NACO says bon voyage with rousing rendition of two classics

Alexander Shelley and NACO are heading on the road. Photo: Andre Ringuette/Freestyle Photography

The NAC Orchestra saddled up a couple of war horses Wednesday evening and rode them into battle as they delivered a musical bon voyage on the eve of their European tour.

The orchestra performed Johannes Brahms’ Symphony No. 2 in D major in the first half of a demanding evening of music. The second half featured  Antonín Dvořák’s Symphony No. 9 in E minor, the famous New World. 

What is interesting about both pieces is that they have been recorded by NACO. The New World Symphony has already been released and it was nominated for a JUNO in 2019. The Brahms has been recorded for release, along with Brahms Symphony No. 1. Both are expected in the near future. NACO has been on a bit of a recording binge recently with the Quebec-based label Analekta. The most recent recording features works by Rimsky-Korsakov and the Canadian Walter Boudreau. Also down of CD are Life Reflected, a quartet of four new compositions by Canadian composers which will be performed on this tour and Encount3rs, a trio of new works for ballet.

The performance of the Brahms on Wednesday was classic NACO: full of vigour, precision and nuance. They easily managed to avoid the turgidity and melancholy that seems to loom about the work and pulled off a fine performance. The NACO woodwinds were in fine fettle as usual. One should not become too blasé about this unit’s fine work, as they seemingly always rise to the occasion.

The Brahms will be played on tour. Its first performance will be at Cadogan Hall in London part of a program that includes Ana Sokolovic’s Golden Slumbers and Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G major.

The second half of the night was handed to Dvořák’s Symphony No. 9. This is a piece that has become a regular for NACO. As mentioned, they have recorded it and they played it across Canada in 2017. It is well and truly in the fingers, as they say. 

There are so many familiar themes in this symphony but NACO presents the imagery and the emotion that emanate in every movement. The performance evoked images of misty mornings and mountain sunsets. There were busy streets and cities with big shoulders. After a standing O, the audience and orchestra repaired to the lobby for some cake and conversation.

The New World, too, will be performed on tour, starting with the opening concert on May 12 at Saffron Hall near Cambridge, England.

On Thursday, the 71 musicians along with the technical entourage that accompanies NACO, will board a plane for England and the start of the tour that will last until May 26 and take the team to five countries — the U.K., France, Holland, Denmark and Sweden — and seven different cities. It all comes to an end in Gothenburg, Sweden with a performance of Life Reflected. Over the past 50 years, NACO has been on some 50 different tours in Canada and abroad.

The tour is important because of its Canadian content from artists such as pianist Jan Lisiecki, violinist James Ehnes, soprano Erin Wall and countertenor David DQ Lee. Six compositions by six Canadian composers — Sokolovic, Claude Vivier, Zosha Di Castri. Jocelyn Morlock, John Estacio and Nicole Lizée — will feature prominently on tour.

Along with the music there are some 60 educational events scheduled that in many ways are on equal footing with the concerts.
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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.