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James Ehnes joins VSO for - Music from Great Britain / Vancouver Sun

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This year, the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra broadens the focus of its spring festival to a theme: Music from Great Britain.

Over the course of its almost 100-year existence, the VSO has had only two actual Brits as music directors: Meredith Davies in the 1960s and the incumbent Bramwell Tovey. No one who has given the latter's programming a close, critical look would ever accuse him of unduly pushing British music. But as we celebrate the windup of his tenure as music director, it's high time to hear Tovey's take on particular masterworks and some of the lesser-known repertoire of composers from the U.K.

Tovey doesn't kick off the five-night event - that honour goes to violinist/violist and real VSO favourite James Ehnes on Saturday. "Songs and Serenades" is a program of shorter works for strings, which are often hard to tuck into regular symphony concerts. But what a selection of wonderful music, including Benjamin Britten's exquisite Lachrymae: Reflections on a Song of John Dowland, Vaughan Williams' Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis and The Lark Ascending, and Elgar's Serenade.

On Monday, Ehnes joins Tovey and the full orchestra in a performance of William Walton's Viola Concerto prefaced by a new(ish) work, Velocity, by young(ish) Gavin Higgins, a hit at the 2014 Proms. The concert ends with Gustav Holst's The Planets, complete with space images courtesy of NASA. Listeners who were just wild about John Williams' Harry Potter scores should be gobsmacked by Gustav Holst's proper blockbuster, an orchestral tour de force (with all the trimmings including the Orpheum's mighty Wurlitzer and wordless women's chorus) and the progenitor of countless movie and television scores.

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