Review: NACO players rock the Rocket Room with Duane Andrews

James Ehnes, Duane Andrews and Sean Rice perform Revolutions on a Reel Wednesday night in St. John's. Photo: Peter Robb

ST. JOHN’S, NL • The forecast calls for freezing rain. The northeastern part of this island is slammed by thick pack ice and there’s an iceberg south of here that can be seen from space and that helicopters are landing upon. But it was warm and toasty (it was above a bakery after all) inside the charming wood and brick confines of the Rocket Room in old St. John’s on Wednesday night.

The heat was supplied by a … ahem … slightly over-capacity crowd of locals and mainlanders who had come to watch five members of the NAC Orchestra partner up with the virtuoso guitarist Duane Andrews.

Andrews, who hails from Carbonear (a small town on the west side of Conception Bay) knows his jigs and reels and his Reinhardt (Django Reinhardt). But, more than that, he’s dabbling in all sorts of musical matters including arranging some Frederick Chopin for string quintet (including his guitar). Joining Andrews on stage for much of evening were NACO’s concertmaster Yosuke Kawasaki (violin), Carissa Klopoushak (violin) Rachel Mercer (cello) and David Marks (viola).

And jumping into the musical fray was another NACO member Sean Rice on clarinet. Piling on the musical pleasure was the entry of violinist James Ehnes who performed a new work by Andrews that was commissioned by the Rotary Music Festival which is underway in St. John’s at this writing. The work had been performed earlier in the day at an outreach event at Holy Heart High School, Rice’s alma mater.

The piece, called Revolutions on a Reel was a treat. Andrews is steeped in Newfoundland musical culture and he began his piece with a traditional sounding jig that employed Rice’s clarinet in place of the usual flute. The piece revolved into a hint of Bela Bartok’s gypsy sensibility and then rolled into a more modern sound. As always it’s great to be there where something new is being performed by great players.

The evening closed on a jazzy note with an up-tempo arrangement of the standard Sweet Georgia Brown.

For more from Duane Andrews, please see this ARSTFILE interview.

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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.