The album cover for Truth in Our Time features a picture of Philip Glass looking at a landscape through a train window. It's black and white on a dark blue background. He seems to be lost in his thoughts and contemplative.
NACO Recordings

Truth in Our Time

featuring Philip Glass - Symphony No. 13

Released February 9, 2024

Composers: Philip Glass, Nicole Lizée, Korngold, Shostakovich, YAO
Performers: Alexander Shelley, Canada's National Arts Centre Orchestra, James Ehnes, YAO
Genres: Contemporary, Symphony, Violin, Orchestral Music, Spoken word

Truth in Our Time: NAC Orchestra and Alexander Shelley present the world premiere recording of Philip Glass’s Symphony No. 13

Music and the arts have long played their part in confronting ‘alternative facts’ with reality and deconstructing political propaganda and reductive rhetoric. The latest recording from Canada’s National Arts Centre Orchestra stands as a fitting tribute to the Canadian American journalist Peter Jennings, anchor of ABC World News Tonight for more than thirty years before his death in 2005, diving deep into the debate surrounding the value of truth and the ways in which composers have probed and reinforced it.


Truth in Our Time includes the world premiere recording of Symphony No. 13 by Philip Glass, commissioned by the NAC Orchestra (NACO) and first performed by NACO and its Music Director Alexander Shelley in 2022. The new album, released by Orange Mountain Music on February 9, 2024, opens with Zeiss After Dark by Canadian composer Nicole Lizée. Its compelling program also includes Erich Wolfgang Korngold’s Violin Concerto, with James Ehnes as soloist, Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 9 and the haunting Strange Absurdity / Étrange absurdité by Yao, a bright star of Canada’s Francophone music scene.

A meditation on truth and how it is told, commissioned by the Orchestra as a tribute to Canadian-born journalist Peter Jennings

Peter Jennings gained the trust of his audience for impartial and honest reporting, qualities that he inherited from his father, a prominent radio journalist with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. To honour his commitment to truth-telling, his family supported the NAC Orchestra to commission a new work from Philip Glass in his memory. The composer’s Thirteenth Symphony, inspired by the veracity of Jennings’s reporting, explores the theme of truth in our time. Alexander Shelley chose to couple Glass’s score with Shostakovich’s Ninth Symphony, which was completed weeks after the end of the Second World War, later condemned by Stalin’s regime for its ‘ideological weakness’ and dismissed as an inappropriate response to the great sacrifice made by the Soviet people in their Great Patriotic War against Nazism.

The program, recorded live in Southam Hall, the Orchestra’s Ottawa home, reflects the Music Director’s determination to create a supporting context for diverse compositions.

“Although music can be purely abstract, composers throughout history have often written works to serve a purpose with an intent. It could have been simply to entertain an audience, to make a deeper point, or reflect a story back to us.

Truth in Our Time grew from the long conversation we’ve been having at the National Arts Centre about our multifaceted roles as an orchestra—something we try to refresh as often as possible—one of which is to consider art as one of the pillars of truth in society, or as a means of holding up a mirror to the time in which we live. ‘What is Truth?’ is among today’s most pressing questions, especially with the advent of AI, and this album looks at how composers have responded to it at various times.”  – Alexander Shelley

The composer, whose works frequently explore social and environmental issues, and who admired Peter Jennings, was at the top of the NAC Orchestra’s commission hitlist.

Philip Glass, Alexander Shelley, and the musicians of the NAC Orchestra in Carnegie Hall  © Dominick Mastrangelo

“He [Philip Glass] jumped at the idea and said he’d like it to be his next symphony,” recalls Alexander Shelley. “This was the perfect vehicle for us to perform as part of our return to Carnegie Hall after a hiatus. We decided to pair it with works written in the aftermath of the Second World War that showed how the distortion and obfuscation of truth at the time had affected composers. We came to Carnegie Hall just after Russia invaded Ukraine, which raised other questions about war and objective truth.”

What can a piece of music express about the idea of truth?

''When we consider a figure like Peter Jennings, a Canadian by birth, an immigrant, a journalist, an American by choice, rather than making a proclamation about ‘what is truth,’ for the composer we are on much better ground when we talk about ‘'This is the music that I listen to, this is the music that I like, and this is the music that I write” says Philip Glass about his Symphony No. 13.

Truth in Our Time seeks to continue that conversation by encouraging listeners to reflect on the album’s overarching theme. Alexander Shelley points to the case of Korngold, whose Violin Concerto represented his return to writing absolute music after a long and successful run of Hollywood soundtrack scores. The Austrian composer, who found refuge in California following Hitler’s annexation of Austria in 1938, marked the defeat of the Nazis in 1945 by making substantial revisions to the score of the Violin Concerto he had written eight years earlier. “Korngold refrained from writing concert music while the Nazis were in power,” notes Shelley. “This concerto was his joyful response to their fall and celebration, if you will, that falsehood had been cut down so that truth could live again.”

Shostakovich, he adds, subtly undermined the falsehoods and cynicism of Stalin’s regime with his Ninth Symphony, another product of 1945. The light-hearted, occasionally introspective, often ironic score was anything but the triumphal work that the authorities expected from its composer in the aftermath of victory over the Nazis.

James Ehnes first recorded Korngold’s Violin Concerto in studio in 2006. He says that it was an “unexpected delight” to record the work again. “I value this relationship with Alexander Shelley and the NAC Orchestra as one of the most important and rewarding in my career,” he reflects. “There had been discussions for many years about potentially recording together, but as it turned out, this ‘recording’ was not planned at all. Rather, it was the serendipitous result of having microphones in place for the recording of Philip Glass’s Symphony, and capturing, almost coincidentally, the excitement and energy of a very special night. We have a great history with this piece, having performed it on two separate tours.

The concert performance you hear on this recording is the culmination of years of collaboration and a testament to the unique bond between Alexander, the orchestra, and me. I’m beyond delighted to have this souvenir of such a special experience. – James Ehnes

Canadian composer Nicole Lizée, born in 1973 in Saskatchewan, compresses a wealth of ideas into the brief span of Zeiss After Dark. The work, co-commissioned by the NAC Orchestra and the Toronto Symphony Orchestra as part of Canada’s sesquicentenary celebrations in 2017, is built from multiple layers of percussion, wind and brass sounds that move in and out of focus like an image viewed through the lens of an old Zeiss camera. The piece was directly inspired by the cinematography in a famous scene from Stanley Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon lit solely by candles and filmed with intimate warmth using a special low-light Zeiss lens.

“Nicole’s one of the most mind-bendingly brilliant composers of our time,” comments Alexander Shelley. “Her music is rooted in the world of machines, of records, CDs, analogue and digital entities getting stuck and scratching. Zeiss After Dark deals with how music can reflect the flickering light and atmosphere of a film scene, the real-life ‘sound picture’ of a Zeiss lens.”

Strange Absurdity / Étrange absurdité, written and performed by singer-songwriter and spoken-word artist Yao, is an intensely moving incantation that confronts racism and media culture with references to Billie Holiday and George Floyd.

(Yao performing Strange Absurdity / Étrange absurdité  © Curtis Perry)