The Okanagan Symphony Orchestra recently held its annual Christmas concert with performances in Kelowna, Vernon and Penticton. Featuring a plethora of carols and orchestral chestnuts, the tone of the evening was light, uncomplicated and frothy — perfect holiday fare.
The OSO welcomed two members of the renowned Quartetto Gelato. Multi-instrumentalist Colin Maier and virtuoso accordionist Matti Pulkki brought sparkle and humour to the evening. Despite the jokes and witty patter, these classically trained musicians are at the top of their game. Whether presenting a schmaltzy arrangement of White Christmas, a foot-tapping bluegrass Christmas medley or a rousing traditional Jewish klezmer, the Duo Gelato’s outstanding talent and musicianship was clearly evident.
These two partners brought sparkle and life to arrangements of The Christmas Song, The Pipes and In the Bleak Midwinter. Maier’s whimsical rendition of the Elvis Presley classic Have a Blue(grass) Christmas was an especial treat with Maier on the fiddle instead of his customary oboe. He further proved his multi-instrumental prowess by playing the banjo during Trepak from Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker Suite.
Not to be outdone, Pulkki demonstrated his pyrotechnical flying fingers in the Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy and the Bach Toccata in D minor. The latter, originally composed for church organ, is highly virtuosic, and Pulkki’s fingers danced over the buttons with remarkable confidence and sensitive interpretation.
Maier gave an astounding rendition of Piazzola’s lush romantic Tanti Anni Prima, on the musical saw, producing an incredibly sweet, live sound replete with gorgeous phrasing and heartfelt intent. The duo played Klezmer Explosion without the orchestra, save for a haunting clarinet solo by Erin Fung. Despite its breakneck speed, the duo was tight, with a performance that was wild and joyful.
Of course, no OSO Christmas concert would be complete without a sing-along, and this year was no exception. Masks firmly affixed, the audience gave lusty and enthusiastic renditions of The First Noel and Holly Jolly Christmas, joined by Maier singing and Pulkki on accordion. There is something deeply satisfying about raising voices together, and in this time of much separation, it was keenly appreciated.
The last number, Romamolda Hora, was a toe-tapping, foot-stomping selection of traditional gypsy and Yiddish dances. Excellent ensemble work with the orchestra featured impressive feats of technical prowess, with the music escalating into an exciting finale.
Unsurprisingly, the audience surged to a standing ovation and was rewarded with a further serving of Gelato in the form of two Christmas songs: Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas and Jingle Bell Rock.
Altogether, it was a satisfying evening on many levels. Bravo to the OSO for keeping the live music flowing.
Anita Perry is a composer and music teacher who lives in Summerland.