MasterWorks 2: Kerson Leong, violin (Peter Gardner 50th Anniversary Concert)



Join the Newfoundland Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Marc David presents Masterworks 2 – a celebration of 50 years of dedicated service of Peter Gardner, long time violinist, and former concertmaster and general/artistic director of the NSO. With special guest, Kerson Leong, violin. The concert features Beethoven’s Symphony No. 8; Vaughn Williams, The Wasps Overture; and, Brahms Violin Concerto in D major, Op. 77. Don’t miss this world class performance from YOUR NSO together with special guest Kerson Leong and guest conductor Peter Gardner – Friday November 19, 2021 at the Arts and Culture Centre. Tickets are available at the ACC Box Office (729-3900), and online at

About Kerson Leong – Kerson Leong first took the music world by storm in 2010 by winning the coveted Junior First Prize at the prestigious Menuhin Competition. Ever since, the young Canadian violinist has astonished and won over both fellow musicians and audiences alike the world over with his rare and innovative mastery of his instrument, his natural ability to convey the subtlest of emotions, and the colossal scope of his live performances. Having been called “Canada’s next great violinist” (Ludwig van Toronto), he has distinguished himself with his unique approach as one of the most brilliant musicians of his generation.

Kerson has played in some of the most prestigious concert venues around the world from Carnegie Hall’s Stern Auditorium and the Auditorium du Louvre to Wigmore Hall and the National Center for the Performing Arts in Beijing. In the 2020/2021 season, Kerson will perform with the Quebec Symphony Orchestra, the Orchestre Royale de Chamber de Wallonie in Belgium, Orchestre Symphonique de Sherbrooke, the Toledo Symphony, and new compositions by Samy Moussa under his direction with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra. In the 2018/2019 season, Kerson was named Artist-in-Residence with the Orchestre Métropolitain de Montreal under Yannick Nezet-Seguin.

About Peter Gardner – From the age of twelve he lived in South Wales where he was a member of several community and youth orchestras, including the National Youth Orchestra of Wales.  He continued his studies at Trinity College of Music (TCM), London, with the noted international violinist and pedagogue Nicholas Roth and studied harmony and composition with UK composer Carey Blyton. Dr. Gardner led the TCM  Symphony Orchestra, and Chamber Orchestra under British conductor Bernard Keeffe. He subsequently worked in England and Wales as a freelance teacher and performer with such groups as The Marcello Ensemble, The Welsh National Opera and the Bournemouth Sinfonietta, and as leader of the London Opera Centre Orchestra and for choral and orchestral concerts in and around London.Dr. Gardner came to Newfoundland in 1971 as the Resident Artist and Concertmaster of the St. John’s Symphony Orchestra (now called the NSO) and since that time has established himself as a performer, conductor, teacher and arts administrator.  During the past 49 years Dr. Gardner committed himself to the steady development of the NSO and its associated groups.  He was instrumental in the early development of many NSO activities including founding the NSO Sinfonia, the Philharmonic Choir, the NSO Hibernia Gala and the NSO Light Orchestra. He also initiated and conducted for 20 years the NSO highly successful NSO Big Band concerts in which he presented many original films scores. He founded, and was for a number of years, the first violinist of the Atlantic String Quartet.  In 1995 Dr.Gardner was engaged by the Government of Newfoundland & Labrador to develop and lead, as executive director and CEO, Festival 500, an international, non-competitive choral festival in Newfoundland which was acknowledged  as one of the world’s leading choral festivals.

In1991, Dr. Gardner founded the Newfoundland Symphony Youth Orchestra (NSYO now known as CALOS) a wholly independent association with close ties to the NSO, he led and conducted the NSYO as director for more than 30 years.  In 2013 he retired as founding Director of the Newfoundland Symphony Youth Orchestra.

Dr. Gardner held the positions of Vice-President, Executive Director and Festival Director of the Canadian Association of Youth Orchestras based in Banff, AB.  Dr. Gardner was recruited to be Executive Director of the Banff International String Quartet Competition the most prestigious competition for string quartets in the world. He held the position for a decade.  In 2002-2004 he was Associate Director of the Summer Program of Music & Sound at the Banff Centre, Alberta.

Dr. Gardner has acted as a jury member for various Canadian provincial arts boards, the Governor General’s Awards and the Juno’s and the Canada Council including the Canada Council instrument bank & the Molson Prize.  For eight years Dr. Gardner was a member of the board of the Canadian Conference of the Arts including three years as Treasurer.

Dr. Gardner has received many awards and honours. In 1984 he was nominated for the silver medal of the Royal Society of Arts for his services to music in Atlantic Canada.  In 1995 he was the recipient of the Northern Telecom Arts Achievement Award, presented by the Newfoundland and Labrador Arts Council, for lifetime achievement in the arts (1995), and in 1996 was awarded the Association of Canadian Orchestras Award In recognition of outstanding contributions and dedication to the orchestral community in Canada, (1996), The Telegram & The Fairmont Newfoundland 2002 NSO Achievement Award.(2001), The Ambassadorial Award from the Canadian Music Centre (2006) and In 2001 Dr. Gardner was awarded an Honorary Doctor of Letters Degree from Memorial University of Newfoundland. In 2013 Dr. Gardner was awarded the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal. On stepping down, after thirty years, as Concertmaster of the NSO, was named Concertmaster Emeritus.

1n 2010 he retired from the Newfoundland Symphony Orchestra after 40 years service during which time he held positions as Concertmaster (30 years), Director of Educational Programming, and until leaving the NSO as General & Artistic Director in 2010 after 25 years in that position. He has since returned to his roots teaching violin and writing educational and other music.

As a composer Dr.Gardner started writing music while in high school. This activity continued during his time in London. During the period 19 74 – 1986 Dr. Gardner wrote many works for performance in this province including many educational works and outreach programmes for the NSO’s educational and touring performances. He also wrote music for the CBC Radio network including a Fiddle concerto, Guitar Concerto and other such works based on Newfoundland music. Compositional activities were suspended in 1986 due to the pressure of commitments to the NSO and others (See above). Composition did not re-emerge until after he retired from the NSO. Since then he has written a large amount of educational music as well as the scores presented by the NSO. His three new works – “2 Metres for Socially Distanced Symphony Orchestra”, “String Quartet No. 2” and “Sextet for Wind Quintet and Contra-Bassoon” are commissions for later in the year. “2 Metres” will be premiered at the beginning of February 2021.


Program Notes by Mary O’Keeffe, musicologist/harpsichordist

English composer Ralph Vaughan-Williams (1872-1958) was invited, by the Cambridge Greek Play Committee, to compose incidental music for a production of The Wasps, a Greek comedy by Aristophanes (c. 446-386 B.C.).  The play is a satire on the ancient legal system in Athens. Completed in 1909, parts of the incidental music were rearranged for orchestra as The Wasps Overture by the composer.  Vaughan-Williams was part of a group determined to create a uniquely English style based on English folk-music and early Tudor modal melodies.  While the incidental music might reflect some of the play’s satire, this is not the case in The Wasps Overture, an independent orchestral piece. It begins with the sounds of buzzing wasps in swooping strings and muted brass instruments. A cheerful modal melody with dotted rhythms is followed by a sedate brass melody. A woodwind interlude with muffled buzzing leads to a slow melody in horns.   Then the lyrical middle section begins with a sweeping melody in strings and continues as melodic fragments move throughout various solo winds.  This episode encapsulates the English Pastoral style which the composer and his colleagues aimed to achieve. The opening themes return more aggressively with an increased emphasis on brass and percussion. The overture ends with unremittingly cheerful tunes and exciting tutti chords.


Beethoven’s Symphony No. 8 in F major, Op. 93 was a victim of the composer’s own success! Completed in 1812, it was premiered in 1814 during a concert which included his popular Wellington’s Victory and his mighty Symphony No. 7. His Eighth Symphony was a disappointment to those who were expecting something even more breathtaking. In their view, this work was almost “too” Classical. But for that very reason, Beethoven considered it even better than his Seventh Symphony.

The first movement, Allegro vivace e con brio, is in standard sonata form.  A radiant orchestral opening provides numerous opportunities for thematic and motivic development. Frequent wind solos as well as brass and percussion interjections vary the orchestral fabric. Ferocious repetitions of melodic and rhythmic motives become even more intense in the extensive coda. A magnificent orchestral crescendo then dwindles to a hushed restatement of the opening theme.

An unreliable biographer reported that the Allegretto scherzando movement was a spoof on Maelzel’s metronome.  However, this fiendish device was not patented until 2015, three years after the symphony was completed. The Haydnesque -sounding movement begins with a whimsical tune in strings accompanied by a “tick-tick” motive in winds. The second theme in upper strings is accompanied by repetitions of the opening three-note motive.  This theme ends with fortissimo 64th notes, or hemidemisemiquavers!  After a few bars of noisy confusion, Beethoven playfully ends the movement with the aforementioned hemidemisemiquavers.

The third movement, Tempo di menuetto, is a retro tribute to the Classical Minuet and Trio form. A lumbering motive leads to a lilting melody full of rhythmic surprises and strong accents.  The contrasting Trio begins with a lyrical melody in horns, and continues in duet with the solo clarinet accompanied by triplets in pizzicati cellosBeethoven’s writing for winds in this movement was greatly admired by 20th century composer Igor Stravinsky.

Quiet bustling strings and a cheerful tune open the fourth movement Allegro vivace.  The momentum is interrupted by a jarring C# which has no business being in the key of F major!  The movement is full of drama, sudden pauses, significant silences, and powerful accents.  The incongruous C# reappears at the beginning of the development and recapitulation.  It’s finally justified in the substantial Coda where its incessant repetitions move the action to the remotest possible key of F#.  This was daring harmonic stuff at the time. Aggressive pizzicato statements in F# suddenly slip down a semitone to the home key of F major which then becomes unmistakably reinforced during Beethoven’s never-ending ending.

Johannes Brahms (1833-1897) composed his Violin Concerto Major in D major, Op. 77 for Hungarian born violinist Joseph Joachim ((1831-1907). Both met in their twenties while Brahms was on his first concert tour as a pianist in Hanover. Twenty-five years later, these long-time friends collaborated on the concerto with Joachim’s much-needed advice about the solo violin part. Brahms conducted the premiere of his concerto in 1879 with Joachim as soloist. Beethoven’s Violin Concerto (1806), which the violinist had played when he was only twelve years old, was on the same programme, eliciting Brahms’ comment, “It was a lot of D major!”  Brahms intended his work to be a truly symphonic concerto in which orchestra and soloist were fully equal.  Since the orchestra plays a more prominent role that was typical at the time, audience reaction was initially lukewarm.

The first movement Allegro non troppo, is in Classical sonata form with double expositions for orchestra and soloist. The main theme in unison is built on a broken chord. A scale passage in oboes, then dramatic falling octaves in orchestra, and a lyrical second theme provide further materials for the rest of the movement. Following the orchestral exposition, the soloist presents a highly elaborated version of the broken chord motive. The movement is a showcase for the soloist with support from the orchestra.  Wind and horn solos often accompany the pensive violin. Variants of the broken chord motive reappear to highlight the sonata form structure and to introduce the cadenza, originally composed by Joachim.  In the unhurried coda, time is suspended as the violin melody gradually attains celestial heights with subtle horns and winds in the background.  The orchestra then speeds up to end the movement in triumph.

Two quiet chords introduce a beautiful oboe melody accompanied by woodwinds and horns in the Adagio. Spanish virtuoso Pablo de Sarasate grumpily vowed he would never play this concerto since the “the oboe plays the only melody in the movement!” He was wrong about that since the melody becomes increasingly elaborate and refined by solo violin, further enhanced by horns and winds. A turbulent episode in F# minor leads to a segment full of rhapsodic yearning. Violin and winds then share the melody as the movement comes to a serene close.

An explosion of energy from full orchestra with solo violin begins the Allegro giocoso, ma non troppo vivace. The soloist needs extraordinary skill for all kinds of virtuoso techniques, and stamina to play almost constantly with the orchestra. Most of the Allegro giocoso is based on its boisterous folk-like theme. A forceful dotted melody in brass with timpani leads to a lyrical melody in the violin. As the movement progresses, repeated notes in horns announce a vibrant coda in 6/8 time. Reputedly Hungarian or Turkish inspired, the coda is an imaginative variant of Brahms’ opening theme. The tempo slows briefly, then this magnificent concerto ends with exuberant chords.


Kerson Leong, violin