Alexander Shelley has set out to pay homage to the orchestra he leads in 2019-20 with concerts that feature his talented players.
“There are two concerts: one with John Storgårds (NACO’s principal guest conductor) and one with me where we celebrate the birthday of the orchestra. The way we conceived this is to feature the orchestra and its musicians in as colourful and exciting a way as possible.
These concerts, one Sept.30 and the other Oct. 3 will feature works by Witold Lutoslawski and Bela Bartok that will show off the orchestra with each section having a moment to shine.
The concerts will also feature another emphasis of Shelley’s, new work. One of the pieces played will be a reworking of the Kevin Lau piece Dark Angels which was part of the Encount3rs series of new ballets done at the NAC in 2017.
“We wanted to highlight that piece and the fact that a big part of our musical lives is also being a centre for new music. We believe in it and we want to present it as part of our birthday celebration,” Shelley said.
Each program will also feature works that highlight some of the stars of NACO such as Joanna G’froerer, flûte and Chip Hamann, oboe. In separate performances, NACO concertmaster Yosuke Kawasaki will perform a piece by Polish-Canadian composer Peter Paul Koprowski and principal cellist Rachel Mercer will play a concerto by Stewart Goodyear.
“Since the beginning this orchestra has attracted some of the best players in the world and it continues to do so. As music director I am very proud of that.
The 2019-20 season will open with a massive choral work, the Verdi Requiem on sept. 12 and 13, but the focus will shift quickly to another of the key events in this anniversary season at the NAC — the launch of Indigenous Theatre. All the other NAC departments are featuring works by Indigenous artists and NACO is joining in with a concert on Sept. 19.
The program will include works by Indigenous composers Andrew Balfour, the artistic director of Winnipeg’s Camerata Nova, Odawa composer Barbara Croall and Métis composer Ian Cusson. The latter has been commissioned by NACO and the Canadian Opera Company to write a new version of the Kuyas Lullaby that is part of the opera Louis Riel by Harry Somers and Mavor Moore. The original lullaby sparked controversy when Riel was remounted in 2017 over concerns about cultural appropriation. The new lullaby Dodo, mon tout petit will be included in Riel as a permanent part of any future staging.
“We felt (the rewrite) was necessary. It was decided that it was appropriate to revisit that moment in the opera to create something new that serves the purpose within context of the opera … so that everybody feels comfortable about the work.”
Mezzo-soprano Marion Newman will sing in the Croall piece Zasakwaa (There is a Heavy Frost). The second half of the concert will feature a version of Edvard Grieg’s Peer Gynt.
Another piece of Cusson’s music will be played later in September when Storgards conducts his Le loup de Lafontaine which was inspired by the legend of a menacing wolf that terrorized a francophone village in Ontario. NACO will also perform with the Inuk singer Susan Aglukark in an NAC Sessions concert in the run-up to the start of Indigenous Theatre. Aglukark will also offer a family show
Shelley said he has learned a lot by working with Indigenous creators on projects at the NAC and beyond.
“I have found it an enlightening experience over the past few years working on collaborations with Indigenous artists. It particularly started for me with I Lost My Talk and the trip to the Eskasoni First Nation and working with the family of (the Mi-kmaw poet and writer and matriarch) Rita Joe.
“We are always thinking about potential projects and I have noticed in an age in which everything is very fast the very human process of saying if we are going to engage with an Indigenous story, let’s first engage with the community from which that story comes. Let’s be respectful and learn. Let’s hear about the story in depth and build trust because it’s not our story to tell. We need to earn the right to tell the story.”
As usual there are some big names coming to Southam Hall in the 2019-20 NACO season.
One of the biggest is a visit by Yannick Nézet-Séguin and his l’Orchestre Metropolitain on Feb. 6, 2020. They will play Symphony No. 5 by Jacques Hétu in the first half and the Mozart Mass in C minor in the second half with Ottawa native Philippe Sly as a featured soloist. Nézet-Séguin’s other job, of course, is as music director of the Metropolitan Opera in New York.
The renowned percussionist Evelyn Glennie will be making an appearance as will violinists Joshua Bell and Timothy Chooi. Glennie’s concert will feature Launch! by Vivian Fung and an NACO commission by Vincent Ho called The Shaman.
Pinchas Zukerman will be back to conduct one concert and then play with his partner Amanda Forsyth in another. And the pianist Gabriela Montero will pay tribute to Clara Schumann in the 200th anniversary of her birth. Angela Hewiit will wrap up her Bach Odyssey with The Art of Fugue and Calgary’s Jan Lisiecki will make a return as well.
Ottawa’s very own cello prodigy Bryan Cheng (part of the Cheng² Duo with sister Silvie) will perform the Elgar Cello Concerto conducted by Peter Oundjian.
One of the more unique concerts will be a performance by the Chinese pipa player Wu Man. She will tackle a concerto by the contemporary Chinese composer Tan Dun. proving that culture can bridge a divide when politics can’t.
Shelley also was quick to draw attention to a concert next spring that will honour the relationship between Canada and The Netherlands that dates back to the end of the Second World War. Two Dutch soloists, cellist Harriet Krieg and Simone Lamsma, violin, will play a double concerto by Dutch composer Michel Van der Aa.
The Pops series conducted by Jack Everley will be interesting this season too with a performance of the music of the legendary composer for film John Williams and a live performance with a screening of Mary Poppins.
The highlight for the family has to be a modernized version of Peter and the Wolf.
“It’s not as everyone knows it,” Shelley said. “I recorded a new version for Deutsche Grammophon. The Prokofiev estate allowed a prologue to be added to the story.”
Basically, Shelley said, Peter had a hippy grandad who lives in California. He flies out to see his American grandfather and has some adventures in Los Angeles. The music is Mahler, Zemlinsky and Wagner. The second half of the show is the original story.
The performance next June will feature this new story accompanied by puppets and visuals prepared by the Brooklyn, New York production company Giants are Small.
“This will be something very different in the concert hall,” Shelley promised.