Zukerman Plays Bruch

2019-02-20 20:00 2019-02-21 22:00 60 Canada/Eastern 🎟 NAC: Zukerman Plays Bruch


Consider yourself warned: you won’t want this concert to end! The NAC is turning fifty this year, and we are celebrating the best of the last five decades of music. Pinchas Zukerman helmed the orchestra for 17 glorious seasons and, as Conductor Emeritus, remains beloved by our audience and musicians. The concert plays like a highlight reel of some of Zukerman’s favourite works. Best of all, the concert showcases Zukerman’s sensational mastery of the violin. Carl  Maria...

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Southam Hall,1 Elgin Street,Ottawa,Canada
February 20 - 21, 2019

≈ 2 hours · With intermission

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Last updated: February 8, 2019

Overture to Der Freischütz, Op. 77
Franz-Paul Decker was on the podium in 1973 for the NAC Orchestra’s first performance of Weber’s Overture to Der Freischütz. Pinchas Zukerman was the conductor for the Orchestra’s most recent interpretation in 2012.

Violin Concerto No. 1 in G minor, Op. 26
The NAC Orchestra played Max Bruch’s Violin Concerto No. 1 for the first time in 1971, with Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos conducting and Min‑Young Kim as soloist. In 2013 and 2014, the ensemble gave performances of this concerto in Southam Hall, as well as on tours in China and the United Kingdom, under the direction of Pinchas Zukerman who also played the violin, as he does tonight.

Symphony No. 8 in G major, Op. 88
In 1975, the NAC Orchestra gave their first interpretation of Dvořák’s Symphony No. 8, under the baton of Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos. Pinchas Zukerman led performances of this symphony several times during his tenure as Music Director of the Orchestra, and the ensemble’s most recent performance took place in 2016 with Rafael Payare on the podium.

NAC Institute for Orchestral Studies

The NAC Institute for Orchestral Studies (IOS) was established under the guidance of former NAC Orchestra Music Director Pinchas Zukerman, and is in its 12th season. During selected main series weeks of the 2018–2019 season, IOS apprentices rehearse and perform with the NAC Orchestra. The IOS is proudly supported by the RBC Emerging Artist Project with additional support by the NAC’s National Youth and Education Trust.

uOttawa String Players Apprenticeship Program with the NAC Orchestra

A custom-designed uOttawa – NAC Orchestra Institute for Orchestral Studies pilot project has been initiated as the result of a longstanding partner-ship between the University of Ottawa School of Music and the National Arts Centre. Five outstanding uOttawa string students have been selected for three‑week apprenticeships during the 2018–2019 NAC Orchestra season. These apprentices will play in rehearsals, with the potential of also performing in concert with the Orchestra in their weeks. You may see one or more uOttawa apprentices performing during various weeks of the season. We welcome them on our stage!

Learn more about the Institute for Orchestral Studies



Overture to Der Freischütz, Opus 77

Born in Eutin (near Lübeck), Germany, November 18, 1786
Died in London, June 5, 1826

Der Freischütz, the third of Weber’s five complete, extant operas, marked the first important instance of a national German opera. In form, it descended from the Singspiel tradition – stage works with passages of spoken German dialogue alternating with musical numbers – but in content it set itself apart from its illustrious predecessors like Mozart’s Zauberflöte and Beethoven’s Fidelio through the use of specifically German subject matter. In this respect, it set the example for later operatic expressions of national feeling: Smetana’s The Bartered Bride, Mussorgsky’s Boris Godunov, Britten’s Peter Grimes, and Copland’s Tender Land. One writer observed that the Overture to Der Freischütz could easily be the overture to one of the Grimm’s fairy tales, for the heart and soul of German folklore is embodied in this opera, involving as it does a dark mysterious forest, huntsmen, a friendly hermit, ghosts, evil spirits, a devil and a pair of lovers.

Weber selected the story from a collection of supernatural tales, the Gespensterbuch (Ghost Stories) of Apel and Laun. Friedrich Kind fashioned the libretto, working closely with Weber. The complete opera had a highly successful premiere in Berlin on June 18, 1821, but the overture alone had first been heard nine months earlier in Copenhagen, and was published separately under its own opus number.

The overture is a synthesis of the opera that follows. The slow introduction features a horn quartet, softly and gently evoking the peaceful, romantic forest. A dark shadow crosses the sylvan setting – the evil Samiel lurks about, portrayed by a string tremolo and soft throbs from the timpani. The music of the allegro section is at first stormy and restless, representing the events of the wild, macabre Wolf’s Glen scene, replete with ghosts, goblins, eerie winds and a host of supernatural occurrences. This leads into a long solo for the clarinet, Weber’s favourite instrument. Then comes the heroine Agathe’s theme – a soaring, graceful melody in the clarinet and strings. Throughout the symphonic development, the forces of good and evil engage in a dramatic conflict. But, as in most fairy tales, good triumphs in the end. Following a long, pregnant pause, fortissimo chords for the full orchestra lead to a return of Agathe’s theme, and the overture ends joyously.

Program notes by Robert Markow


Violin Concerto No. 1 in G minor

Born in Cologne, January 6, 1838
Died in Friedenau, near Berlin, October 2, 1920

Max Bruch is remembered by concertgoers today on the strength of just two or three works: Kol Nidre for cello and orchestra, the Scottish Fantasy for violin and orchestra, and of course, the First Violin Concerto in G minor. We of the twenty-first century have largely forgotten that Bruch was highly regarded in his day, especially for secular choral music. His career as a composer embraced more than seven decades, from his earliest orchestral work at the age of eleven to the songs and choral music written just before he died at 82.

Bruch was born in Cologne and remained most of his life in Germany, traveling extensively throughout the country. His career peaked in 1891 when he was appointed professor of composition at the Berlin Academy, a post he held for nearly 20 years. The general lack of attention paid to Bruch today may be explained by Sir Donald Francis Tovey: “He was the type of artist universally accepted as a master, about whose works no controversy could arise because no doubt was possible as to their effectiveness and sincerity.”

Bruch began working on his First Violin Concerto in 1857 but put it aside for nine years. It was taken up again and completed in 1866. Otto von Königslöw performed the work on April 24, with the composer conducting. But Bruch was not satisfied with the concerto; after some revisions, he submitted it to the famous violinist Joseph Joachim for comment. Joachim suggested numerous changes, but rejected the composer’s opinion that, because of the free-form first movement, it would be better entitled a fantasy than a concerto. 

Joachim wrote: “The designation concerto is completely apt. Indeed, the second and third movements are too fully and symmetrically developed for a fantasy. The separate sections of the work cohere in a lovely relationship, and yet – and this is the most important thing – there is adequate contrast. Moreover, Spohr entitled his Gesangszene a concerto!” 

The final version was first heard in Bremen on January 5, 1868. Nearly 40 years later, Joachim still ranked the concerto as one of the four greatest of the nineteenth century, alongside those of Beethoven, Mendelssohn and Brahms, noting that Bruch’s was “the richest, the most seductive.”

The first movement, marked “Prelude,” does not follow the standard sonata-allegro form. Nevertheless, its dark undercurrent of passion and drama serves to maintain interest. A brief cadenza precedes the orchestral transition to the second movement, the emotional heart of the concerto. Here we find three distinct themes, some of the loveliest and most lyrical in the violin repertoire. A vigorous, energetic orchestral passage introduces the third movement. The soloist enters with a full statement of the gypsy-like theme, played with virtuosic flair across all four strings of the instrument. It has been suggested that Brahms had this movement in mind when he composed the finale of his own violin concerto. A more expansive and lyrical second theme alternates with the first, and the movement builds to an exciting, brilliant conclusion.

Program notes by Robert Markow

Antonín Dvořák

Symphony No. 8 in G major, Op. 88

Born in Mühlhausen (near Prague), Bohemia (today Nelahozeves, Czech Republic), September 8, 1841
Died in Prague, May 1, 1904

The genial, carefree spirit of Dvořák’s Symphony No. 8 has endeared it to generations of concertgoers. Its prevailing happy spirit, idyllic moods and evocations of nature and simple rustic life call to mind other symphonies of a pastoral nature: Beethoven’s Sixth, Schumann’s Spring Symphony (No. 1), Schubert’s Fifth, Mahler’s Fourth and Brahms’s Second.

Dvořák began work on his Eighth Symphony in late August 1889. He was in high spirits and full of creative confidence. He “complained” to a friend that his head was so full of ideas that it was a pity it took so much time to jot them down. “Melodies simply pour out of me.” For this reason, it took him only 12 days to write the composition sketch for the first movement, a week for the second, four days for the third and six for the finale. The orchestration required an additional six weeks. Three months after commencing work on it, the score was ready for the printer, who, in this exceptional case, was not the usual Simrock, but the English firm of Novello. Dvořák conducted the first performance on February 2, 1890 in Prague.

It used to be fashionable to dub this work Dvořák’s “English” Symphony, but the composer himself dedicated the score “To the Bohemian Academy of Emperor Franz Josef for the encouragement of art and literature, in thanks for my election.” The symphony does indeed reflect the composer’s renewed interest in Czech nationalism, and with its dedication to the Academy, the title “Bohemian” would seem more appropriate. Dvořák composed it at his summer home in Vysoká, where the natural beauty and rustic charm of his native country worked its way through the soul of the symphony.

The conditions under which this work was written compare very closely to those under which Brahms composed his Second Symphony. In the case of both composers, we find a symphony of warmly lyric, relaxed character following one darkly serious and grim. To carry the analogy further, both compositions were written in an idyllic countryside setting, which both composers credited with stimulating their creative urges to a greater degree than usual. Still another parallel with Brahms can be noted. Both composers were invited to receive an honorary Doctorate from Cambridge University – Brahms in 1876, and Dvořák in 1891. Brahms declined; he had little tolerance for academic formalities, and he simply couldn’t be bothered to make the trip to England (a personal appearance was mandatory for conferral of the degree). Dvořák accepted, and offered as his “exercise” the recently completed Symphony in G major.  

On his sixth trip to England, he attended the stuffy ceremony, but recalled the event in something less than glowing terms: “I shall never forget how I felt when they made me a Doctor in England. Nothing but ceremony, and nothing but doctors. All faces were serious, and it seemed to me as if no one knew any other language but Latin. I looked to the right and to the left, and I did not know to whom I was to listen. And when I realized that they were talking to me, I had quite a shock, and I was ashamed at not knowing Latin. But when I think of it today, I must laugh, and I think that to compose the Stabat Mater is, after all, more than equal to knowing Latin.” Like Brahms, Dvořák felt much more at home in the countryside of his homeland than in a university environment. As part of the presentation ceremony, Dvořák led the London Philharmonic in performances of his symphony and the Stabat Mater.

The symphony’s first movement presents analysts with a puzzle: What role does the opening nostalgic theme play? Is it the “first” theme, or an introduction? Is the “main” theme then the simple, birdlike tune played later by the flute? If so, what then does one call the warmly noble cello theme that follows the timpani’s “rat-a-tat” and the succeeding idea characterized by upward leaping octaves in the cellos? No matter, really. The point is that Dvořák did incorporate a great wealth of melody into this movement. One program annotator (Richard Freed) finds in it “an atmosphere of fairy tales and forest legends… bird calls, woodland sounds and bluff Slavonic marches.”

The second movement, like the first, opens with a nostalgic, rather solemn theme. A second idea in C major offers a new theme in the flute and oboe, accompanied by descending scales in the violins. An angry outburst from the horns leads to a brief, anxiety-filled passage, but sun, warmth and charm soon return.

The third movement is a graceful waltz, which frames a central trio section announced by a new theme in the flute and oboe. Dvořák borrowed this theme from his opera The Stubborn Lovers. The waltz returns, and a brief, energetic coda concludes the movement.

A trumpet fanfare opens the Finale, followed by a charming and carefree theme in the cellos. Simple and natural as the theme sounds, it caused Dvořák much difficulty. He wrote 10 different versions of it before he was satisfied. (Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” theme underwent a similar metamorphosis.) Dvořák then builds a set of variations on this theme, including an exuberant outburst from the full orchestra with trilling horns and scurrying strings. A central section in C minor presents a new march-like idea. When this subsides, Dvořák returns to the peaceful world of the principal theme, which undergoes further variations. A rousing coda brings the symphony to a brilliant close.

Program notes by Robert Markow


  • pinchas-zukerman-c-cherylmazak
    conductor / violin Pinchas Zukerman