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Review: Symphony concert in Cowichan the best this year

Amazing performance by Yoon earned him a spontaneous roar from the audience who leapt to their feet
Cellist Brian Yoon made a big impression on concert-goers at the Cowichan Performing Arts Centre on Feb. 10, 2023. (Photo courtesy of

By Michael D. Mills

On Friday, Feb. 10 the gloom of winter was lifted for those lucky enough to be in the Cowichan Performing Arts Centre when Christian Kluxen brought his Victoria Symphony Orchestra to Duncan.

Kluxen likened this concert to “a well-planned meal, from amuse-bouche to appetizer to palate cleanser to main course.”

Well the amuse-bouche was a lot of fun. Ten strings came onto the stage to play Heinrich Biber’s ‘Battalia à 10’, a piece that comically parodies 10 musketeers arriving too late for the war, so they became fiddle players. They were joined by the biggest lute I have ever seen, the arch-lute. The 10 players stood on the left of the stage playing music which ranged from the idyllic to the atonal and included foot stomping by the 10 and the conductor.

At one point the two cellists stood with their foot on a chair and played their instrument as if it were a guitar! Except instead of strumming they plucked the strings and made it sound like a canon going off.

The music was written as a carnival pantomime piece that mocked the musketeers by weaving in several different pieces of folk songs all played simultaneously thus creating havoc among them. It ends with the soulful lament of the wounded musketeer. After which the musicians simply wandered off!

Then Kluxen ran across the stage and started conducting the wind sections and Brian Yoon. The wind sections had sat silently through the Biber piece and Yoon sneaked on just at the end. The surprise for us was that he was joined by a drummer and two electric guitar players, one of whom doubled on the double base. They all launched straight into the ouverture of Freidrich Guida’s ‘Concerto for Cello and Wind Orchestra’. This movement was pure rock and roll and it was as well that Yoon had confessed to playing heavy metal on his cello because rock he did. However, even this rock music was interwoven with Alpen music straight from the Austrian Alps with an alpenhorn imitation in the form of a “Landler,” a slower precursor of the waltz.

The next movement, ‘Idyle’, has us well and truly in the Alps with the brass section introducing folk melodies taken up by the cello.

Then the tour du force, the Cadenza. This movement was almost entirely left to the imagination of the soloist with minimal hints of what the composer thought might be played. Yoon was simply amazing and I had no idea that such a variety of sounds and musical effects could be made by one cello!

This was followed by a stately Menuett played as a duo with the solo cello and a guitar followed by a graceful lyrical conversation between the cello and a flute. All this led into the rousing March which could have been heard in any beer garden during Octoberfest.

This amazing performance by Yoon earned him a spontaneous roar from the audience who leapt to their feet in rousing ovation.

After the intermission another modern piece written by Oliver Knussen, the Scottish composer of many pieces for children, was played. It was a simple piece called ‘Music for a Puppet Court’. Kluxen had described this as the “palette cleanser” part of the meal. It served well to bring us back to earth after the cello concerto and relax us for the main course. Kluxen managed to get the orchestra to characterise the slightly jerky actions of a typical puppet to great effect.

What followed was a superb rendition of Mozart’s ‘Symphony No 35’, the Haffner. This music is so familiar that we all know it well, but for me the difference was that Kluxen brought out the very best of the Victoria Symphony Orchestra; every section played together with great clarity and precision for altogether an extremely satisfying “ main course” to end our Austrian meal.

The next concert to end the 2022/23 season of the Cowichan Symphony will be bringing us the great Canadian pianist Angela Hewitt on March 4 at 7:30 p.m. in the Cowichan Performing Arts Centre. Don’t miss it! Angela Hewitt will both play and conduct the Victoria Symphony in an all Bach programme.

Michael D. Mills is the director the Cowichan Symphony Society.