Vancouver Symphony Orchestra conductor Salvador Brotons will premiere his latest work, “Sacra,” this weekend.
The concert, which concludes the Vancouver orchestra’s 44th season, also features a return engagement with Grammy-winning cellist Zuill Bailey.
Brotons wrote his fourth symphony, “Sacra,” between 2002 and 2019. He said the Catholic Requiem Mass inspired the work, which consists of seven movements. He said it’s the longest and most ambitious symphony he’s ever written.
“It took me a long time to complete this symphony because it was not a commission,” Brotons said. “First, I wrote a piano trio called ‘Requiem Trio.’ After its New York premiere, I thought that the movements of the ‘Trio’ could be expanded and orchestrated. The ‘Trio’ had only four movements, but for this ‘Simfonia Sacra’ I added three more. The titles of the added movements are taken from the Requiem text.”
It took a while for Brotons to finish the work. He hit the pause button for a few years before returning to it.
“I was revising the symphony, and I had to add a short fast movement in the middle (the fifth movement),” Brotons said. “The symphony has a total of seven movements in order to achieve as much contrasting moods as possible.”
Brotons said he finished three other works before completing his Fourth Symphony because those ones were commissioned and he had deadlines to meet.
The concert will also feature Grammy Award-winning cellist Bailey playing Dmitri Shostakovich’s “Cello Concert No. 1.”
It’s a serious, edgy piece that the composer wrote during a time when the arts in all forms were especially scrutinized by the authorities in the Soviet Union.
“Shostakovich was not a happy-go-lucky guy,” Bailey said. “When artists of his caliber expressed their opinions through art, they had to be very careful of how they did that because they didn’t want to be misunderstood. The piece was written in 1959 and Stalin died in 1953. The piece contains a feeling of tension, remorse, sarcasm, but he also sowed in some patriotism into it.”
Bailey is careful in his approach to the concerto.
“I am very aware of the demands of this concerto,” Bailey said. “You have to pace yourself. When you look at your hand when playing the last movement, you might think that you’ve given too much too soon. Your thumb might be telling you ‘I think that we are done.’ Your hand kind of seizes up from the repetition and from the power of the piece.”
“The cello is like the human voice,” he continued, “and the concerto goes into the ghostly range of spirits — the wind whistling through the icy trees. There is no other piece like this one. When I play it, I feel like there is no other piece to compare it to.”
The orchestra will open the concert with the overture to Mykola Lysenko’s opera “Taras Bulba,” which depicts the legendary story of a Ukrainian Cossack chief. The overture is a propulsive piece with several stirring melodies. The opera is not performed often outside of Ukraine, but it was staged annually at the opera house in Kyiv until last year.