What To Expect At Symphony Under The Sky

What To Expect At Symphony Under The Sky

Entering his 13th year as conductor of Symphony Under the Sky, our dear friend Bob Bernhardt has, more than once, described the programming of the music for the festival as being a discriminating selection he calls “stuff I like.”

That’s definitely true – if music by John Williams was nowhere to be found on the festival menu, Mr. Bernhardt wouldn’t leave his trailer (and we actually have trailers at Symphony Under the Sky!). But of course, there’s more to it than that, and you might find it interesting…

Each night of Symphony Under the Sky showcases the versatility of the musicians of the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra, for one thing. That’s not surprising, given that the rep runs the gamut from accompanying singer/songwriters like Jim Witter (Thursday night) to the kind of classical music that the words “symphony orchestra” bring to mind (Friday night). But taken as a whole, the four completely separate concerts over the course of four days also, I think, speaks to the versatility of the band; switching musical gears from genre to genre to genre is a feat worth celebrating in and of itself.

But Symphony Under the Sky can also serve as a kind of miniature introduction to what the ESO does for the rest of the year in the Winspear Centre – you know, inside, away from chattering squirrels, honking geese (and for that matter, honking cars), and the vagaries of a soon-to-arrive Edmonton winter. For examples…

Shows like Jim Witter's Time in a Bottle and the “movie night” that has also become a Symphony Under the Sky tradition (Saturday night) are a lot like ESO series such as our Robbins Pops series, or our newly-created ESO Rocks. This is the ESO in pure entertainment mode. Which is not to say the orchestra isn’t working for a living (all those John Williams charts that Bob loves so much give the brass players a major workout), but that brings in the next point.

Most orchestral musicians have been taking lessons all their lives, dedicating themselves to the art and science of making something beautiful emerge from a single, intricately-created instrument. And they have done so in order to realize the great symphonic canon. There are not many so dedicated that got into it hoping to accompany Jim Witter – with all due respect – but to bring to life the 350-odd years of works written for orchestra by composers like, say, Beethoven, Saint-Saëns, or Dvořák. That’s why Symphony Under the Sky always has a night devoted to the tried and true, and by amazing coincidence, it’s those three composers featured on our Friday night all-classical show this year.

As for the afternoon finale, there are a couple of givens. One, Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture. Why be outside if you can’t use your outside voice? And if cannons aren’t enough of an outside voice for you, I’m not sure what would be. The other – our Young Composers Project. Begun a couple of decades ago by the ESO’s first-ever Composer in Residence John Estacio, this wonderful program has helped emerging local composers create an orchestral work under the guidance of some of Canada’s finest composers, and have their work heard by a live audience. This year, Vivian Kwok’s Purge and Perseverance joins a long list of pieces that have set more than one creative artist on their path.

As for the rest of the afternoon grab-bag on Sunday – see Bob’s note above about “stuff he likes.” And throughout the festival, good friends join us. Some from among the orchestra, some from the community, and some guest artists with whom we’ve fostered enough of a bond that we’ve talked them into playing, literally, for the birds and the bees.

We know that for some Symphony Under the Sky audience members, this is their orchestra “fix” for the year. But if you like us outside, you should hear us inside, in the fabulous acoustic of our great concert hall downtown. We’re still there, behind the wall of construction going on all around us, trust me.

D.T. Baker