Music: a moment and its aftermath

In January Ottawa’s Thirteen Strings Chamber Orchestra played one of its regular season concerts at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church on Wellington Street. Here is some online discussion of the concert among excited fans of that evening’s soloist, cellist Paul Marleyn. I volunteer on the little orchestra’s board so I attend every concert, but this one was special for two reasons.

First, the repertoire was ideal. For me the highlight was the Impromptu by Finnish composer Jean Sibelius. A seven-minute arrangement for strings of some piano music he’d written, the Impromptu is a nearly perfect piece, dark and wistful. Played right, it seems to unfold in one long, inevitable phrase. Our orchestra played it right. I heard great orchestras this year but tonight it’s that Sibelius in the church that sticks with me.

The other special thing about the concert was the guest conductor, Kevin Mallon, Northern Irish by way of Toronto. On the strength of this one performance (and his dynamite c.v.)  we hired him more or less straightaway as the new music director for Thirteen Strings. Since then the little orchestra and its redhead conductor have started to create a buzz. Ticket sales for our Christmas concert were up 30% from a year earlier. This new momentum will continue with our Jan. 22 concert, featuring Vivaldi, some good British material, stellar soloists… and our new regular, Kevin Mallon.

Yes, this is just a plug for the orchestra I volunteer for. I’ll return to weightier matters on Thursday. But one of the year’s happier discoveries for me was that there’s something even better than hearing good music: helping it get heard.

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