Jaime Lee Keelan and Fran Schweitzer of The Sisters of Soul

Canatara Bandshell, August 2016

Conductor/ Music Director

Douglas Bianchi

Dr. Robert Conway


In The Beginning: International Symphony Orchestra


Monday October 17, 2016


by Brian Hay


Operatic overtures often seem to have more of a punch when performed in concert than they do when heard as part of the work they introduce. Having a larger orchestra on hand could be a factor but it might be as simple as doing everything possible to showcase the number on its own merits. Whatever the case, the rendition the ISO under the baton of Douglas Bianchi gave to the opening piece from Mozart’s ‘Abduction From the Seraglio’ was no exception. The exhilarating rendition of the Turkish flavoured music near the beginning of the number carried the force of a marching band. The middle section conveyed the mock subterfuge with clarity enough to bring chuckles to those familiar with the opera and smiles to the lips of those who weren’t before leading to a finale that announced a great show to come. The orchestra didn’t disappoint.


Nor did their soloist for the evening, pianist Robert Conway. The thoughtful expression in his playing of the opening bars of Beethoven’s Fourth Piano Concerto offered paths to both heart and mind. What followed when the orchestra joined and their conversation began, was an unfolding of a story clear enough to have a narrative yet abstracted so as to become uniquely personal for each listener. Conway’s playing spoke of introspection from many levels, and, when needed, displayed the full grandeur inherent in that period of Beethoven’s writing. He captured the sense of beauty that was so deeply rooted in Beethoven’s psyche beautifully. He also delivered a little bonus in the form of a short intermezzo by Brahms. The ovation that followed suggested the audience would have been satisfied if the show had ended there.


It didn’t though.


Healy Willan’s ‘Overture to an Unwritten Comedy’ was given a reading that either begged for the work it was intended for to be completed or left on its own because of how tough it would be to create something good enough to follow it. Five minutes of ravishing music played splendidly yielded a revelation that Bianchi and the musicians of the ISO should be thanked for shedding some light on.


Bianchi’s reading of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony had more of an overview of the work as a whole than what’s often heard, both live and on record. The first movement which, according to the program notes, is frequently described as “Destiny Knocking at The Door”, sounded like exactly that. From there, Bianchi’s shaping took precedence. His reading of the second movement was filled with sublime beauties and hints of grandeur that clearly escalated through the third movement before moving on to the glorious finale. Just calling it “thrilling” would be an understatement: Bianchi’s reading built on the suspense written into the work and brought it to a level of excitement that conjured images of climbing Everest by jumping from peak to peak.


There were moments when some of the players seemed tentative but that’s okay. Those instances became fewer to the point of vanishing as the symphony progressed. Long before its conclusion the musicians were reacting rather than thinking and their confidence was heard in every gloriously played note. Hearing and seeing it come together that way was as magical as their performance was exhilarating.


That’s the beauty of live performances.


This performance took place at the Imperial Theatre in Sarnia Ontario on Saturday October 15, 2016. The article was written to convey impressions of what it was like to be at the concert.