Last night, Saturday April 16th 2016, we went to hear the Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra play the final concert of this season at Hamilton Place. The organization carries on with further presentations in the spring, including four concerts in their What Next Festival of New Music. The conductor, on this occasion, was Eric Paetkau. He presently leads the Saskatoon Symphony and the group of 27 in Toronto, of which he is the founder.
They opened with the Elgar’s three movement Serenade for Strings. The string sections, with 38 players, are about as big as this orchestra gets. I’d never heard this piece before and, as a big fan of Elgar’s music, I was looking forward to it. A violinist himself, Paetkau elicited a nuanced performance. Unfortunately we rarely got to hear the lovely big sound of this orchestra’s strings as the overall dynamics were tamped down to the point where the pianissimos were virtually inaudible from our orchestra level seats. I wondered whether the conductor had gone out in to the hall at any point to listen.
The second offering was the world première of Abigail Richardson-Schulte’s Trumpet Concerto. The soloist was the orchestra’s principal trumpeter, Michael Fedyshyn. The piece was commissioned by the HPO and the group of 27. Richardson-Schulte writes approachable, eclectic modern music which often has a programmatic element. This piece, however, is absolute music, although its form tends to be episodic.
It is a successful concerto and a very nice piece, and should, like Richardson-Schulte’s previous hit, The Hockey Sweater, be programmed by many Canadian orchestras. There’s lots of variety and the motives out of which the work is constructed were recognizable enough on first hearing that there was no danger of becoming lost. An expert orchestrator, the composer employs striking colouristic features especially in the lovely opening of the middle movement in which simple gestures by the soloist are accompanied by contrasting chords and clusters from the orchestra.
The soloist is called upon to play C trumpet, Bb cornet and flugelhorn at different points in the work. Technically, the bore of the C trumpet is most cylindrical and that of the flugelhorn most conical and, thus, mellowest. In the second movement the sound of the flugelhorn was, indeed, more relaxed, but there was surprisingly little difference between the sound of the trumpet and cornet when the soloist switched back and forth between them in the finale. Fedyshyn handled the demands of the part fluently on all three instruments.
After the lengthy intermission, the orchestra played Tchaikovsky’s Fourth Symphony. Unlike the Elgar that opened the concert, it was plenty loud in the appropriate places, as this composer’s music tends to be.
However much one likes Tchaikovsky’s music, with its frequent literal repetitions and rising sequences, it is crowd-pleasing music and the conductor and orchestra presented a stirring performance to which the audience responded with the obligatory standing O. (Indeed, some in the audience applauded each movement!)
The plan for the 2016-2017 season has been released and offers some interesting repertoire amidst pop and family concerts. A full 9 concert subscription can be had for as little as $19 a show.