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VSO returns to Whistler for a string of concerts

orchestra will be led by conductor Sean Newhouse
SUPER CONDUCTOR The VSO is set to return to Whistler Olympic Plaza with guest conductor Sean Newhouse. Photo by Mike Crane, RMOW

American orchestral conductor Sean Newhouse is making his Canadian debut with the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra in a town that skews young, male and extreme.

But that doesn't mean they can't still appreciate classical music, especially in the outdoor setting of Whistler Olympic Plaza — especially when it's free.

"If you haven't experienced a large orchestra before, no matter what you think it will be like the only way to find out is to come see it live," Newhouse says over the phone from Cooperstown, NY, where he's conducting at the Glimmerglass Festival. "The combination of powerful orchestral music with nature is really special... There's no substitute for hearing this music live. No matter what you've heard on the radio or in other contexts, the power and the incredible dynamism of a live orchestra is incomparable."

Perfect pitch, right?

To sell those well versed in classical music, the pair of performances that Newhouse will be conducting are split into an evening of Light Classics and another of Masterworks. Both will feature violinist Mayuko Kamio.

The repertoire on July 19 ranges from Sibelius' "Finlandia" to Dvorak's "Slavonic Dances, No. 7 & 8" and Stravinsky's "Firebird Suite."

"They do share some common themes," Newhouse says. "For me, all of these pieces have a strong sense of place in one way or another."

Masterworks on July 20, meanwhile, features pieces by Mozart, Mendelssohn and Dvorak.

Newhouse, who recently finished serving as the assistant conductor with the Boston Symphony Orchestra, says there is a palpable difference between performing in a free outdoor setting and in a more traditional concert hall.

"The crowd has a slightly different energy," he says. "It's a little more informal and a little more relaxed. You know that the audience may be an audience that hears classical music less frequently. The exciting part about that is you may have more people in the audience who are experiencing these incredible pieces for the first time. In a way, that gives you an even greater responsibility as a performer, to make sure their first encounter with this music gives them a window into what makes it amazing."

You could argue that Whistler has the same responsibility to Newhouse, who has never performed in Canada before or even visited its western half. He decided to say yes to this opportunity because of the VSO's reputation as one of the top orchestras in this country. "It is a challenge, both from the conductor's and musician's perspectives, to come together in a short period of time when you don't know each other yet," he says. "It's a bit like speed dating, but it's always very exciting. We all have the same goal to put together a great concert in short order. It only works because we all know our jobs very well and prepare."

The VSO's string of performances begin on July 16 and 17 with afternoon quartets and quintets performing three times each day. In addition to the big concerts on July 19 and 20, there will also be an afternoon concert on July 21 during which members of the VSO will perform Kids' Koncerts: Beethoven Lives Upstairs.

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