RTC-06: 1955 Opening Night: A Theatre Overture for orchestra

Commission: Vancouver Symphony Orchestra
Length: 9 min.
Premiere: 1958-02-05, Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, Irwin Hoffman (conductor)
Other: more than two dozen performances in Canada, USA, Japan, Australia
Publication: BMI, 1960

    CBC Symphony Orchestra, Charles Houdret (conductor),

  1. Radio Canada International RCI 179
  2. Anthology of Canadian Music: Robert Turner, ACM 15, 1983
  3. Canadian Composers: Portrait, Robert Turner, CMC CD 9704, 2004

Opening Night (A Theatre Overture), which dates from 1955, is one of Robert Turner’s most frequently performed works. It was commissioned and premiered by the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra. The music is festive and rhythmic, meant to convey the mood of excitement and glamour that surrounds an opening night in the theatres, whether the vehicle be a play, musical, ballet or an opera. In the third section (recapitulation) the initial notes of “From Leicester Square to Old Broadway” (theme song of a popular Vancouver radio series of the time) are heard played by the piccolo and then by the trombones.

Program notes from “Portraits”:

“Subtitled ‘A Theatre Overture’ this work is Robert Turner’s first important composition for orchestra and one of the most often performed. It was written in 1955 as a commission from conductor Irwin Hoffman for the Vancouver Symphony society. The work was premiered that same year by Mr. Hoffman and the VSO, According to the composer, “the work is meant to convey the general mood of excitement and glamour that surrounds an opening night in the theatre, whether the vehicle of a play, musical, ballet or an opera.

“It begins with a syncopated fanfare in bright contemporary harmonies for brass, which is answered by a sharply punctuated patter for timpani. The violins take up a running passage which is derived from the fanfare and given a jazzy twist. After a lyrical middles section, there is a return to the opening material to which Turner adds a snatch of “From Leicester to Old Broadway,” the theme song of a CBC Vancouver series of that name written by Harry Pryce and familiar to many radio listeners at that time.

“In The Canadian Music Journal (Winter 1961), Canadian composers Udo Kasemets wrote that his colleague has succeeded “in creating a work which has both thematic distinction and formal tightness along with an easy-going and light-hearted spirit.”