Regina Symphony Orchestra
When: Feb. 15
Where: conexus arts centre
Without fail, the Regina Symphony Orchestra put on a performance Saturday evening that memorably entertained the near capacity audience at the Conexus Arts Centre.
The night, featuring cinematic music including some previous Academy Award winners, was the perfect event for symphony newcomers as tradition was eschewed this evening. The fun was dialed all the way up making even the uninitiated feel completely at ease.
Three emcees led the evening off as CBC-TV news host Jill Morgan welcomed the audience before handing off the night’s duties to Miss World Canada 2013 Camille Munro and Regina’s harmonica extraordinaire Richie Pollack. Unlike most evenings where the emcee briefly says their piece and is done for the evening, Munro and Pollack teamed up with esteemed symphony conductor Victor Sawa to introduce each composition to the crowd.
Beginning with a bit of misdirection, Sawa commenced the show’s music noting the first piece wasn’t so much an Oscar winner as a winner in general and one the crowd would undoubtedly know. As the orchestra played the opening notes of the Saskatchewan Roughriders’ rally song Green is the Color the audience quickly joined in clapping and hooting along to the anthem of the 2013 Grey Cup champs.
Musically, the local orchestra was superb, as always, though they seemed more relaxed and in the moment than usual, due partially at least to the large number of musicians who took advantage of the opportunity to dress up as their favourite movie character or in their preferred red carpet outfit. A large majority of the performers seemed to be truly enjoying the more casual atmosphere, as smiles were more predominant onstage throughout than on nights with more traditional fare.
As far as Maestro Sawa, he was in his element cracking jokes, offering movie synopses, and bantering cleverly with Pollack.
When Sawa annualized the Oscars concert over a decade ago as part of the Pops series, he truly opened the doors to musical laypeople, offering a glimpse of the beauty and wonder of classical music to younger age groups more accustomed to modern radio hits and little orchestral knowledge to differentiate Bach from Brahm.
Though Reginans still have a portion of this symphony season and the upcoming 2014-2015 season to properly fete Sawa for his contributions over the last 20 years to the Regina Symphony Orchestra and local culture in general, his lasting legacy will be a generation of music fans who have learned to love classical music via his unique ability to make it interesting and accessible for us average Joes.
To be fair, John Williams’ E.T. and Close Encounters of the Third Kind compositions transported us to space for periods that made some ponder the wonders of the galaxy, Hans Zimmer’s Gladiator orchestration helped us visualize the intensity and brutality of battle, and Bernard Herrman’s eerie score for Psycho made everyone cringe at times and contemplate choosing baths over showers for the near future. Yet it was the amazing musicianship of our local players honed under Sawa’s direction and the joyous and relaxed atmosphere that made the night truly special.
Further cementing that perspective was the annual costume contest during intermission that saw RSO players take home gift baskets for great outfits portraying Wolverine, Vince Vega and Mia Wallace from Pulp Fiction, and Merida from the animated movie Brave. While disappointing that only one audience member, a young boy dressed as a zombie, chose to take part, it’s endearing to note the stewardship of the orchestra encourages the players to revel in the fun, including the many Trekkies who dressed the part onstage.
While smiling, laughing, and symphony music aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive entities, it is rare to encounter them in perfect synergy like they were Saturday night. Those whom have put off or disregarded opportunities to see and experience the wonderful institution that is the Regina Symphony Orchestra owe themselves at least one night over this next year to experience classical music with the Sawa touch – he just may be the toughest act to follow.