Symphony Under the Sky Returns Once More Ahead of Hawrelak’s Late Summer Glory Break


The outdoor classical music extravaganza will move during the city’s three-year revamp

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Say « Bob is back » to any regular member of the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra and they’ll immediately know who you’re talking about: Robert Bernhardt, the irrepressible conductor of Symphony Under the Sky and other concerts lighter.

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The American maestro and baseball fan is appreciated for his humor, his enthusiasm and especially for his wonderful empathy with Hollywood scores, from the era of the first talkies to Toy Story.

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Bernhardt, who lives with his wife Nora in Chattanooga, Tennessee, is back this week after a two-year hiatus, to preside over the return of Symphony Under the Sky which will run Thursday through Sunday at Hawrelak Park.

« It felt like Nora and I were away from family, » Bernhardt says, « and in fact, we were because we have such a sincere bond with not only the staff and musicians of the orchestra but also with the public.”

This year, however, it’s a somewhat truncated mini-festival, a result of the aftermath of COVID. There is no concerto this year (although many ESO instrumentalists have solo moments in other works) and there are two concert programs, instead of the usual three.

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Symphony Under the Sky is conducted by American conductor Robert Bernhardt.
Symphony Under the Sky is conducted by American conductor Robert Bernhardt. Photo by DT Baker /Provided

The Thursday program is repeated on Saturday and the Friday concert on Sunday afternoon. The traditional ending to Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture is also absent, perhaps understandably as it celebrates a Russian victory. Instead, the festival ends on a triumphant note, with the last movement of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5.

However, the favorites are all back. Thursday’s Hollywood Hits concert features a huge selection, from Harry Potter to Back to the Future, and Disney animated favorites to Fiddler on the Roof.

There are a few new things in the mini-Festival. With Malice Towards None by John Williams comes from the movie Lincoln and not only has a beautiful cello solo but an autumnal sense of American honesty and pride. The title comes from the peroration of Lincoln’s second inauguration speech.

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The other novelty is John Powell’s score from How to Train Your Dragon.

« I have to blame my grandchildren for that, » Bernhardt says. “Every weekend during the pandemic, we were watching a movie together. And we watched the three How to Train Your Dragon movies, which I fell in love with.

« It’s a lot of fun doing that. »

Festival Favorites is the Friday gig and features mostly lighter classical pieces, from a virtuoso violin work by Sarasate to Popper’s popular Hungarian Rhapsody for Cello, Strauss waltzes and an excerpt from Carmen by Bizet.

Here are also some new works for Hawrelak Park. Colonel Bogey March is more than familiar with the film Bridge on the River Kwai, although it was written by Kenneth Alford in 1914 and was a favorite with soldiers in both World Wars.

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Bernhardt says he has had a relationship with the march for 40 years. « It’s such a happy, happy, fun, wide-ranging melody that pretty much everyone knows. Even young people will understand the idea of ​​whistling!

Edmonton composer Geoff Li, best known for his work on video game scores, is represented in the Friday version of the concert by his 2018 orchestral piece Divertimento, which will be conducted by Cosette Justo Valdés.

He describes it as a « cheeky and sometimes romantic orchestral piece partially inspired by the work of anime director Masaaki Yuasa ».

Justo Valdés will also conduct the premiere of Danse Vivante by June Neilson during the Sunday concert. Neilson is this year’s Artist of ESO’s Young Composer Project, and it’s good to see that ESO has maintained this great program to nurture budding high school composers. Nielson recently graduated from the Victoria School of Arts and plans to pursue jazz performance and composition.

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They describe Danse Vivante as “a deliberate combination of my jazz and classical influences. On the one hand, it’s sporadic and rhythmic, with melodies jumping between sections – much like a Duke Ellington big band track would. On the other hand, it has the picturesque and emotional character of a work by Debussy, with instruments that tell a story through their timbre.

While all of this is happening there will also be a leave element to the proceedings as this will be the last Symphony Under Heaven at Hawrelak Park for some time (the City of Edmonton estimates three years) while the park is being renovated .

No one knows yet exactly where Symphony Under Heaven 2023 will take place, but wherever it is, it surely won’t match the autumnal feeling of geese gathering for their southerly flight, the arch of the audience sitting on the grass above the main amphitheater or the special sounds that rise from this outdoor stage.

As Bernhardt says, « Where else do I get a squirrel on stage while I’m conducting? »

So grab the chance to glide musically from summer to fall while you can, squirrels and all.


Symphony Under Heaven 2022 by the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra

Organization: Edmonton Symphony Orchestra
Robert Bernhardt and Cosette Justo Valdés
Hawrelak Park, 9330 Groat Road.
When: Thursday to Sunday

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