By Mike Keenan.
As we left Partridge Hall at the conclusion of the Niagara Symphony Orchestra’s delightful pops program, the lady beside me, blurted out, “That was fun!”
Indeed. For me, it was exciting because the NSO paid tribute to Arthur Fiedler, the legendary Boston Pops conductor. He championed light classics, operetta, and popular songs along with whimsical novelties such as The Typewriter and The Syncopated Clock, the former played towards the end of the evening.
Fifty years ago on our honeymoon, my spouse and I experienced musical serendipity at the San Francisco Opera Hall when Fiedler breezed in mid-day, a camel-hair coat propped on his shoulders and followed by a large entourage, as we remained to watch him rehearse the orchestra. Fiedler made the Boston Pops orchestra famous, and remained at it for 50 years.
The evening was enjoyable also because a total of 22 Niagara Youth Orchestra musicians participated in the first two numbers, side-by-side with the NSO and many of their teachers. Laura Thomas the NYO conductor took the podium for the second piece, and it was delightful to watch young violinist Simon Hauber sitting beside concert master Valerie Sylvester – beaming throughout the entire process.
Yet more fun was the fact that St. Catharine’s native, Jocelyn Fralick, a talented young soprano, sang several Puccini favourites from La Bohème and Madama Butterfly while her proud parents, Steve (principal trombone) and Janice (second French horn) played accompaniment in the orchestra! Jocelyn possesses a superb voice and obviously has a great future ahead.
Bradley Thachuk, in his seventh season as Music Director, added to the merriment with his talented baton and genial commentary throughout the evening. He clearly enjoyed the performance with a perpetual smile and great energy as the orchestra worked their way through Strauss, (On the Beautiful Blue Danube), Bizet (Les Toréadors, Carmen and Farandole, L’Arlésienne ), Offenbach (Can-Can, Orpheus in the Underworld), Ravel (Pavane pour une infant défunte), Bach/Stokowski (Toccata & Fugue in d-minor), Grieg (Morning & Hall of the Mountain King, Peer Gynt), Mascagni (Intermezzo, Cavalleria rusticana), Suppé (Light Cavalry Overture) and Saint-Saens (Bacchanale, Samson et Dalila). Thachuk’s inspired encore was a jump blues jazz rendition of Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy that featured the orchestra’s spectacular solid brass section and had the audience pulsating in their seats!
This season, the NSO’s 70th, offers 24 concerts in three distinct series: Masterworks, POPS! and Classical Family. During these concerts, the NSO showcases top national and international guest artists, bringing world class stars to Niagara, and the NSO is also a leader in music education, offering programs to nurture a life-long love of music in Niagara students.
Thachuk maintains that “As curators of music in the region, it is incumbent on us to ensure that this most universal of art forms thrills, enriches and thrives in Niagara.” Under his leadership, the NSO has expanded their season, tripling its concert offerings in just five years. It’s history reverts way back to The St. Catharines Civic Orchestra, established in 1948 under Jan Wolanek as a community orchestra. They are fortunate to have Partridge Hall and Cairns Hall in the FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre as their home base. The FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre is a vital component in the renaissance of downtown St. Catharines, offering 600 events annually, attracting 125,000 visitors annually and it also serves 500 Brock University students daily.
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