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Nanaimo’s Vancouver Island Symphony presents largest concert in two years

22-member string orchestra presents ‘Slavonic Sweets’ at the Port Theatre
Vancouver Island Symphony principal violinist Calvin Dyck and the string orchestra present ‘Slavonic Sweets’ at the Port Theatre. (Photo courtesy Diamonds Edge Photography)

After postponing its January concert due to COVID-19 concerns the Vancouver Island Symphony is back with its biggest show in two years.

On Feb. 12 the VIS presents Slavonic Sweets at the Port Theatre. The program includes the pieces Romanian Folk Dances, Nocturne and Souvenir de Florence by Romantic-era composers Bela Bartok of Hungary and Alexander Borodin and Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky of Russia, respectively.

The compositions will be performed by the VIS’s 22-person string ensemble, which principal violinist Calvin Dyck said is the most musicians they’ve had on stage at once since the start of the pandemic.

“After two years of not having any orchestra we’re looking forward to this. The only thing the symphony has been able to do is do really small ensembles like trios or quartets or the summer pop-up events…” Dyck said. “There have been a few attempts to bring the orchestra back, but then each time one of the health protocols got in the way.”

Bartok’s Romanian Folk Dances are based on actual folk songs that Bartok listened to and wrote down while visiting Romanian villages. Dyck described the pieces as “fun and upbeat. Very peasant-like and brisk and energetic.” He said Borodin’s Nocturne is a “soul-stirring” composition that suits Valentine’s Day, which comes two days after the performance.

Dyck said Tchaikovsky’s four-movement Souvenir de Florence is “the main work on the program.” He said it’s a “technically challenging” piece with “soaring melodies.”

“I’ve played the other two pieces many times,” Dyck said. “This is my first time playing the Tchaikovsky Souvenir and I guess I would describe it as a serenade for strings but [with] lots of technical wizardry.”

VIS artistic director and conductor Pierre Simard said one reason he chose to feature those works in the concert is because he has a “rather personal relationship” with all three of them.

“Bartok, because I’m currently working on my compositions a bit like Bartok was, defining one idea and then developing that idea. Borodin’s Nocturne I have a very special memory of that piece because … it’s tied to an early professional gig that really launched my career as a conductor…” Simard said. “And Tchaikovsky was my teenage hero, believe it or not.”

WHAT’S ON … The Vancouver Island Symphony presents Slavonic Sweets at the Port Theatre, 125 Front St., on Feb. 12 at 5 and 7:30 p.m. Tickets $27 to $54 for adults, $20 for students. Available here.

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