Christmas cheer for your ears from Victoria Symphony Orchestra

Performance by Yo Yo Ma leads a month of holiday celebration

Yo Yo Ma performs with the Victoria Symphony Orchestra to celebrate its 75th season.

When sounds of the Victoria Symphony first rang out, gentlemen arrived in top hats and tails while ladies sported white gloves, furs and evening gowns to listen to the ambitious group of musicians.

Now in its 75th season, the VSO continues to carry on the tradition of music worthy of a tuxedo, while playing to an entirely less formal audience.

“The music is being created by a really young orchestra … there’s a lot of young people in their 20s and 30s,” says Maestra Tania Miller. “We’ve really tried in Victoria – and I think achieved – the sense we’ve shaken things up and kind of created something that’s diverse and unexpected.”

What’s not unexpected is the symphony’s spectacular December, highlighted this year with a special appearance by superstar cellist Yo Yo Ma, Dec. 7.

“It’s going to be an exciting December, kicking off with Yo Yo Ma. It’s one of those concerts that you just wish you had the opportunity to get everybody in and maybe even have two concerts,” Miller says. “It’s one of the big foundational parts of our 75th anniversary celebration.”

Ma will perform Dvorák’s Cello Concerto in his first appearance under Miller’s direction.

“In a sense it’s no different than preparing the piece and the experience with any other soloist,” Miller says. “With Yo Yo Ma of course, I’m going to be extremely well prepared and just do what I normally do, which is to follow him and try to create the best possible connection (with the orchestra).”

The drive to score Ma took more than three years of organization. “By the time we found out that he would actually be able to come we had juggled our schedule many times to accommodate a variety of different possibilities and his acceptance came quite literally at the midnight hour before we went to print with our brochure, so it was really very exciting for us,” she says.

The excitement of Ma’s performance will be enhanced by the fact the orchestra will only have a brief rehearsal with him prior to the performance.

“One thing that I’ve witnessed with Yo Yo Ma is his extraordinary ability to encompass the entire hall with the force of his being, the force of his own personality. He shares his music very, very strongly, very tangibly, with everyone; through his face, through his body, he’s constantly turning around and looking at the musicians and sharing moments with them, connecting to them. Basically without saying anything he’s making it very clear that he is performing with them and sharing a musical moment with them and likewise with the audience, he’s very effusive and warm and extraordinarily communicative so that everybody feels a big part of the experience,” Miller says.

The holiday theme continues with a Sentimental Christmas Dec. 11 to 13 with soprano Eleanor McCain. “We are really excited because this year it’s going to be an enormous, traditional Christmas concert with a big choir, the Victoria Choral Society,” Miller says. “Also we’re excited that the St. Michaels Children’s Choir will be joining us for some John Adams music from Home Alone so we’re gearing up for a beautiful concert there with the whole community involved. That concert is very warm with sing-alongs involving the audience and traditional jokes and things about Christmas. It’s just a fun time to bring your whole family to it.”

Guest conductor Robert Franz leads the Victoria Symphony for the annual presentation of Handel’s Messiah Dec. 18 and 20 while Christmas with Holly Cole continues the month of festivities Dec 19.

“The Christmas pops concert is a perfect concert for people to experience if they’ve never been to the symphony before,” says Miller. “The repertoire is very mixed, it’s full of hits from movies or from classic or jazzy or popular or secular sort of Christmas hits. There’s a lot of humour involved, same thing with Holly Cole. For an audience member who hasn’t been to the symphony before, try out Christmas pops, try out Holly Cole and you’ll see how much fun it is and how beautiful music makes the Christmas season. I think that’s why people do gravitate towards the symphony in the Christmas season, they want to make their lives special, they want to make their month and their season, their holiday special. They want to bring together not only family – but I think everybody’s searching for that deep meaningful good feeling that life is all about and that’s what music does on a regular basis.”

The festive season finishes Jan. 1 with A Viennese New Year’s as conductor Brian Jackson returns to lead the seventh annual New Year’s Day tradition, featuring dancers from Ballet Victoria and two delightful vocalists.

“On Jan. 9, we have one of the extraordinary parts of our season happening and that is the music director of the Philadelphia orchestra, Yannik Nézet-Séguin,” says Miller. “He is one of the most world famous conductor’s right now and he is Canada’s most famous conductor. He’s from Montreal, he’s a young Canadian, he was our principal guest conductor 12 years ago for three years, before his career completely rocketed skyward.”

Nézet-Séguin has been a regular conductor at Metropolitan Opera in New York and all over the world.

“It is as special that he’s coming and working with our orchestra as Yo Yo Ma  coming and performing with our orchestra. He’s going to be conducting Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet overture and Brookner’s Symphony No. 4.”

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