Ray Chen, Mendelssohn & Mahler

with the NAC Orchestra

2024-05-15 20:00 2024-05-16 23:00 60 Canada/Eastern 🎟 NAC: Ray Chen, Mendelssohn & Mahler


In-person event

This concert is made possible in part through the generous support of the Friends of the NAC Orchestra's Kilpatrick Fund.
  Online personality and violinist extraordinaire Ray Chen has redefined what it is to be a classical musician, and every performance shows why he’s a musical hero around the world, inspiring a new generation of musicians and music lovers. Felix Mendelssohn took more than five years to complete his beautiful Violin Concerto in E minor, and it was a hit...

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Southam Hall,1 Elgin Street,Ottawa,Canada
May 15 - 16, 2024

≈ 2 hours and 15 minutes · With intermission

Our programs have gone digital.

Scan the QR code at the venue's entrance to read the program notes before the show begins.

Last updated: May 13, 2024

A dedication to a dear friend

Tonight’s concert is dedicated to Sara Vered to celebrate her extraordinary generosity to the NAC Orchestra Mentorship Program. Sara’s gift empowers young musicians to pursue their dreams and develop their craft to its fullest potential. Some of these talented artists will be performing tonight.

For over 25 years, Sara and the entire Vered Family have championed music education and artist training at the National Arts Centre. In recognition of her generous support, Sara was the Honorary Patron of the NAC’s Young Artists Program for many years. Hundreds of young artists and thousands of students have benefitted from the Vered Family’s belief in the transformative power of the performing arts.

Sara, thank you for your unwavering commitment to the arts and for the lasting impact you’ve made.

With gratitude and appreciation,

Christopher Deacon
President & CEO, National Arts Centre

Juniper Locilento
CEO, National Arts Centre Foundation


KATI AGÓCS Shenanigan (4 min)

Armand Birk, conductor (May 15)
Soo Jin Chung, conductor (May 16)

FELIX MENDELSSOHN Violin Concerto in E minor, Op. 64 (27 min)
I. Allegro molto appassionato –
II. Andante –
III. Allegretto non troppo – Allegro molto vivace

Ray Chen, violin


GUSTAV MAHLER Symphony No. 5 (72 min)
I. Trauermarsch
II. Stürmisch bewegt, mit grösster Vehemenz
III. Scherzo
IV. Adagietto
V. Rondo-Finale

This concert is made possible in part through the generous support of the Friends of the NAC Orchestra’s Kilpatrick Fund.




Hailed as “a composer of imposing artistic gifts” (Gramophone Magazine) and “one of the brightest stars in her generation of composers” (Audiophile Audition), Kati Agócs (KAH-tee AH-goach) writes “sublime music of fluidity and austere beauty” (The Boston Globe), that is “simmering, and lucid…demands to be heard” (The New York Times). A recent Guggenheim Fellow, she is also a winner of the prestigious Arts and Letters Award, the lifetime achievement award in music composition from The American Academy of Arts and Letters, and a two-time nominee for Classical Composition of the Year in the Juno Awards. Her music has been commissioned and performed by many premier ensembles and organizations including the Boston Symphony Chamber Players, Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, Minnesota Orchestra, Toronto Symphony Orchestra, Ensemble Reconsil Vienna, National Youth Orchestra of Canada, Claremont Trio, Hub New Music, Jupiter String Quartet, Continuum, Ensemble Contemporain de Montreal, New Juilliard Ensemble, and Eighth Blackbird, among many others.

Born in 1975 in Canada of Hungarian and American parents, Kati Agócs earned doctoral and master’s degrees from the Juilliard School, studying composition with Milton Babbitt, and studied voice privately with Adele Addison. She has served on the composition faculty at the New England Conservatory in Boston since 2008, and maintains a work studio in Flatrock, Newfoundland.

Shenanigan was composed in 2011, a commission by James Sommerville, then Music Director of the Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra. Agócs describes her orchestral piece as follows:

Shenanigan draws its inspiration from reels that entered the musical tradition of Atlantic and French-speaking Canada in the waves of immigration from England and Ireland. I played with the symmetrical phrase structure and static harmony of the original improvised dances, developing the melodies and rhythms, infusing them with my own piquant harmonies, and interlacing iridescent orchestral colours. The resulting hybrid melds traditional folk reel with a full symphonic palette.

Biography and program note by the composer


Violin Concerto in E minor, Op. 64

I. Allegro molto appassionato –
II. Andante –
III. Allegretto non troppo – Allegro molto vivace

Considered to be one of the great concertos of the violin repertoire, Felix Mendelssohn’s (1809–1847) E minor Violin Concerto, completed in 1844, was his final work in the genre. (It’s, in fact, his second violin concerto; the first, in D minor, was written 22 years earlier, but was not published until 1951.) Characterized by a natural gracefulness with episodes ranging from tender lyricism to sparkling brilliance, the E minor Concerto is not merely a showpiece for virtuosic display, but also demands much from the soloist in terms of beauty of tone, accurate intonation, and finesse in articulation.

In 1835, Mendelssohn was appointed the principal conductor of the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, and named his longtime friend, the violinist Ferdinand David, to the post of concertmaster. A few years later, David asked the composer to write him a violin concerto, to which Mendelssohn replied in a letter dated July 30, 1838, “I have the liveliest desire to write one for you and, if I have a few propitious days, I will bring you something…. I would like to compose a violin concerto for next winter. One in E minor keeps running through my head and the opening gives me no peace.” Mendelssohn ended up labouring on it for years, though he was in regular consultation with David, who contributed ideas and gave guidance during the compositional process. The autograph score was completed in mid-September 1844, but David continued to advise on it right up until he performed the premiere on March 13, 1845, with the Gewandhaus Orchestra conducted by Niels Gade (due to Mendelssohn being ill). The piece was soon also taken up by the Hungarian violinist Joseph Joachim, who, a year earlier, at the age of 13, had made a sensational debut in London with Beethoven’s Violin Concerto and Mendelssohn conducting.

The E minor Concerto embodies Mendelssohn’s mature musical style—a fusion of “Classical” formal clarity and elegance with “Romantic” drama—while also containing some innovative features. For one, the movements are interconnected by transitional passages so there are no pauses between them. Another is that, in the first movement, instead of a full orchestral exposition presenting the main themes before the soloist’s entrance, the violin comes in near the start: overtop murmuring figures, it sings an elegiac theme high up on the E string (one of violin music’s high-wire acts!) Only after the first solo episode is finished does the orchestra present the main theme and continues onward. The placement of the solo violin cadenza is also novel; instead of appearing near the movement’s end, it shows up earlier, as a link from the central development section to the recap of the main theme by the orchestra. Moreover, rather than giving the soloist the option to improvise their own cadenza, Mendelssohn “composed it out”, on David’s advice, for the violinist to play, thus further integrating it into the movement’s overall structure and character.

A solitary bassoon sustains a single note by way of transition into the Andante movement—a lyrical “song without words”. Solo violin sings a tender melody, accompanied by gentle arpeggiations in the strings with clarinets and bassoons taking over at climactic points. Later, the orchestra introduces an intensely poignant tune over agitated undulations, which the violin emulates and then develops to impassioned peaks, before finally relaxing into the return of the opening song.

After the Andante winds down, the solo violin intones a series of questioning phrases, pensive at first, then brightening as if it has figured out the answer. A fanfare motif sounds in the trumpets, horns, and timpani, to which the violin responds with an upward flourish, like an invitational gesture. The soloist then presents a sprightly, sparkling theme, traced by delicate counterpoint in the woodwinds. A fiery episode ensues, culminating in the orchestra playing a lively march-like theme that is then taken up by the violin. Later, the soloist sings an expansive new melody, which, when the violin (with the woodwinds) recaps the main theme, appears on the horns and strings in beautiful counterpoint. The march tune returns, and soon gathers energy to drive the concerto to a brilliant finish.

Program note by Hannah Chan-Hartley, PhD


Symphony No. 5

I. Trauermarsch
II. Stürmisch bewegt, mit grösster Vehemenz
III. Scherzo
IV. Adagietto
V. Rondo-Finale

In 1907, Gustav Mahler (1860–1911) met Finnish composer Jean Sibelius in Helsinki, during which he famously said that “The symphony must be like the world. It must embrace everything.” It’s a concept that aptly applies to his expansive Fifth Symphony, which, coincidentally, Sibelius had been studying then. While Mahler did not reveal a descriptive program for this work, the psychological arc of the Fifth is quite clear: struggles are faced, endured, and ultimately transcended. To convey this narrative, the composer brings together highly contrasting musical elements, all of which rigorously undergo various processes that are integrated into a compelling large-scale design. The Fifth, as musicologist Constantin Floros has observed, also distinguishes itself from the composer’s earlier symphonies “by brilliance of sound, virtuosity of orchestral writing, and a clear turn towards polyphony,” the latter shaped by Mahler’s deep study of the works of J.S. Bach at the time.

Mahler wrote most of his Fifth Symphony during the summers of 1901 and 1902, in a little composing hut he had built near his villa on the Wörthersee. In November 1901, amidst the work’s genesis, he met Alma Schindler, a talented musician and promising composer 19 years his junior; after a secret engagement, they were married the following March, with Alma already pregnant with their first child. (Their whirlwind romance inspired the composition of the symphony’s Adagietto movement.) The Fifth was premiered in Cologne on October 18, 1904, and published shortly thereafter, though Mahler continued to make revisions, the final ones in 1911.

The symphony unfolds in five movements grouped into three parts: the first consisting of the opening funeral march and the second movement; the second, the central Scherzo; and the third, the Adagietto directly followed by Rondo-Finale. In the outer sections, each pair of movements are linked by recurring musical themes that undergo transformation throughout, thus illuminating the dramatic trajectory of this richly complex symphony.

The opening movement alternates a solemn funeral march with two sections of more intense expression. Three key thematic ideas appear in the march: a trumpet fanfare, an elegiac melody first introduced by violins and cellos, and later, a somewhat consoling melody intoned by the woodwinds. These motives come back altered in subsequent recurrences; for example, each of the trumpet fanfares begins the same, but the music then continues differently. The third fanfare triggers a wild and passionate “trio”, which surges towards a peak that then disintegrates back into the ceremonial formality of the march. After a varied reprise of the march section’s motives, the timpani taps out the fanfare’s rhythm, leading us into the second “trio”, this one characterized by a lamenting melody. After several swelling waves, it reaches a devastating climax that soon falters. The trumpet plays its final fanfare, and the movement ends with quiet signals on muted trumpet and flute.

Floros fittingly describes the second movement as “the comparison of inferno and paradise, of reality and utopia, of boundless despair and the promise of another, better world.” Unfolding in an elaborate sonata form design, it begins with a group of “inferno-like” subjects—stormy and dissonant. After a rushing descent of swirling figures, we hear a new setting of the lamenting melody from the first movement’s second trio. In the central development section, the movement’s motives are thoroughly processed—juxtaposed for maximum contrast, interwoven, and layered contrapuntally, as they continue to morph. Later, Mahler recalls the consoling tune from the funeral march; another march-like section follows and attains a glimpse of “utopia”, only to be drawn back into the “inferno”. In the recap, both the “inferno” motives and the lament intensify, ultimately breaking through to a glorious brass chorale. But this is not paradise attained, only a vision of it; soon, it collapses with a catastrophic blow and then dissipates in the movement’s ghostly conclusion.

Mahler specifies a long pause before the Scherzo, itself a substantial movement. Structurally, it’s an innovative hybrid of scherzo and two trios combined with a developmental section and a modified reprise. Out of the movement’s themes, Mahler spins out many variants that are also worked out through counterpoint; he had described the Scherzo’s music to his friend Natalie Bauer-Lechner in the summer of 1901 as “thoroughly kneaded, so that not even one grain remains unmixed or unchanged. Every note is full of life and everything whirling in a dance.” Four horns get the main dance going—a robust and playful waltz. It gains momentum but it’s soon halted by the horns, making way for a gentle Ländler-like trio. This, too, is interrupted by the horns announcing a return to the Scherzo-waltz, which then leads into a fugato with a vigorous running motive as the subject. It progresses into the second trio, which, after the pace slows, solo horn intones a meditative melody that is mused upon for an extended episode. Later, following a complex developmental section and an intense revisit of the scherzo and trios, this reflective episode returns. Out of this, the scherzo-waltz emerges wilder than ever and drives the movement to a boisterous finish.

Mahler composed the Adagietto in November 1901 as a “declaration of love for Alma!”, as he told his friend Willem Mengelberg, conductor of the Amsterdam Concertgebouw Orchestra, who recorded this detail in his working copy of the symphony. Scored for strings and harp, the movement has a three-part structure, with a soulful melody accompanied by the harp bookending a more impassioned, angsty central section for the strings. The effect of the outer panels is like that of a lover serenading their beloved with a song, albeit one without words. The middle section features an increasingly insistent downward sigh gesture, which is a paraphrase of the “gaze motive” from Richard Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde, when the characters fall in love as they look at each other. Alma would have picked up on this reference, as both she and Mahler shared a deep interest in Wagner during this point in their relationship.

Proceeding directly from the end of the Adagietto, the Rondo-Finale begins with an introduction of several musical motives on which it will be based, including a cheeky quotation of the composer’s own Wunderhorn song “Lob des hohen Verstandes” (in praise of lofty intellect), first piped by the bassoon. (The song is about a donkey who judges a singing contest between a nightingale and a cuckoo and deems the cuckoo the winner.) Over drones in the cellos, horns then present the main theme, fresh and jubilant, the struggles and terrors of the symphony’s first part long forgotten. The tune continues merrily into a lively fugal section based on a bustling subject, one of five such episodes that appear throughout the movement. Later, the theme from the Adagietto’s middle section appears, now transformed into a graceful, dance-like melody. As musicologist William Kinderman has pointed out, this theme “assumes an increasingly central role as the movement unfolds”; listen for it, first, in the strings “tenderly but expressively”; then in “polyphonic dialogue with the woodwinds” in the central development section; and in its third and final appearance, “more thoroughly worked into the larger orchestra”, with its phrases played by woodwinds and horns. Out of the latter, the chorale from the end of the second movement finally emerges in full glory. But there’s no lingering in that realm, and it soon gives way to a wild orchestral bacchanale, closing the symphony with a euphoric celebration of the joys of the here and now.

Program note by Hannah Chan-Hartley, PhD


  • Conductor Alexander Shelley
  • ray-chen-june-2018-photo-credit-john-mac-2-cropped
    Violin Ray Chen
  • Featuring NAC Orchestra
  • dscf0403-greggory-clark-1
    Featuring Musicians from the NACO Mentorship Program

NAC Orchestra

First Violins
Yosuke Kawasaki (concertmaster)
Jessica Linnebach (associate concertmaster)
Noémi Racine Gaudreault (assistant concertmaster)
Emily Kruspe
Marjolaine Lambert
Emily Westell
Manuela Milani
Carissa Klopoushak
*Martine Dubé
*Renée London
°Kanon Itoh
°Liana Fonseca
°Delia Li
°Justin Azerrad Kendall
°Qiyue He
°Maria Mondiru
°Patrick Paradine

Second Violins
*Miho Saegusa (guest principal)
Jeremy Mastrangelo
Leah Roseman
Frédéric Moisan
Edvard Skerjanc
Winston Webber
Zhengdong Liang
Mark Friedman
Karoly Sziladi
*Andréa Armijo Fortin
°Hannah Corbett
°Katrina Johnson
°Sonia Hellenbrand
°Emma Reader-Lee
°Ellen Allers
°Siti Sarah Binti Razlin

Jethro Marks (principal)
David Marks (associate principal)
David Goldblatt (assistant principal)
Paul Casey
David Thies-Thompson
Tovin Allers
°Ellis Yuen-Rapati
°Emily Kistemaker
°Julien Haynes
°Alexander Beggs

Rachel Mercer (principal)
Julia MacLaine (assistant principal)
Leah Wyber
Marc-André Riberdy
Timothy McCoy
*Desiree Abbey
°Aidan Fleet
°Amos Friesen
°Justine Lefebvre
°Evelyne Méthot

Double Basses
*Sam Loeck (guest principal)
Max Cardilli (assistant principal)
Vincent Gendron
**Marjolaine Fournier
*Paul Mach
*David Fay
°Philippe Chaput
°Gene Waldron III

Joanna G’froerer (principal)
Stephanie Morin
°Aram Mun
°Catherine Chabot

Charles Hamann (principal)
Anna Petersen
°Luca Ortolani
°Emily Brownlee

English Horn
Anna Petersen

Kimball Sykes (principal)
Sean Rice
°Andrew Neagoe
°Tyler Song

Darren Hicks (principal)
Vincent Parizeau
°Eric Li
°Maxwell Ostic 

*Neil Deland (guest principal)
Julie Fauteux (associate principal)
Lawrence Vine
Lauren Anker
Louis-Pierre Bergeron
°Ho Hin Kwong
°Laurianne Paradis
°Rachel Cote
°August Haller

Karen Donnelly (principal)
Steven van Gulik
°Bethany Vaughan
°Jacob Merrill

*Steve Dyer (guest principal)
Colin Traquair
°Felix Regalado
°Yori Lang

Bass Trombones
Zachary Bond
°Malena Lorenson

Chris Lee (principal)
°Brandon Figueroa

*Bradley Davis (guest principal)

Jonathan Wade
*Corey Rae
*Robert Slapcoff
°Leigh Wilson

*Angela Schwarzkopf (guest principal)
°Honoka Shoji

Principal Librarian
Nancy Elbeck

Assistant Librarian
Corey Rempel
°Naomi Gem Batiancila

Personnel Manager
Meiko Lydall
°Natalina Scarsellone

Orchestra Personnel Coordinator
Laurie Shannon

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

International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees