October 13, 2021 update on live performances and events at the NAC.

Ehnes, Tovey, Tchaikovsky

The NAC Orchestra has performed Delius’ On Hearing the First Cuckoo in Spring twice before: in 1970, under the direction of Mario Bernardi, and again in 1994, with Herman Michael conducting.

Jaime Laredo was the soloist for the NAC Orchestra’s first performance of Sibelius’ Violin Concerto, which they gave in 1978 under the direction of Mario Bernardi. In 2017, the Orchestra gave their most recent interpretation of this work with Karen Gomyo on the violin, and Alexander Shelley on the podium.

The NAC Orchestra has performed Tchaikovsky’s Polish Symphony once before, in 2008 under the direction of Arild Remmereit.

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.

The RBC Foundation is proud to be the Presenting Supporter of the NAC Institute for Orchestral Studies.

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 partnership 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!


On Hearing the First Cuckoo in Spring

Born in Bradford, England, January 29, 1862
Died in Grez-sur-Loing, France, June 10, 1934

Frederick Delius is often referred to as “the English Impressionist,” but he was really more cosmopolitan than English. Born of German parents in England as Fritz Théodor Albert Delius, he was destined by his father for the wool business. Finding this distasteful, he emigrated to Florida to work an orange plantation. Here he studied the organ and violin, and began composing. Having determined to make music his career, Delius then undertook several years of study at the Leipzig Conservatory, following which he went to Paris to assimilate its rich cultural life. In 1897, he settled in Grez-sur-Loing, a small village southeast of Paris, where he remained until his death many years later.

Delius’ music is marked by delicacy, restraint, refinement and a colour palette consisting almost exclusively of pastels. Many of his best works are infused with a languid, pastoral beauty, a quality found in both of the exquisite miniatures that constitute his Two Pieces for Small Orchestra (the other is Summer Night on the River). They received their first performances at a London Philharmonic concert led by Willem Mengelberg on January 20, 1914. On Hearing the First Cuckoo in Spring figured in the NAC Orchestra’s first season, when it was conducted by Mario Bernardi. Tonight’s conductor, Bramwell Tovey, calls Delius “one of my great musical heroes.”

On Hearing the First Cuckoo in Spring (1912) is a marvel of orchestral restraint. Employing just strings and a small handful of winds (bassoons and horns play in just six and eleven bars respectively), Delius paints an enchanting world of stillness, quietude and poetic contemplation. Soft, caressing airs waft gently as occasional tints of woodwind coloration dot the idyllic landscape. The gentle cuckoo calls are played of course by the clarinet, the same instrument as Beethoven used in his Pastoral Symphony, Respighi in The Birds, Saint-Saëns in The Carnival of the Animals, and Mahler in his First Symphony and the Wunderhorn song “Lob des hohen Verstandes.” As a tribute to Grieg, who had encouraged Delius’ compositional career, and to Norway, where he often spent the summer months, the composer incorporated a Norwegian folk tune I Ola Dalom (In Ola Valley), which Grieg himself had used earlier in No. 14 of his 19 Norwegian Folk Tunes for piano.

Program notes by Robert Markow


Violin Concerto in D minor, Op. 47

Born in Hämeenlinna (Tavastehus), Finland, December 8, 1865
Died in Järvenpää, near Helsinki, September 20, 1957

In 1902, the German violinist Willy Burmester had asked Sibelius to write him a concerto. When Sibelius sent him the piano reduction of the first two movements in September of 1903, Burmester was enthusiastic and suggested the premiere be given in Berlin in March of 1904. But Sibelius had other ideas. Due to strained financial circumstances, he wanted the concerto performed as soon as possible, and secretly asked another violinist to give the premiere in Helsinki at an earlier date. What Sibelius got in the end was a far inferior soloist (a local teacher named Viktor Nováček, who never did learn the concerto properly), a cool reception at the premiere, mostly negative reviews in the press, and the justifiable resentment of Burmester.

Following the premiere, the concerto was put aside for over a year until Sibelius got around to revising it. He toned down some of the overtly virtuosic passages, tightened the structure of the outer movements and altered the orchestration of numerous passages. The revisions amount to far more than mere window dressing, and the results are fascinating to compare with the original.

On October 19, 1905, the concerto received its premiere in the final form in Berlin, with Karl Halíř as soloist and none other than Richard Strauss on the podium. Shortly afterwards, Sibelius’ friend Rosa Newmarch told him that “in 50 years’ time, your concerto will be as much a classic as those of Beethoven, Brahms and Tchaikovsky.” How right she was!

Sibelius’ affinity for the violin stemmed from his youth, when he aspired to become a great violinist. “My tragedy,” he wrote, “was that I wanted to be a celebrated violinist at any price. From the age of fifteen, I played my violin for ten years, practicing from morning to night. I hated pen and ink.… My preference for the violin lasted quite long, and it was a very painful awakening when I had to admit that I had begun my training for the exacting career of an eminent performer too late.” His very first composition (Vattendroppar), written at the age of eight or nine, was a piece for violin and cello. Although he left just one violin concerto, he also composed numerous short pieces for the instrument, mostly with piano.

The solo part is one of the most difficult in the entire repertoire. Virtuosic passages abound, but they are welded to disciplined musical thought; there is no empty display material here. The orchestral writing bears much evidence of Sibelius’ deep interest in this medium, and serves a far greater purpose than a mere backdrop for the soloist. Dark, sombre colours predominate, as is this composer’s tendency, lending an air of passionate urgency to the music. Note particularly the third theme in B-flat minor in the first movement, played by the unison violins, or the second theme of the finale, again played by the violins, with its interplay of 6/8 and 3/4 metres. 

Attention to the formalities of sonata form is largely avoided in favour of originality of thought. In the first movement, there is no development section as such; instead, each of the three main themes is fully elaborated and developed upon initial presentation. A cadenza occurs at the point where a full development would normally stand, followed by a recapitulation of the three themes, each of which is subjected to further expansion. In the Adagio movement, Sibelius contrasts the long, dreamy, reflective opening theme with a turbulent and darkly passionate section in the minor mode. The finale, in rondo form, calls to the fore the full technical prowess of the soloist. Energetic rhythms suggestive of the polonaise and gypsy dances offer further elements of excitement to this exuberant movement.

Program notes by Robert Markow


Symphony No. 3 in D major, Op. 29, “Polish”

Born in Votkinsk, May 7, 1840
Died in St. Petersburg, November 6, 1893

It used to be fashionable to quip that Tchaikovsky wrote only three symphonies, which he curiously designated Nos. 4, 5 and 6. Performances of Nos. 1, 2 and 3 were so rare that to most audiences they were totally unknown. But within the past few decades, these early symphonies have been gaining the recognition they deserved all along. Audiences at this week’s concerts have the privilege of hearing what remains the least-known of Tchaikovsky’s six numbered, completed symphonies. (There also exist a quasi-programmatic Manfred Symphony and a so-called Symphony No. 7, posthumously cobbled together from various sources.) It was another quintessentially Russian composer, Igor Stravinsky, who brought this symphony to the attention of western audiences when he resurrected it as a conducting vehicle for himself in the 1930s. 

The symphony’s subtitle, “Polish,” was appended in 1899 (six years after Tchaikovsky’s death) by an English conductor, Sir August Manns, who led a highly successful concert series at London’s old Crystal Palace for many years. The only basis for this strange appellation might lie in the finale’s use of the polonaise rhythm, though in spirit it is still more Russian than Polish. One might just as well have named it the “German” Symphony after Tchaikovsky’s description of the second movement as “alla tedesca” (in the German style, whatever that was supposed to mean). When the symphony was tried out in a rehearsal by the Vienna Philharmonic, the composer reported that the Philharmonic directors found it “too Russian” and cancelled plans to perform it. Polish? German? Russian? Perhaps best to ignore regional influences – real or imagined – and just listen to the symphony as pure music!

Symphony No. 3 stands at the juncture in Tchaikovsky’s life at the time he was about to plunge into a nightmare of psychological and sexual turmoil. Much of the music he wrote from 1877 onwards, beginning with the Fourth Symphony, is saturated with emotional traumas, personal grief and an almost perpetual state of crisis. The Third Symphony just precedes this period, and hence exudes a generally easy-going temperament and optimistic outlook. Tchaikovsky wrote this symphony in 1875 within the space of just a few weeks, from mid-June to mid-August while staying at the estates of various friends and relatives. The first performance was given in Moscow conducted by Nicolai Rubinstein on November 19, 1875. 

The symphony opens with a sombre, slow introduction “in the tempo of a funeral march” (Tchaikovsky writes) featuring the horn quartet. This eventually gives way to a sonata-form allegro brillante with two contrasting themes, the first in the manner of an exuberant march, the second a lyrical subject first presented by the oboe in B minor. While the exposition is compact, the development is lengthy and involved.

In the second movement a gentle waltz is set in motion by the woodwinds, reminding us once again of Tchaikovsky’s predilection for this dance form. The waltz is interrupted by a Trio passage – quicker, lighter and built from rapidly fluttering triplets played alternately in short bursts from the woodwinds and the strings. Although Tchaikovsky indicates this movement is “in the German style,” the waltz really evolved in Austria.

The central slow movement constitutes the emotional heart of the symphony. Although it is marked Andante elegiaco, the greater portion of it is warmly romantic and expressive, leading to a passionate climax.

The fourth movement is marked Scherzo, but here again the title is slightly askew, as the metre is duple (not triple, as are most scherzos). Nevertheless, it is infused with an elfin delicacy that brings to mind Mendelssohn’s scherzos. The central Trio section is notable for its repetition of the theme in seven different keys over a sustained D in the horns.

The finale is suitably boisterous and extroverted. The symphony culminates in a veritable riot of enthusiasm. 

Program notes by Robert Markow