Canada’s National Arts Centre Orchestra

May 8, 2019

NAC Performance
Alexander Shelley

Oct. 14, 2017

PHOTO: Andre Ringuette/Freestyle Photography

Saffron Hall is privileged to be the first port of call for Canada’s National Arts Centre Orchestra on its 50th anniversary European tour entitled ‘Crossings’.

The concert, which takes place this Sunday, is conducted by brilliant British-born Alexander Shelley whose appointment was announced some five years ago. Macleans Magazine in Canada credited him with turning the orchestra “almost overnight into one of the more audacious orchestras in North America.” The Ottawa Citizen has praised the ensemble as “an orchestra transformed…. hungry, bold and unleashed.”

Of the transformation Alexander says: “I inherited an orchestra of brilliant musicians that had been assembled by my predecessor but which had been focused for fifteen years on the strictly classical repertoire. I wanted to explore more adventurous programming to appeal not just to music lovers but also to those interested in a conversation with the orchestra.”

This approach is certainly fulfilled by the programme for the Saffron Hall concert which starts with Serbian-Canadian Ana Sokolovićs ‘Golden Slumbers Kiss Your Eyes…’. This is a cycle of seven songs written for countertenor, choir and orchestra that is based on European folk tunes and sung in seven languages. Alexander says: “It’s fun to play, fun to listen to and forms part of our Canadian DNA.” As well as a showcase for Korean-Canadian countertenor David DQ Lee, ‘Golden Slumbers’ is a piece of great variety and contains some exquisite, light orchestral accompaniment.

The second half continues with Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G, played by the 24-year-old Canadian pianist Jan Lisiecki. Born in Calgary of Polish parents, Jan made his orchestral debut at the age of nine. The New York Times has called him, “a pianist who makes every note count” and the BBC Music Magazine reckons he is, “perhaps the most ‘complete’ pianist of his age.”

The concert’s second half is filled by Dvořák’s very familiar and much-loved Symphony No 9 “From the New World”. When asked how the orchestra could keep such a well-known piece fresh, Alexander replied: “We go back to the drawing-board and try to sweep away some of the dust that the piece has collected. We adopt a ‘what if’ approach to highlight different elements.”

With a Serbian-Canadian composer, Korean-Canadian and Polish-Canadian performers, and a programme which reflects the cultural exchanges between the old world and the new, ‘Crossings’ is a singularly apt title for the tour.

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