NAC Gala celebrates 50 years with Sarah McLachlan

Sarah McLachlan offered a slew of hits during her performance at the NAC Gala on Saturday night. Photo: George Pimentel

The National Arts Centre capped off a week of celebration marking the 50th anniversary of the Orchestra with a Saturday evening Gala of music, performance and history that was capped by a heartwarming performance of hits and stories by Sarah McLachlan. 

The day began well for the NAC as the centre announced a $10 million donation to the centre to help it continue to deliver the finest in Canadia performance.

The gift was made by Janice and Earle O’Born and it is the largest single contribution to the centre ever made.

We believe that Canadian performing artists are among the best in the world. We are honoured to be able to make this gift to invest in the NAC and all performing artists. We strongly believe in helping others help themselves. The NAC is the national leader in supporting, developing and featuring excellence in the performing arts in Canada,” Janice O’Born said in a media release. The O’Borns have been active contributors to the NAC over the years. Janice O’Born is chair of the NAC Foundation’s board of directors.

The Gala itself, which funds music education in Canada, raised a further $765,000, NAC Foundation head Jayne Watson said Saturday evening.

After the announcements the first half of the gal was a bit of a walk down memory lane with actors dressed in costumes from NAC productions past trooped across the stage. There were costumes from such performances as the very first play ever produced in the NAC The Ecstasy of Rita Joe by George Ryga, which starred Chief Dan George, Frances Hyland and August Schellenberg and Mozart’s Cosi Fan Tutti, which called to mind the summer operas performed in the early years of NACO. in between short performances.

The very first performance in the new National Arts Centre in 1969 was given by the National Ballet of Canada. The piece was a modern work called Kraanerg. It was choreographed by Roland Petit, with music by Iannis Xenakis, and it featured dancers such as Veronica Tennant and Mary Jago and guest soloists Georges Piletta and Lynn Seymour.

On Saturday night the centre offered a nod to that legacy by bringing out the current National Ballet artistic director Karen Kain to present the company’s current principal dancer Greta Hodgkinson, who performed the Dying Swan from Swan Lake along with NACO’s principal cello Rachel Mercer and harpist Nathalie Hoffman accompanying. 

Theatre took centre stage with a witty, poignant monologue by the Iranian-Canadian actor Mani Soleymanlou. 

Next to step forward was the artistic director of the new Indigenous theatre Kevin Loring, who has just made the shortlist for the Governor General’s award for drama in English.

He talked about the people who have blazed a path to the debut of Indigenous theatre including the late August Schellenberg who was a mentor to Loring.

He then introduced the marvellous and powerful Cree singer iskwe, dressed in a scarlet dress, who performed Breaking Down, Little Star and The Unforgotten before intermisson. 

The second half of the evening was devoted to Sarah McLachlan.

The singer had just battled though a bout of laryngitis but you would not have known until she mentioned it near the end of the show by way of apologizing for any problems with the higher register of her voice.

McLachlan was a comfortable, comforting presence on the Southam Hall stage as she reeled off a string of hits from her extensive discography.

She was joined by Luke Doucet and Melissa McClelland, who make up the popular duo Whitehorse, and her regulars — keyboardist Vincent Jones and Curt Bisquera on drums.

She started with I Will Remember You the poignant early hit.

Unlike some, McLachlan is comfortable talking with her audience and on Saturday night revealing things about herself. She recounted the story behind the song Adia, in which McLachlan admitted falling for a best friend’s ex. She said she has patched things up and remains friends to this day. One of her favourite subjects, she said, is  redemption. 

She carried on with more hits dealing Building A Mystery and Hold On, followed by the song Beautiful Girl which she says speaks to her own journey with her teenage daughters.

She then explained that she loves sad songs, the sadder the better, adding that she loves the fact that music provides her with an emotional outlet. 

That was the lead up to the song Sweet Surrender, which she wrote after watching the movie Leaving Las Vegas. She also said this song is her favourite to perform with an orchestra. 

She also praised the music education she received as a young person including a stint at the Royal Conservatory. That recognition of the value of such learning is evident in the fact that McLachlan has started a School of Music in Vancouver, Surrey, B.C. and Edmonton.

She closed her evening with World On Fire, Ice Cream and after a lenghty standing ovation she added three more songs in an encore: Fear, Love Come and finishing with In the Arms of the Angel. 

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Peter Robb began his connection with the arts community in Ottawa in the mid-1980s when he was the administrator and public relations director of the Great Canadian Theatre Company. After a long career in journalism with the Ottawa Citizen where he served in a number of different posts he returned to the arts when he became the Citizen's arts editor.