By Val Friesen
The Ô-CELLI concert Friday evening, March 29th in the Venables, was the perfect endpiece to this season’s South Okanagan Concert Society’s series of concerts. Excellent choice, and it enchanted the sold-out audience! The eight cellists come from major European orchestras and chamber groups, and have toured much of the world since their formation in Belgium in 2010.
Ô-CELLI are superb musicians, and the program they put together featured much joyful music. Each piece was given a brief, relaxed introduction with a few helpful words to set the mood for a musical journey through sunny Italy, Spain, Argentina and Mexico (with hints of Cuba). The music was arranged for cello octet to highlight all the wondrous sonorities of that beloved instrument. The tonal, rhythmic and percussive possibilities were fully explored by musicians who know what they’re doing, love what they’re doing, and know how to delight, move and entertain their audience. And really, that’s why we go to concerts, isn’t it? And maybe also to hear something or someone new, a fresh interpretation, or a work or artist that touches deeply. In the case of this concert, it was all of the above, much to the joy of the listeners.
The first piece, the overture to Verdi’s opera, The Forces of Destiny, is a dramatic piece predicting the treachery and doom in the opera it introduces, so if not exactly setting the mood for a joyous evening, it did provide the octet with the opportunity to display their ensemble playing—which was precise and sensitive. And there was no doom in the wondrous music which followed.
The next three pieces brought to life the essential rhythms, melodies, and warmth and passion that is the essence of Spanish music—you could nearly smell the olives and the Mediterranean air. How the composers (de Falla and Turina, and the Frenchman Chabrier) captured this essence in their delightful compositions is part of the magic of music, but equally impressive is how Ô-CELLI gave it life.
The program continued after the intermission with Nina Rota’s famous and touching “La Strada” from Fellini’s 1954 film of the same name, followed by three pieces composed by the king of tangos, Argentina’s Astor Piazzolla. The second of those, “Milonga del Angel,” was for me a personal highlight of the evening, so soulful and beautiful, played exquisitely by the octet.
The contemporary Barcelona composer, Oriol Cruxient’s modern piece, “Fa Do,” featured some fascinating drumming on the cello itself to accompany the melodies shifting about through the various players.
The last piece, “Danzon #2” (1994) by the Mexican composer, Arturo Marquez, was performed spectacularly bringing its Cuban dance rhythms to life. Simply charming.
And yes, the standing ovation required an encore. And what a surprise! Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” to cap off an absolutely unforgettable musical evening.
What a wonderful concert. Thank you, Ô-CELLI! And thanks to the members of SOCS who spend many volunteer hours to enhance life in our community, and special thanks to the sponsors who make it all so affordable. Concerts such as this truly enrich our lives.