On Saturday evening the Vancouver Symphony began its season at the Orpheum with a French program of flash and fireworks. Despite the obvious glitter of a Saint-Saëns/Ravel double bill, this was something of a departure from conventional programming and, just perhaps, an intriguing harbinger of some fresh ideas and attitudes.
The evening began with Saint-Saëns' Coronation March, French pomp for the very British circumstance of the coronation of Edward VII. Even in such a throw-away piece d'occasion, Saint-Saëns is a conscientious craftsman, and it is representative of Bramwell Tovey's way of building programs to tuck such an unfamiliar sparkler into his playlist.
Next up was Saint-Saëns' Fifth Piano Concerto, "The Egyptian." It's a lovely thing: a period piece in florid, late-Romantic style, and equally brilliantly crafted. Brilliant is also the byword for the performance of young Avan Yu in the solo part. Vancouver audiences have had the pleasure of watching Yu grow as a performer; the rarely programmed concerto was just right for him at this stage in his career. Yu handled its considerable technical demands with matter-of-fact assurance, and the work's emphasis on sentiment, facility, and exotic atmosphere gave him an effective (and roundly appreciated) showcase.