Vancouver Symphony Orchestra

At the Orpheum Theatre on Saturday, February 3

The Vancouver Symphony Orchestra’s most recent offering in its Musically Speaking series was a sampler of mostly American, mostly 20th-century music. Roberto Minczuk, the new music director of the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra, was at the helm. The concert showcased the talents of two players: associate principal trumpeter Marcus Goddard was featured as a composer, and principal cellist Lee Duckles was the soloist in Aaron Jay Kernis’s Air for Cello and Orchestra.

The Air was commissioned by Joshua Bell in 1995. Written for violin and piano, it was adapted first for violin and orchestra, then for cello and orchestra.

The Duckles performance was, apparently, the first in Canada of the cello version. It was good to make the acquaintance of this spacious, meditative music as well as to have a chance to hear this fine player. He’s an outstanding ensemble musician, which is what this piece requires: virtuosity innocent of flash.

I Send Only Angels, by Marcus Goddard, received its world premiere. It’s a programmatic piece, and is evidently based on a children’s fable called “The Little Soul and the Sun”. It has to do with an inner journey: coming through the dark and into the light and so on. This information, which puts one in mind of a remainders table at Banyen Books, did not predispose me to hopefulness. I was wrong. The work evolves from the bellicose brass- and percussion-driven rhythms of its opening into a shimmering, translucent, winning eloquence.

The other works on the program, warhorses all, gave the brass, especially, a chance to shine. A highlight was listening to Toronto-born pianist Stewart Goodyear give a hot-blooded, global-warming-inducing reading of the Piano Concerto in F major, by George Gershwin.

The chance to see his hands at close quarters almost made those damn screens—the ones where video footage of the orchestra and its conductor is projected during all of the Musically Speaking concerts—seem worthwhile.