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An orchestra reboots

screen-shot-2017-01-22-at-3-09-37-pmAs one who has followed the triumphs and travails of the former Orchestra London for decades, I was really pleased to see its musicians coalesce around a new structure with a new name two days ago. New beginnings are always sweet — but for this ensemble, it must have been doubly so.

London Symphonia has managed a difficult balancing act: It has retained many of its core musicians, added others and reorganized in such a way as to preserve its artistic integrity and attract new support after throwing off the shackles of the organization that closed its doors in late 2014 and dissolved into bankruptcy in mid-2015. According to spokesperson Andrew Chung, London Symphonia already enjoys the support of government arts granting organizations, as well as a dedicated quorum of new and old supporters. That sounds far easier than it is.

I’ve written several columns (you can find samples here and here) over recent years about Orchestra London’s organizational failures and its struggle to battle back from life support to some sort of institutional viability. While the ensemble’s artistry was never in doubt, the former orchestra suffered from poor governance, ineffectual administrative leadership and structural models that were no longer in tune with its marketplace.

The ensemble’s musicians valiantly pursued their craft, post-bankruptcy, through #WePlayOn, which continued to play publicly, often for free, as they tried to find a suitable container for talents and aspirations of its members. London Symphonia is the result.

CTV London covered the new orchestra’s first concert, and London Free Press arts writer James Stewart Reaney provided a fitting column as one of his last acts on staff at the newspaper before his retirement.

London Symphonia’s website is here; its Twitter account is here. I wish them great success. It has been a long, hard, rocky road.

Musicians of the former Orchestra London play a Christmas concert in the baggage claim area at London International Airport on Dec. 22, 2014 — just weeks after Orchestra London closed its doors — in an effort to keep orchestral music in the community alive.

Musicians of the former Orchestra London play a Christmas concert in the baggage claim area at London International Airport on Dec. 22, 2014 — just weeks after Orchestra London closed its doors — in an effort to keep orchestral music in the community alive.

The enchanting mystery of Christmas

I anticipate Christmas Eve each year, and even long for it, because by about 6 p.m., the commercial din that began mere days after Thanksgiving and grew slowly over the succeeding weeks toward a fulsome frenzy of mall mania, parking-lot angst and swipe-card silliness suddenly falls quiet. Silence becomes nearly palpable. Suburban streets, shopping centres and downtown office buildings assume a kind of haunting eeriness that suggests some kind of rapturous event has occurred, leaving mere mortals behind.

And, in a way, it has. Christmas has come, ready or not. Commercial jingles and slogans about the meaning of the season are mercifully sucked into some unseen cosmic dumpster, laying bare the stark, enchanting nudity of Christmas — the bare bones, the naked flesh, the unadorned essence.

There is nothing left now but to approach the creche — this crude, stylized manger scene meant to mirror some similar imagining of nearly 2,000 years ago. We tend too often to admire it only from afar. In our detached, urbane, 20th-century sophistication, we refuse to allow ourselves to get close enough. Like a finely played classical guitar or cello, this event is best appreciated in close proximity, in its unamplified, undistorted form.

Pause before this natal moment, this nativity scene. Take several steps, sometimes many steps, forward. Dare to gaze intently into the eyes of this child. Wait patiently until, like an a 3-D optical puzzle or motion picture, the full depth of this event suddenly comes into focus — the unbearable dimensions of the infinite contained in the finite, the eternal captured in the temporal. Once seen, you wonder why you couldn’t see it at first blush.

But the voyage of discovery continues. Look even more closely, adjusting your focus again, slightly, ever so slightly, until there, at the outer edge of the child’s cornea, you glimpse your own reflection.

In seeing that image, you grasp the mysterious, eternal truth that the invasion of human history by something divine is celebrated in the nativity, but is not confined to it. That discovery, with its many Christmas corollaries, is the best hope for peace on earth in a world conflicted by poverty, war and injustice.