, prominently featuring cello and horn.

Slight intakes of breath and little grunts were audible as the guest cellist shredded his bow, seeming to headbang with the impressive and commanding solos, ranging from frantic and frenzied to funeral-appropriate.

Hoekman was — as a friend later stated — a “rockstar,” exerting intense energy while playing his instrument.

I was reminded of the the heavy metal show I reviewed last Friday night – though the genres were quite different, the passion was unrivalled.

After intermission, we departed from the witty works of Shostakovich in favour of Alexander Borodin, one of The Mighty Handful of Russian composers.

The NSO launched into the 1869 composition “Symphony No. 2,” another four-parter.

The percussion section finally made its appearance during the half-hour performance, which prominently featured harp, triangle, tambourine, cymbals and more, beautifully complementing the complex movements.

The final song of the night was truly a grand finale, as the Philharmonic Choir of the NSO joined the orchestra onstage for Borodin’s “Polovtsian Dances” from “Prince Igor,” first performed in 1890.

Though the show was both intense and moving, I left the theatre with dry eyes — because I blinked maybe a dozen times throughout the entire show, never wanting to miss a single second of the awesome action.

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