NACO on Tour: Crowning performances inside Sweden’s Royal Chapel

The young musicians of Sistema Sodertje get ready to play Friday inside Sweden's Royal Palace. Photo: Fred Cattroll

STOCKHOLM — For an hour on Friday the NAC Orchestra tour enjoyed heavenly music from both sides of the Atlantic inside the regal setting of the Royal Chapel of Sweden’s main palace.

In a chamber decorated with sculptures, a painted ceiling and a remarkable golden pulpit, members of NACO played with the children of Sistema Södertälje, Sweden’s version of Ottawa’s OrKidstra.

There was a Canadian connection here. Ottawa composer and cellist Margaret Maria was asked to prepare a musical response — with OrKidstra musicians — to a performance of Swedish folk song for this concert. There was no live broadcast as in London, England, earlier in the tour. But the musical exchange was there just the same.

She composed a piece called Garden of Maple Rose.

“We came up with a theme that includes intervals from O Canada along with some  melodic patterns from the 17th century Scandinavian song,” Margaret Maria said in an interview before the tour began.

Margaret Maria. Photo: Mark Maryanovich

The OrKidstra kids came up with their own poem that responds to the Swedish lyrics as well. The words were not sung in the concert on Friday. But they helped expand the scope of the project, she said.

“I read the Scandinavian poem and they came up with own ideas of what the music should be.”

Sistema Södertälje musicians Friday inside the Royal Chapel. Photo: Fred Cattroll

The words talk about, for example, a gentle spring breeze from across the sea. OrKidstra is multicultural so “we dream of a garden of roses ablaze in vibrant colours.”

“For me this work is a dream come true,” Margaret Maria said. “As a former player, it’s quite an honour to have my colleagues play music I have written in the Royal Chapel.

Britta Byström. Photo: Peter Robb

For Sistema Södertälje, it was an opportunity for children aged 10 to 14 to play inside the palace for the first time in their lives.

The event produced “new impressions,” said Per Lundquist who conducted the 26 Sistema Södertälje musicians Friday.

“When somebody new tells you something, that maybe you have heard before but it comes from somewhere else, children listen.”

The Sistema musicians come from a diverse working class neighbourhood that could be described as tough “in a way,” Lundquist said. “It’s always like this; people talk about a vulnerable area, I don’t like that. I don’t want to put that epithet on these kids.

Cellist Rachel Mercer focused on Bach. Photo: Fred Cattroll

“Our aim is to show them music especially classical music. We want to give them the room to discover this fantastic music. There is nothing wrong with the music they listen to, but they can get that all day, all night.”

There are also positive things that happen, he said, when you play together. “Everyone is important in an orchestra.” Many of the children would not have access to musical instruments without Sistema Sodertalje.

But there was much more packed into an hour inside the chapel. It also featured a NACO string trio (Erica Miller, violin; Paul Casey, viola; Marc-Andre Riberdy, cello) playing well-known Swedish composer Britta Byström‘s Inte-Nudda-Galv, written in 2014. She does write chamber music but is better known as a composer for orchestra, she told ARTSFILE in a brief interview. This particular piece was written for a Swedish trio called ZPR.

The NACO string trio played a piece by Swedish composer Britta Bystrom. Photo: Peter Robb

Unlike in Canada, it’s not hard to work as a composer in Sweden, she said. She started in 1995 studying composition and has been working for almost 20 years now. Her work is performed often at home and abroad, including in Canada.

“Actually I have a big project going in Toronto with Soundstreams. I have written a chamber opera for them with a Norwegian Sami librettist. The first performance will be in November.” This will be her biggest Canadian project.

Byström’s trio was followed by an elegant solo by NACO’s principal cello Rachel Mercer playing two movements from Bach’s Suite No. 2 in D minor.

Alice Power at the keyboard. Photo: Peter Robb

A remarkable young Swedish pianist named Alice Power took the stage next and knocked off a superb version of the Ondine from Gaspard de la nuit by Ravel.

The hits just kept coming. This time NACO’s talented wind quintet (Joanna G’froerer, flute; Charles Hamman, oboe; Christopher Millard, bassoon; Lawrence Vine, French horn and Kimball Sykes, clarinet) took centre stage to play Canadian composer John Estacio‘s truly sublime Sinfonietta for wind quintet, which was a NAC commission.

NACO’s wind quintet playing John Estacio’s Sinfonietta. Photo: Peter Robb

But that was not the topper. That belonged to James Ehnes, who always seems to go the extra mile on NACO tours. He performed Ysaÿe’s Sonata No. 3, a piece he has played on tour. Ehnes almost brought the chapel’s beautiful roof down.

James Ehnes closed the concert with a rendition of Ysaye’s Sonata No. 3. Photo: Fred Cattroll

Later Friday, NACO played its second last concert of their European tour inside the KoncertHusset, which is also the host venue when the Nobel laureates deliver their speeches and received their prizes. The concert featured Claude Vivier’s The Lonely Child with soprano Erin Wall and Ehnes playing the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto with another performance of the Ysaÿe after several curtain calls. The second half was Brahms Second Symphony with an encore of Brahms Hungarian Dance No. 6.

The orchestra now heads to Gothenburg, Sweden for the final concert of the tour Sunday featuring Life Reflected.


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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.