The Highlands Chamber Orchestra performs at the Northern Lights Performing Arts Pavilion on May 25. /JENN WATT Staff

Divas deliver

By Jenn Watt

Published  May 28 2019

This editorial could easily have been titled “In praise of risk-taking” or “Ambitious performance pays off.”

Saturday night at the Northern Lights Performing Arts Pavilion was a triumph not only musically as the Highlands Chamber Orchestra delivered an evening of music by women composers but also in its willingness to offer something new.

There was obviously some concern that the audience wouldn’t get it as cellist Bethany Houghton introduced the evening Divas: A Celebration of Women in Music by prepping us all on how to digest contemporary classical sounds. She told us to let our mind become a blank canvas allowing the music to create brushstrokes. Sometimes the image that emerges is recognizable sometimes it can feel like the artist is pouring the entire can of paint over it she said.

“You’re in for a very different concert from us than what you’re used to today. We’ve been challenged by this repertoire more than we have ever before and we realize that we’re challenging you as our audience.”

I wondered just what we were about to hear.

Turns out it was one of the most sweeping glittering performances I’ve seen on the pavilion stage both literally and figuratively. The orchestra offered a piano concerto by Clara Schumann with an awe-inspiring solo by Lauren McInnes a moving work by contemporary composer Elizabeth Raum a touching tribute to Haliburton by Patricia Morehead and big sounds from Canada Mosaic by Jean Coulthard.

Given that it was an evening to celebrate women the women instrumentalists wore whatever they wanted while the men remained in the standard black. One woman performed barefoot with a chaplet of flowers in her hair; another swung a purple feather boa around her neck as she took to the stage. There was an evening gown and a onesie plain attire and sequined frocks.

Between performances I would hastily scribble on my program. “Very moving” I wrote after the first piece. “Wow” I wrote more than once. And most appropriately: “Ambitious.”

Thanks to the ambition of the orchestra led by Daniel Manley the audience was treated to new challenging delightful sounds. Thanks to ambition Lauren McInnes swept us off our feet with her solo performance. Thanks to ambition many of us now know more about the breadth and depth of work by women composers.

At its base the Divas concert delivered an incredibly enjoyable concert for lovers of classical music but beyond that it was a tribute to risk-taking and the importance of stretching outside our comfort zone.

*Pick up a copy of this week's Haliburton Echo to see photos from the concert.