An Alpine Symphony - Free Livestream

featuring Nobu and the NAC Orchestra

2023-05-11 20:00 2023-05-11 22:00 60 Canada/Eastern 🎟 NAC: An Alpine Symphony - Free Livestream

https://nac-cna.ca/en/event/32867

NAC Livestream

Tonight’s guest artist, Japanese pianist Nobu (Nobuyuki Tsuji), first found himself at a keyboard at the age of 2 picking out a tune he heard his mother hum. Nobu has gone on to become a composer and much sought-after guest pianist, with a legion of fellow concert pianists as admirers. Blind from birth, Nobu learns each piece strictly by ear, and of his performances, iconic pianist Van Cliburn once said “…he was absolutely miraculous. His performance had the power of a...

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Online
Thursday, May 11, 2023
8 PM EDT
NAC Livestream

The May 10 concert is dedicated to Sara Vered in gratitude for her recent gift to the NAC Orchestra Mentorship Program.  


Her generous contribution will provide young orchestral musicians with exceptional learning opportunities like the one you will see this evening for years to come. Sara and her family have supported the National Arts Centre since 1998 and have championed the NAC’s professional music education programs for young artists since 2012. In recognition of her generous support, Sara was Honorary Patron of the NAC’s former Young Artists Program from 2012 to 2019. A loyal and engaged performing arts lover, Sara enjoys dance and theatre as well as NAC Orchestra performances. 

The May 11 concert is dedicated to the memory of Donald Renshaw, beloved Principal Trombone of the NAC Orchestra for over 36 years. 
September 22, 1956—December 21, 2022 


Born in Montreal, Donald Renshaw received his Bachelor of Music degree with distinction from McGill University in 1977, and a Master’s degree in Music from The Juilliard School in 1982. As a young professional, he freelanced in a wide array of genres, performing with early and contemporary music groups such as the Studio de Musique Ancienne de Montréal on sackbut, and the Société de Musique Contemporaine du Québec, in addition to jazz groups and big bands. 

In 1983, Don was invited to play with the Montreal Symphony Orchestra as Principal Trombone. He was Principal Trombone of Orchestra London Canada from 1983 to 1986, and also taught at the University of Western Ontario. In 1986, Don became Principal Trombone of the National Arts Centre Orchestra, and taught trombone, tuba, and jazz ensemble, at the Conservatoire de Musique du Québec à Hull from 1987 to 1994. He was a founding member of the Rideau Lakes Brass Quintet (now the NAC Brass Quintet), the Capital BrassWorks, and the Ambassador Brass Trio. Education and community outreach were always close to Don’s heart. He gave hundreds of school concerts through the NAC education program, and also taught at the University of Ottawa. Don was the dear husband of Linda Renshaw, and proud father of two sons, Adam and Aaron. 

Program

Last updated: May 11, 2023

KEIKO DEVAUX Listening Underwater for orchestra* (12 min) 

SERGEI RACHMANINOFF Piano Concerto No. 2 in C minor, Op. 18 (32 min) 
I. Moderato
II. Adagio sostenuto – Più animato
III. Allegro scherzando

INTERMISSION 

RICHARD STRAUSS Ein Alpensinfonie (An Alpine Symphony), Op. 64 (51 min)

*World Premiere; NAC Orchestra commission as part of the Carrefour Composer Program, made possible by the Canada Council for the Arts 

Repertoire

KEIKO DEVAUX

Listening Underwater for orchestra

Keiko Devaux (b. 1982) is a contemporary music composer based in Montréal. Her approach embraces a love of electroacoustic sounds and methodology by manipulating and distorting acoustic sound with digital tools, and then transcribing or re-translating these back into musical notation and the acoustic realm. Her interests include emotional experience and affect, auto-organizational phenomena in nature and living beings, as well as “genre-blurring” by layering and juxtaposing contrasting melodic/harmonic skeletal elements of highly contrasting sonic sources. The distortion of the temporal, frequency, and timbral attributes allow the blurring between traditional tonal sounds and more electroacoustic-inspired “noise” gestures. 

Keiko’s works have been performed in Canada, France, Italy, Germany, Belgium, the United States, and Israel by various ensembles. She has received numerous prizes and awards, including most recently a JUNO Award for Classical Composition of the Year (for Arras, 2022), the Prix Opus for Composer of the Year (2022), and the inaugural Azrieli Commission for Canadian Music in 2020 (the largest of its kind in Canada and one of the largest in the world).

From 2020 to 2022, Keiko was in residence with the NAC Orchestra as a Carrefour Composer. Listening Underwater was commissioned by NACO as part of this program, and tonight’s performance is the work’s world premiere. She provides the following description about her piece: 

The inspiration for this work brought together my general interest in hydro-acoustics with underwater noise pollution and the effect it has on sea-life communication. For this piece I focused particularly on the communicative sounds of toothed and baleen whales. Toothed whales, which include orcas and dolphins, use echolocation to communicate, navigate, and hunt whereas baleen whales produce a series of sounds or “songs” to communicate. Using these two types of vocalizations as inspiration points created a nice contrast between echolocation—a series of clicks and pops—in the ultrasonic range, with the pitch-bending/wavering “songs” produced by baleen whales in the infrasonic range creating two very distinct frequency bands.

The piece establishes and builds an underwater environment of organic ambient noise including surface waves, deeper swells, general underwater movement, and an overall muffled quality with frequencies in the mid-range more attenuated highlighting the extreme high and low intermittent and droned sounds. Eventually the underwater communication, expressed as foreground melodic themes is introduced. These thematic motifs are presented as communicative calls in one section of the orchestra receiving a response in another section often truncated or diffused in nature. As these call-response motifs continue to build and develop in nature, the thrum of human noise (ships, machinery, drilling, etc.) begins its slow crescendo. As this crescendo builds, the calls adapt by adjusting their frequency range higher or lower. Eventually, as the noise builds, the responses become more distant, diffused, disfigured, and ultimately lost. As this crescendo reaches its climax, the underwater calls and responses are stamped out, and the ocean is “silent” again. As the piece comes to an end, melodies are slowly reborn and begin to call out again, first to no response, and eventually life and communication rebuilds and reemerges. 

Sergei Rachmaninoff

Piano Concerto No. 2 in C minor, Op.18

I. Moderato 
II. Adagio sostenuto – Più animato 
III. Allegro scherzando 

In March 1897, Sergei Rachmaninoff (1873–1943) was in St. Petersburg at the premiere of his first major work, Symphony No. 1. It was a total failure (he blamed it on Alexander Glazunov’s poor conducting), which led to a creative crisis lasting three years, during which he was unable to compose anything of significance. (He did, however, continue to perform as a pianist and began another career as a conductor.) Eventually, with the support and encouragement of his friends, as well as conversations with the hypnotherapist Dr. Nikolai Dahl, he resumed composing, and completed the Second Piano Concerto in 1901. A success from when he performed it on October 27/November 9 that year, it remains his most popular work today. 

And it’s easy to see why. The Concerto (which is dedicated to Dahl) is a powerful—and superbly crafted--drama between piano and orchestra, filled with passionate melodies, sumptuous textures, and rich harmonies. After the striking introduction of sombre chords played by the pianist alone, the first movement is dominated by two themes: a brooding, chant-like main theme presented by the violins and violas, and later, an ardent arch-like melody first introduced by the piano. These are developed in the middle of the movement, as the piano and orchestra together build tension and momentum, ultimately surging towards a climactic return of the main theme in a march-like version. The piano continues, the music more achingly melancholy now, leading into a nostalgic version of the second theme played by solo horn. After a dreamy episode for the piano, the tempo gradually accelerates, and the movement is brought to an abruptly emphatic end. 

From C minor sombreness, shifting harmonies played by muted strings progress to the luminous key of E major, at which point the piano enters with serene arpeggios hovering over descending chromatic lines and sustained bass notes. Solo flute enters with a nostalgically tender melody, which is then continued by the clarinet, and later, fully taken up by the piano. After subsiding in B major, the mode turns to minor, and the mood becomes more agitated, as the piano rhapsodizes on the main theme. It builds to a climax three times, each one becoming more intense and expansive; after the third peak, the piano suddenly drives forward, and brings us to an animated episode with fragments of the first movement’s opening theme in the violins and oboe sounding over the soloist’s flurry of notes. It culminates in a dazzling cadenza, after which the piano draws us back to a reprise of the main theme, now sung by muted violins. A sublime coda follows, unfolding like a passionate farewell, with the piano left alone at the close.

The third movement opens with a sprightly march that modulates out of the previous movement’s E major world back to C minor. From quiet tiptoe, the march crescendos to a noisy climax (with cymbals and bass drum), to which the piano responds with a brilliant cadenza, and eventually settles on the main theme with sparkling figuration. A grand transition in the piano arrives at the lyrical second theme, first sung by violas and oboe, then echoed by the piano. An enigmatic episode follows—the piano weaves a line through the march theme now slowed down, with haunting touches of cymbals and an unsettling timpani roll. The pace suddenly picks up, and the march theme is further developed, first gaining energy and speed, then via an orchestral fugue, with its initial rigor soon giving way to more flashy passages in the piano. Later, the second theme and the enigmatic slow march are reprised, after which piano and orchestra build to the ultimate climax: a blazing piano cadenza, silence, then a majestic presentation of the second theme by the strings, as the piano powers through virtuosic patterns of chords. In the final moments, the music rushes forth in jubilant C major, to the concerto’s exuberant finish. 

RICHARD STRAUSS

Eine Alpensinfonie (An Alpine Symphony), Op. 64

In 1888, convinced that his artistic direction was to create new forms for every new subject, Richard Strauss (1864–1949) embarked on writing orchestral “tone poems.” A one-movement work that illustrates or evokes the content of an extramusical source, like a story, poem, or painting, a tone poem was a novel way to structure the experience of orchestral music compared to the traditional abstract forms of the four-movement symphony. With each one he composed—from Don Juan to Till Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks to Ein Heldenleben (A Hero’s Life)—Strauss found innovative and ever expansive ways of using orchestral timbre, texture, and sonority to vividly convey the breadth of human experience.

Completed between 1911 and 1915, Eine Alpensinfonie (An Alpine Symphony) was Strauss’s last major symphonic work. Its sprawling length of 50 minutes suggests its more than a conventional tone poem (which tends to span only half that time) but like one, it explicitly conveys an extramusical topic. Employing a massive orchestra including off-stage brass, wind and thunder machines, and organ, the piece evokes an excursionist’s 24-hour journey up and down an alpine mountain—what they see and their physical, emotional, and psychological responses en route, which we, as listeners, experience alongside. For the atheistic Strauss, this subject was rooted in Friedrich Nietzsche’s anti-metaphysical philosophy, with which he had been preoccupied since the 1890s (his 1896 tone poem Also sprach Zarathustra is based on Nietzsche’s novel of the same title). As the composer had written in his diary in 1911, he originally thought to title “my alpine symphony: The Antichrist, since it represents: moral purification through one’s own effort, liberation through work, [and] the adoration of eternal, glorious nature.” 

An Alpine Symphony unfolds in 22 tableaux, as indicated in Strauss’s score. The first 12 chronicle the hiker’s ascent, focused on conveying the act of climbing and the sights and sounds that are experienced. Along the way, several important “leitmotifs” appear, the ensuing recurrences of which form the sonic narrative. The opening tableaux, “Nacht (Night)”, begins with a solemn descent to the registral depths, at the bottom of which four trombones intone the “Mountain” theme. After dwelling in this murky sound world, figures in the strings begin to move more quickly, leading to an orchestral crescendo that culminates in the “Sonnenaufgang (Sunrise)” theme—a majestic full-orchestra descending scale. The excursionist basks in the glow, then begins their ascent (“Der Anstieg”), represented by a rigorous leaping melody introduced by the cellos and double basses (it’s derived from a motif in the coda of the finale of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony).

After clambering vigorously, we arrive at “Eintritt in den Wald” (Entry into the wood)”, in which Strauss conjures up the mystery of a dark forest, with rapid string crossings suggesting the wind moving through the trees. Then, as if we’ve emerged into a clearing, the music becomes serene and contemplative. Eventually, the excursionist wanders by a burbling brook (“Wanderung neben dem bache”), which leads to a rushing waterfall (“Am Wasserfall”). As we gaze at the waterfall’s tumbling spray, evoked by harps and celeste, ricochet glissandos in the strings and woodwind arpeggios, the English horn and solo viola present a naïve little tune (“Erscheinung”; Apparition), tinged by glints of glockenspiel. Later, horns and violas sing a warm melody of descending sighs—this is the “Admiration” theme, expressing wonder at the view. 

We then glide through flowery meadows (“Auf blumige Wiesen”)—smooth lyrical lines in the violins—and arrive at the sound of yodeling, cowbells, and twittering birds on the mountain pasture (“Auf der Alm”), where we pause with the hiker to take in the scene. Thereafter, the music becomes more agitated and dissonant, as we traverse difficult terrain: “through thicket and briar on wrong paths” (“Durch Dickicht und Gestrüpp auf Irrwegen”), then a perilous trek on a glacier (“Auf dem Gletscher”), signaled by a defiant trumpet theme. After surmounting that treachery, there’s a suspenseful moment, as fragments of the “Ascent” theme sound, depicting the final “dangerous moments” (“Gefahrvolle Augenblicke”) near the peak. 

“Auf dem Gipfel (On the summit)” begins with a powerful statement of the “Nature” motif (similar to the one that opens Also sprach Zarathustra) intoned by trombones. An extended oboe solo follows, halting and delicate, as if pausing to catch one’s breath, in the stillness at the top. At this point, the music isn’t evoking what is being seen, but the climber’s emotional response to the view at the summit. The “Admiration” theme, last heard at the waterfall, returns as an effusive outpouring, and is later followed by a recall of the “Sunrise” melody in full glory.

Hereafter, the remaining tableaux, beginning with “Vision (Vision)”, emphasize the thoughts and feelings of the excursionist following their peak experience. We hear recalls of “Admiration” in the minor mode and “Sunrise” complicated by chromaticisms, thus suggesting a growing anxiety. After a grand statement of the “Mountain” theme, the music suddenly collapses, and the atmosphere becomes nebulous—the rising mists (“Nebel steigen auf”) and the gradual veiling of the sun (“Die Sonne verdüstert sich almählich”) also a metaphor, perhaps, for a developing spiritual crisis. In the ensuing “Elegie (Elegy)”, strings sing wandering, uncertain phrases, which musicologist David Larkin argues might represent the climber’s melancholy over the loss of religious or metaphysical certainty. Faith-shattering doubt is then evoked in its ecological parallel—a terrifying storm on the descent, beginning with the calm beforehand (“Stille vor dem Sturm”), then thunder, howling gales, and pouring rain (“Gewitter und Sturm, Absteig”).

At sunset (“Sonnenuntergang”), the “Sunrise” theme sounds in the violins and woodwinds in vastly elongated form, as the mood shifts to nostalgia. The entrance of the organ (a sonic reference intimating the world beyond) signals the start of the “Ausklang (After-echo)” tableaux. The “Admiration”, “Ascent”, and “Sunrise” themes, along with their variants, make final reappearances, like reminiscences, then dissolve into the closing realm of night (“Nacht”).

Program notes by Hannah Chan-Hartley, PhD 

Artists

  • dscf9130-curtis-perry-2-cropped
    Conductor Alexander Shelley
  • piano Nobu
  • bio-orchestra
    Featuring NAC Orchestra
  • Assistant Conductor (appears courtesy of Tapestry Opera’s Women in Musical Leadership Program) Naomi Woo
  • keiko-devaux-500px
    Composer Keiko Devaux

Credits

NAC Orchestra

First Violins  
Yosuke Kawasaki (concertmaster) 
Jessica Linnebach (associate concertmaster) 
Noémi Racine Gaudreault (assistant concertmaster) 
Emily Kruspe 
Marjolaine Lambert 
Frédéric Moisan 
Carissa Klopoushak 
Zhengdong Liang 
*Erica Miller 
*Martine Dubé 
°Austin Wu 
°Yu Kai Sun 
°Kimberly Durflinger 
°Patrick Paradine 
°Maria-Sophia Pera 
°Hanna Williamson 

Second Violins 
Mintje van Lier (principal) 
Winston Webber (assistant principal) 
Jeremy Mastrangelo 
Emily Westell 
Manuela Milani 
Leah Roseman 
Mark Friedman 
Karoly Sziladi 
**Edvard Skerjanc 
*Andréa Armijo Fortin 
*Heather Schnarr 
°Daniel Fuchs 
°Lindsey Herle 
°Delia Li 
°Yan Li 
°Sienna MinKyong Cho 

Violas 
Jethro Marks (principal) 
David Marks (associate principal) 
David Goldblatt (assistant principal) 
Paul Casey 
David Thies-Thompson 
*Tovin Allers 
°Christoph Chung 
°Rebecca Miller 
°Marie Vivies 
°Ellis Yuen-Rapati 

Cellos 
Rachel Mercer (principal) 
**Julia MacLaine (assistant principal) 
Leah Wyber 
Marc-André Riberdy 
Timothy McCoy 
*Desiree Abbey 
*Thaddeus Morden 
°Juliette Leclerc 
°Justine Lefebvre 
°Aidan Fleet 
°Evelyne Méthot 

Double Basses 
Max Cardilli (assistant principal) 
Vincent Gendron 
Marjolaine Fournier 
**Hilda Cowie 
*Paul Mach 
°Patrick Bigelow 
°Jacob Diaz 
°Logan Nelson 

Flutes 
Joanna G'froerer (principal) 
Stephanie Morin 
°Félicia Lévesque 
°Aram Mun 

Oboes 
Charles Hamann (principal) 
Anna Petersen 
*Alex Liedtke 
°Lucian Avalon 
°Aidan Dugan 

English Horn 
Anna Petersen 

Clarinets 
Kimball Sykes (principal) 
Sean Rice 
°Xhovan Dimo 
°Yanqing Zhang 

Bassoons 
Darren Hicks (principal) 
Vincent Parizeau 
°Nadia Ingalls 
°Juan Antonio Rodriguez Diaz 

Horns 
Lawrence Vine (principal) 
Julie Fauteux (associate principal) 
Elizabeth Simpson 
Lauren Anker 
Louis-Pierre Bergeron 
*Olivier Brisson 
*Mark Constantine 
°August Haller 
°Chia-ying Lin 
°Rachel O'Connor 
°Taran Plamondon 

Trumpets 
Karen Donnelly (principal) 
Steven van Gulik 
*Curtis Dietz 
°Luis Cardenas Casillas 
°Matheus Correa de Moraes 

Trombones
*Peter Sullivan (guest principal) 
Colin Traquair 
°Léonard Pineault Deault 

Bass Trombone 
*Luke Sieve 
°Alexander Mullins 

Tuba 
Chris Lee (principal) 
°Brandon Figueroa 

Timpani 
*Andrei Malashenko (guest principal) 
°Hamza Able 

Percussion
Jonathan Wade 
*Robert Slapcoff 
°Alec Joly Pavelich 
°Leigh Wilson 

Harp 
*Angela Schwarzkopf 
°Anna Dunlap 

Organ 
*Thomas Annand 

Celeste 
*Olga Gross 

Principal Librarian 
Nancy Elbeck 

Assistant Librarian 
Corey Rempel 

Personnel Manager 
Meiko Lydall 

Assistant Personnel Manager 
Laurie Shannon 

*Additional musicians 
**On leave 
°Participants of the NAC Orchestra Mentorship Program