There are moments in the cultural life of a city that should be remembered as nothing less than a triumph. What happened Saturday night, at the corner of Wellington Street and Dufferin Avenue in London, Ont., was one of them.
London Symphonia‘s season-opening concert at Metropolitan United Church was more than an evening of orchestral music. It was the dramatic, even cathartic, meeting of two story lines: that of a skilled and undaunted ensemble that has wandered an artistic wilderness for nearly a decade in search of place to call home, and that of a faith congregation in the heart of the city that seized an opportunity to transform its space into one that could serve as both a place of worship and an arts hub. Saturday night’s result was as brilliant as the autumnal colours of the weekend and as glorious as its warm sunshine.
The concert, dubbed We Are All One, after the double concerto for harp and cello by Kelly-Marie Murphy titled En el Escuro, es Todo Uno (In the Darkness, All is One), was spectacular for its music alone. Murphy’s evocative score revealed the skilful artistry of harpist Angela Schwarzkopf and the prodigious talent of cellist Cameron Crozman. But layer on the culmination of a $1.65-million renovation, jointly financed by the church and the orchestra, and the evening became a landmark event. It was a brand new space — not even Metropolitan’s congregants, who had spearheaded the fundraising, will gather in the renovated sanctuary until Oct. 30. One could hear the understated satisfaction in the voice of Al Edwards, chair of the renovation steering committee, during opening introductions: “This is really going to happen,” he said, with a hint of emotion. “It’s tremendous.” And it was.
Akasha, (meaning “sky” in Sanskrit) by Canadian composer Glenn Buhr, offered a foretaste of the exotic sounds and rhythms that would pervade the first half of the evening, while Mendelssohn’s familiar Symphony No. 4 in A major (“Italian”) closed the program, post-intermission. The concert’s centrepiece, however, was Murphy’s remarkable double concerto, which premiered in Montreal in 2018. The composition draws on songs from the Sephardic tradition for each of its four movements, together with Bulgarian, Turkish and Balkan influences. The concerto’s third movement, the Cadenza Yigdal, was arresting in both the emotion it evoked and the musical virtuosity it revealed. Conductor Gordon Gerrard, in his sixth season as leader of the Regina Symphony Orchestra, brought a casual yet masterful, business-like style to the podium, displaying an ease with audience interaction as he offered an unscripted, light-hearted introduction to the Mendelssohn work.
After two years of experimenting with live-streaming as a box-office option, London Symphonia appears to have mastered that aspect of its business plan too, with the help of Stratford-based Stream Studio. (Much as I would have loved to have been there in person, I opted for the livestream of Saturday’s concert. I’ll leave it to others to evaluate the acoustics of Metropolitan’s new space.) The livestream’s production values are high: superb direction, timely switching, sharp and focused video and a rich sound quality. The best I’ve seen and heard.
Amid the information desert that is London, Ont., on weekends, it’s easy to miss — or worse, dismiss — events of this import. But Saturday’s concert was a marvellous, exultant feat, both on the stage and off.
Here’s a time-lapse video produced by Metropolitan than speeds through the orchestra’s rehearsal on Thursday evening:
A guide to the remainder of London Symphonia’s 2022-23 season is here.