Canadian folk, in symphony form

Iconic songs by Gordon Lightfoot, Ian Tyson and Leonard Cohen will get the sweeping Red Deer Symphony Orchestra treatment during a free outdoor concert next weekend at Bower Ponds.

Iconic songs by Gordon Lightfoot, Ian Tyson and Leonard Cohen will get the sweeping Red Deer Symphony Orchestra treatment during a free outdoor concert next weekend at Bower Ponds.

“We’ll be doing tunes from the Great Canadian Songbook,” said RDSO director Claude Lapalme, who considers the performance at 4 p.m. on Sunday, Aug. 16, a gift to the community.

“We’ve been wanting to do this for several years,” added the conductor, who scored most of the orchestral arrangements himself. He added the concert, made possible through a provincial grant, is a big thank you for 28 years of support for the RDSO.

Cohen’s Hallelujah, Tyson’s Four Strong Winds, and a medley of Lightfoot’s Sundown, If You Could Read My Mind, and In the Early Morning Rain will be among the recognizable melodies performed by about 40 classical musicians.

One of the more contemporary selections the orchestra will tackle is If I Had a Million Dollars by the Barenaked Ladies.

An arrangement of Canada’s most recognizable French-Canadian song Mon Pays, composed by Quebec poet and songwriter Gilles Vigneault in 1964, will also be performed. With lyrics stating “my country is not a country, it’s winter,” the tune is almost anthemic in Quebec. In 1976, the tune for Mon Pays was reworked into the disco song From New York to L.A. by Patsy Gallant. This version, with its unrelated English lyrics, became an international hit.

Another global hit that will be played is Neil Young’s Heart of Gold.

Lapalme said he wanted to select songs from right across the country for the concert, but couldn’t manage (for reasons that include royalty payments) to secure any from the East Coast. He also intended to include a Joni Mitchell work, but couldn’t make it fit with the size of the orchestra on the outdoor stage.

Despite these omissions, Lapalme is pleased to present a program of music that stretches from the Western plains to Quebec townships. While there’s a sense of wistfulness or nostalgia in some of the tunes, particularly Lightfoot’s and Tyson’s, Lapalme noted this doesn’t carry over to the Barenaked Ladies selection, for example.

“I’ve been thinking a lot about it, but I couldn’t come up with (a common theme). This country is so vast, everybody is influenced by different regions,” said Lapalme.

He hopes Central Albertans will bring their lawn chairs to Bower Ponds and enjoy this musical gift from the RDSO. “An outdoors concert is never acoustically fantastic, but it’s very pleasant to sit outdoors and hear people playing live music. People like it so much. It’s a lovely thing.”

lmichelin@bprda.wpengine.com