Terror takes the CPO stage

By Daorcey Le Bray

“The classics should not feel like a root canal.”

Victor Sawa does not fit the role of the standard conductor. In fact, he totes himself as “definitely different from 99 per cent of other conductors who convey the image that they’d rather not be there.” He’s bringing his uniqueness as an affable, comical and audience-focused conductor to the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra this Halloween for a Spooktacular pop concert featuring music from Psycho to Batman to Bride of Frankenstein.

“[Sawa is] one of those people who always has a good one-liner on the edge of his tongue and has an energy about him that makes you feel great,” says CPO bassoonist Michael Hope. “Victor falls into the category of old friend and audience favourite.”

In 1993, Sawa was hired as Resident Conductor at the Calgary Philharmonic for a tenure of four years. Although he has since moved on (he is currently Maestro at the Regina Symphony Orchestra), he is still a familiar face at the Jack Singer Concert Hall as a guest conductor.

Sawa says he is dedicated to changing people’s perceptions of classical music.

“Classical music felt like a club that didn’t want you as a member. That feeling needs to go away,” he said in a telephone interview from his home in Regina. “There should be no pretense or pretensions [at an orchestral concert], but that’s just my opinion.”

While it is his opinion and motivation to engage all types of audiences, this attitude sets him in opposition to defenders of orchestral music’s 400-year-old tradition. Fortunately for Sawa and his fans, criticism doesn’t bother him.

“I gotta do what I’m doing,” he says. “If you don’t like it, don’t hire me.”

As orchestras all over North America struggle to change their stuffy, penguin-suited images, his ideas are becoming more accepted. As for the CPO, Sawa suggests his appearance with the orchestra is a sign the organization is on the right track, trying to appeal to a broader, younger audience that enjoys great music in an interactive setting.

“The demographics [at the Regina Symphony Orchestra] have dropped 40 years,” he says, explaining the changing image of orchestras. “Guys found that when they took girls out on a date to the symphony, it was really great. They found that to go to the symphony was not a root canal experience. It’s not an expensive evening and it’s a great time.”

He also wants to change the way audiences react to the stuff they like.

“I encourage cheering, screaming, stamping your feet–the whole thing,” he laughs. “Polite applause? Now, come on.”

Spooktacular promises to be one of those great evenings Sawa and the CPO are trying to bring to the public. Hope is looking forward to it as a truly unique experience.

“The entire orchestra is going to be in costume and the entire audience will be in costume and it will hardly be standard fare because we’re going to have all types of hijinks and shenanigans,” he says. “There’s going to be candy, decorations, goblins and this, that, and the other thing!”

Of course, there will also be the music designed to raise your hair and cuddle close to your date with romantic pretense.

“You have the opportunity to be exposed to some music that has been written to truly frighten people,” says Hope.

He’s especially excited about Verdi’s Dies Irae “Requiem,” featuring the haunting voices of the CPO Choir.

“It musically depicts the coming of the judgement day, the day of wrath with lighting strikes and ferocious terror,” Hope explains. “Every time I play it, I get a chill.”

Sawa says that everyone, all walks of life, should dress up and take in Spooktacular on Thu., Oct. 30 or Fri., Oct. 31 at 8:00 p.m.

“You can go to a party after, ’cause it ends at 10. Go to the concert and then afterwards, hey, party on. Hopefully, [students] are not the kind that only party ’til 11 and go to bed early on Friday.”

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