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Symphony’s Folk & Fire stokes springtime passion

Guest conductor Martin MacDonald and Grammy winner Guy Few truly helped usher in the warm season
Guest conductor Martin MacDonald led dozens of the city’s most talented musicians in an emotional, entertaining evening. Photo by Brendan Shand

By Brendan Shand for

Full disclosure: In high school, I was a punk rocker.

Nowadays, I dabble more in indie rock, electronic, pop, even the occasional country.

So when I was asked to cover the Sudbury Symphony Orchestra's (SSO) Folk and Fire performance, I was interested, but hesitant. This was not, as it were, my forté.

Yet, I find there are few musical experiences that can top a live orchestra. The sheer force of talent emanating from the stage is enough to stir the most diehard metalhead, clubber or pop fanatic. It's phenomenal.

Just imagine if 10 of your favourite bands all clambered on stage and started playing together harmoniously to make complex, awe-inspiring music. Such is an orchestra’s power. 

“The talent and the passion that the artists have is what keeps me coming back,” said Christopher Perrin, a 20-year-old regular at SSO shows. “They’re dedicated to what they do and they bring it every time; it’s amazing.” 

The best part? Experiencing these master musicians doesn’t require fancy dress. Anything from smart casual to semi-formal works. It makes a perfect (and impressive) date night.

Guest conductor Martin MacDonald – a candidate vying for the SSO’s music director position – certainly brought the fire to the Folk and Fire-themed evening.

He chose music to bring out the best of Sudbury’s orchestra, kicking off with a sonata from Pietro Baldassare, featuring Grammy Award-winner Guy Few on trumpet.

This was followed by the stirring and dramatic “Northwest Passage Variations” from Canadian composer Robert Rival – only the second time this piece has been performed live.

MacDonald then swept us halfway across the world to the middle-eastern Armenia with Arutiunian's “Trumpet Concerto in A flat Major,” featuring a masterful trumpet solo from Few.

“He was absolutely wonderful,” said symphony patron Ela Hanson on Few’s performance, a sentiment seemingly echoed by all.

MacDonald capped off the evening with Dvořák folk-inspired “Symphony Number 8 in G Major.” MacDonald described the piece as having “this vibrant spirit to it, this cheery optimism,” adding that “the last movement is where the fun begins – the trumpets call the peasants to the town square … and then they all get loaded and have a big barn-burning dance until the end – I mean, we’re in Bohemia after all!”

MacDonald hit the right note for many. 

“He was really energetic, and sensitive to what the orchestra was doing,” said Francois Hastir, a young symphony enthusiast who was experiencing Sudbury’s musicians for the first time.

Anne Harris, an SSO patron for 15 years, was equally impressed.

"He's engaging, he's charismatic, he's young, and I think he'll draw.”

On his experience with Sudbury’s orchestra, MacDonald had nothing but praise. 

“Terrific musicians … they’re the heart and soul of the orchestra and they’re the ones that bring the magic on-stage,” he said. “This symphony orchestra in particular, they offer something for everyone. So if you’re coming to the symphony for the first time, or if you’re coming for the hundredth time, there’s something to appeal to every taste in the audience.”

The emotional music struck a chord with country music fans Nathalie Bolduc and Manny Tavares, first-timers to the symphony. 

“You’re happy, then you’re sad,” said Bolduc, with Tavares adding that “the way they act, it really brings you into their own scene.” 

That’s something Blake Shelton might be hard-pressed to replicate. Maybe if he got a few dozen more band members.

The Sudbury Symphony Orchestra's next show is May 7, with tickets available at – and if you're under the age of 35, get 70 per cent off.

Brendan Shand is a new symphony enthusiast and all-around dabbler. Follow him on Twitter @bshand.


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