Listen... the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra is playing

Thursday, August 14, 2008

More SSUTS (Sobeys Symphony Under the Sky) concert previews are coming soon! In the meantime, festival conductor Robert Bernhardt took the time to answer a few questions:

Q. What is different about conducting an outdoor festival concert vs one inside a concert hall?

I've had the great pleasure of conducting outdoor summer concerts for most of my career. In most every case, the outdoor setting is more casual and more relaxed than the regular season inside the concert hall. The programming ranges from 'serious' classics to fantastic pops, and everything in between.

What makes SSUTS so special is that, within 4 days, the ESO plays music in just about every genre we have to offer. This year, for example, we open the Festival with Brahms, Liszt and Wagner, and end it with Gershwin and Charlie Parker! We've also got an exuberant salute to Ballet, with dancers, and a concert devoted to movie scores. On top of all that, our pops concert this year is all Beatles, all the time! For SSUTS, we endeavor to make all of the concerts, including the classical opener, family friendly. I very much enjoy speaking to our audience from the stage, and hopefully our audience's connection with all of us on stage is enhanced to some extent by that contact.

The particular venue can directly effect the programming as well. For example, in Louisville I do a summer outdoor season called ROARCHESTRA! which is played on a lovely field at the Louisville Zoo on Saturday evenings in July. The programs are almost entirely pops, and can be punctuated with fly-overs by geese and walk-throughs by peacocks!

Part of the joy of the outdoor concert experience is the unpredictability of it. Weather, airplanes, fauna - so many things can effect a particular piece of music. Nevertheless, I enjoy it greatly, and it's the kind of setting that allows us to reach more first-time concert goers than any other venue during our year.

Q. What is your favourite memory of conducting SSUTS from previous years?

For me the favorite memory of all was the overall feeling, after my first SSUTS experience, that I enjoyed it so much more than I had hoped. I enjoy virtually all genres of music, and I had never been involved in a festival which, in four days of performances, allowed me to 'do it all' with such wonderful musicians, in such a beautiful performance space, collaborating with such a terrific staff, in a great city... For me, it's been a fantastic match, and I look forward to it each year.

Q. What do you most look forward to at SSUTS this year? Is there one piece during the weekend you’re especially looking forward to?

One of the most profound moments of my musical life as a child was hearing, and seeing the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show. I was already turned on to Bach, was curious about the world of Opera, and was blown away by the four lads from Liverpool. There are so many marvelous compositions I'm looking forward to conducting with the great ESO this summer, but all things being equal, (and they are in my psyche), I'm looking forward to Classical Mystery Tour! I've worked with these Beatles re-creators many times, and every time I'm more excited than the last. If you love the music of the Beatles, you will LOVE this show. Pretty much guaranteed...

Q. How DO you conduct cannons?

Great question, with several answers. I've conducted the 1812 Overture of Tchaikovsky dozens of times. Sometimes, indoors especially, there are no cannons. Sometimes, the percussion section has a synthesized Howitzer sound that they 'play' via keyboard or percussion pad and it blasts its way from a speaker. And on most occasions, it's outdoors with real weaponry. I've done it with pistols being shot into barrels, rifles, cannons, BIG guns...any number of ways.

In those cases which are outdoors, and the guns are in a nearby location, and I can see the 'gun director' and he/she can see me, I simply give the visual cue to begin. (Tchaikovsky is very specific in the score where he wants the blasts to take place.)

If the guns are out of sight, either there is a 2nd conductor there, on location with the guns, to give the cues or if the guns are VERY distant, someone near me is on headset to someone near them! Somehow or other, it all works out. And, pardon the pun, it's a blast.

Q. How many Fat Franks can you eat in one sitting?

I usually have to stand up.

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