Joys - Carmina Burana
Kingston Symphony Orchestra
Sat. November 25, 8PM
Sunday November 26,
Reviewed by Mary Cameron
like the moon
changeable in state,
you are always waxing
is one moment hard
and the next moment watches over
the mind’s acumen in gambling;
it melts like ice.*
The first chorus of Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana - Fortuna,
Imperatrix Mundi (Fortune, Empress of the World) - is meant
to and does strike some terror in the listener, with its percussion
and protesting, dissonant chords. It really does seem to be warning
of our terrible fate. That said, the performance on Saturday night
of this powerful masterwork here in our own backyard, was inspiring,
humbling, and a great sharp pleasure indeed. I felt very lucky
to attend. Guided to our parking spot by baton-waving attendants,
cars placed as neatly as if on a ferry bound through the night,
my partner and I entered the Kingston Gospel Temple and took our
seats on the soft blue curving pews.
The evening began with the Aaron Copland’s Rodeo—Four
Dances, which was immediately recognizable with its horsehoofs
and whip cracks, great bounce of cowboy brawn and bravado. There
were comical exchanges between instruments, rhythmic breaks and
jauntiness. I could see horse and rider, a wagon struggling in
a muddy bit, some grandma’s bonnet flying off into the grass.
Every western film soundtrack and musical draws from Copland’s
pieces: a shifting narrative of sunrises, solemn pride in the great
wide land, delicate dances between tentative girls and their nervous,
wet-haired beaux. The last dance - Hoedown - is the
quintessential galloping-across-the-prairie music, lariots swinging,
the excitement of the new land, youth, skill, frontier America.
The orchestra reconfigured, and choirs filled the wide arcs of
chairs behind the musicians. More than 200 voices, from the Kingston
Choral Society, Queen’s Choral Ensemble and Cantabile Children’s
Choir, and three soloists, soprano Elizabeth McDonald, tenor Benoit
Boutet, and bariton Bruce Kelly, appeared before the expectant
audience. The massive opening chorus began, and suddenly the most
pleasurable of concert experiences occurred - the sensation
of being swept up into the music, swept away, at times even threatening
to be swept under.
The huge choir sang with great articulation and control, sometimes
in short bursts of words or syllables, shouts, or strong last high
notes flung beautifully, in folk songs, chants, and the most lovely
romantic songs. Choir and orchestra made a conversation as if between
bells, struck low, then high, or with the brilliance of a crowd
of townsfolk running, praising, in the streets. Bruce Kelly sang
lustily and with great character, a bandit or blusterer, filling
the hall. Benoit Boutet made amusing turns at the top of a flight
of stairs, even collapsing against the balcony railing while still
singing eerily high. Elizabeth McDonald, with gorgeous control
and agility, sang as the orchestra roiled and rumbled. Whoops of
approval and glee from someone in the audience were like long-delayed
echoes from a Copland cowboy.
Then the capitulation of the soprano solo, above the sad woodwinds,
and long beautifully held notes, and at last, her high leaps and
feints, part scales and dance, before the final chorus came boiling
in once more.
Conductor Glen Fast swept percussion in with his left arm like
the drawing in of thunderous weather, and with baton in his right
hand, drew the choir across the final chorus. Here the tsunami
or apocalypse: the choir’s jagged chords with drums rolling
low, triumphant, torn apart; the gong’s reverberating tones
capturing Fate’s inevitable turn; final explosions of cracking
drums, cymbals and gorgeous craziness as the performance came to
In this hour
sweep the sounding strings;
and for that which, by lot,
overthrows the strong man,
weep with me, all of you!*
The moon hung in its graceful cracked arc as we pulled out of
the parking lot toward home, the choir’s sea of faces still
before us. An evening of extraordinary power and exhilaration to
be grateful for.
Bio: Mary Cameron is a poet and amateur musician living in Kingston.
Her book of poems, Clouds Without Heaven, was published in 1998.
She will be reading from new work at a fundraiser for Kingston
Literacy at the Kingston Public Library on December 6.
*Latin text translated by William Mann, 1965.