The Semiahmoo Strings routinely accomplishes the impossible – particularly in light of the musicians’ youth and relative inexperience – last year’s sterling and convincing performance of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony being just one case in point.
Not content with setting the bar that high, the White Rock-based ensemble is exploring the outer reaches of the improbable with a new concert that, in terms of scope, maturity and sheer variety, almost beggars the imagination.
The surprise – especially for those who have never heard the orchestra – is that much of the concert is made up of material already in the repertoire of the ambitious teens and tweens.
A Little Night Music (Friday, Jan 20, 7:30 p.m., Mount Olive Lutheran Church, 2350 148 St.) translates the title of Mozart’s celebrated and sublime Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, also the first item on the program.
It’s a disarmingly modest catchall for a concert that spans eras and genres at will.
Selections range from a brief Beethoven miniature by the organization’s young feeder group, the Demi-Semiahmoo Strings, and full ensemble performances of pieces Liszt and Saint-Saens, to excerpts from The Planets by early 20th century British composer Holst, the challenging eclecticism and modernity of Leonard Bernstein’s Divertimento for Orchestra – even a suite of Celtic fiddle tunes.
Semiahmoo Strings conductor Carla Birston and her husband, cellist, arranger and composer Harold Birston laughed when it was suggested a better title might be A Little of Everything.
The concert actually represents a scaling back of their original intentions, they admit.
“It was supposed to be a program of divertimenti and serenades but it was too much – the pieces weren’t all working together,” Carla said.
Not the least of the attractions of the revised program is that it also provides solo showcases for the ensemble’s two concert masters, Kierah Raymond and Lucy Wang.
“They’re two of the most confident kids, but without any hint of obnoxiousness,” Carla said. “They’re so generous and so supportive of each other.”
Raymond, 16, will reprise the Intercontinental Fiddle Suite, arranged by Harold from traditional repertoire and featuring an original melody, Mother’s Love, composed by Raymond herself.
Already an internationally-recognized exponent of Canadian and Celtic fiddle traditions with two Canadian Folk Award nominated CDs and a book of compositions to her credit, Raymond has earned a scholarship from the Peninsula Arts Foundation to attend a traditional Irish music program at the University of Limerick this summer.
First debuted by the orchestra and Raymond when she was only 12, the suite has been revisited several times, including a private anniversary party and a special event at Vancouver’s Queen Elizabeth Theatre.
Carla promises a “very different level of playing from Kierah” in this repeat.
“She’s got the fiddling style, but she’s enhanced it with her classical training,” noting that Raymond goes beyond traditional fiddling technique to make full use of all finger positions for the violin.
“She plays (the suite) beautifully,” Carla said. “She’s such an amazing performer – she takes the ball and runs with it and we just follow her.”
Wang, 15, another rising star, will be featured in Saint-Saens’ Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso and Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2.
She is one of four Canadian students who have been invited to send in audition videos for a prestigious performance opportunity at one of the meccas of classical music – Carnegie Hall in New York.
Whatever the outcome of this invitation, she is already participating in big national and international violin competitions, including the Canadian Music Competition (she was a finalist in both 2009 and 2010) and the Seattle Young Artists Competition, and she will also be auditioning for a spot in the National Arts Centre summer program.
“She loves it,” Carla said.
“She’s very focused but she loves every minute of it.”
She’s also – like many of the students – hungry for new repertoire.
“I give her something that is intended to be a year-long project, and she comes the next week with it memorized – not perfectly, perhaps, but she has it. She plays music that is years beyond her age; repertoire that I never thought I’d be teaching.”
The Hungarian Rhapsody – arranged for the ensemble by Harold – is “wonderful; a real barn-burner,” Carla said.
“And there’s been no simplification applied to that arrangement at all,” Harold noted.
“If they’re not challenged, their eyes will start to glaze over,” Carla said.
Tickets ($15, $8 students and seniors) are available at Tapestry Music or at the door.
For more information, call 604-538-1460.