Saturday, February 26, 2011

NAC Orchestra at Roy Thomson Hall

The annual trip for the National Arts Centre Orchestra, under the direction of Pinkus Zukerman, to Toronto was Feb. 5 where they performed an almost all Beethoven program.  The pieces performed were Peter Paul Koprowski's "In Memoriam Karol Szymanowski", and the Beethoven's: "Symphony Number 2", and Piano Concerto No. 5 in E-flat Major "Emperor".  Jonathan Biss was the guest pianist.

Personally I went for the Beethoven Symphony, and that really was the piece I enjoyed most of the evening.  I did appreciate the introductions by CBC Radio personality Eric Friesen, and Maestro Zukerman was enthusiastic and personable in a way I had not expected.

The first piece demonstrated the composer's protest against war and oppression.  Being written in 1963, I classify it as modern music, which is an area I'm still working to appreciate.  It had its moments, but was not my cup of tea.

Then the Beethoven!  The introduction by Mr.'s Friesen and Zukerman were enthusiastic and engaging.  Asking for Maestro Zukerman's take on the piece, Eric (and the audience) were treated to a quick demonstration of why the fourth bar (apparently typically the weakest) was the strongest, as he cued the orchestra and the strings played from the start to about bar 5.  Looking to reference something at the end, Mr. Zukerman had to look at the music of concertmaster Yosuke Kawasaki, since the conductor music stand was empty.  He conducted without a score, so it's obviously a piece he knows well.  An interesting side note, they brought their own conductors podium, complete with what in Southam Hall is complementary red carpeting.  Given Roy Thomson Hall's primarily wood and beige tones, it was an interesting, but not completely out of place, accent.

The section I know best of Beethoven's 2nd is the opening of the fourth movement.  This contains the "back flip" theme, so named by Rick Phillips in his pre-concert chat.  It is used as the theme for the NACOcast, so I found it quite fitting it was the NAC orchestra performing the piece.  I believe the host of the podcast, Christopher Millard, was indeed playing first bassoon.  But in addition to the familiar theme, I quite enjoyed the entire symphony.

Some of the names I know
At intermission while chatting with the girl next to me, who had also come alone, I learned she was there for the final piece, the "Emperor" piano concerto.  She mentioned that her piano professor had said she needed more power to play Beethoven, and personally she preferred playing Mozart.  I'd have to say power was not a problem from the young guest artist.  Jonathan Biss comes from a very musical family and it turns out that Mr. Zukerman knew both his parents before they were married.   Some of the tunes throughout the concerto had a passing familiarity to them, but nothing really jumped out at me.  The second movement is beautiful and I can see why it could be used as a funeral song.

Post concert there was a group playing in the lobby for the "after party".  They were quite enjoyable, although completely different from the classical music just experienced.  It was a great evening, even if I didn't see Christopher Millard at said party to tell him how much I enjoy his podcasts.  I can tick another Beethoven Symphony off my list as well.  I'm not sure I have a favourite, the latest one I've heard seems to hold that position for a while.

Thanks for coming to Toronto NACO, hope to see you again next year!

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