September 2020 Update on Live Performances and Events at the NAC.

Music for a Sunday Afternoon

Carrefour Composer Program

Launched in 2017, under the direction of Alexander Shelley, the Carrefour Composer Program is a two-year professional development opportunity for emerging, culturally diverse or Indigenous composers with the NAC Orchestra. A joint initiative with the Canada Council for the Arts, Carrefour supports the advancement of unique voices in orchestral composition in Canada through two commissions (chamber/orchestral), collaborative projects, new media initiatives, and rehearsals and performances.

Ian Cusson and Remy Siu were announced as the two inaugural Carrefour composers, and are currently in year two of their residency.

John Corigliano

Three Irish Folksong Settings for Voice and Flute

Born in New York City, February 16, 1938
Now living there

John Corigliano enjoys one of the highest profiles of any living composer in the world today. His expressive musical language, coupled with a broad imagination and a flair for tapping into the wellsprings of human response, have brought him innumerable honours and awards. As a single example, in March 2000, he received an Oscar for his third film score, The Red Violin, which was partly filmed in Montreal.

Corigliano wrote the Three Irish Folksong Settings in 1988 to poems by Padraic Colum, Anonymous and William Butler Yeats. Tenor Robert White and flutist Lisa Hansen first performed them in New York’s Town Hall on June 18 of that year. 

In these songs, Corigliano has skillfully blended the individually distinctive timbres of flute and voice, creating two equal, independent yet closely intertwined musical lines. The flute introduces each song, weaves gentle arabesques around the voice, and at times even provides harmonic support. Robert White, who has recorded these songs, calls them “gorgeously expressive. The voice sticks to the traditional melody, out of which grows the filigree lines of the flute. The more ‘inner’ quality of the flute adds a deeper level of personal expressivity without drawing attention away from the timeless eloquence of the old air.”

Program notes by Robert Markow

Harry Freedman

Toccata for Soprano and Flute

Born in Lodz, Poland, April 5, 1922
Died in Toronto, September 16, 2005

Harry Freedman was one of Canada’s most distinguished composers, a reputation he held for several decades before his death at the age of 83. Freedman was born in Poland and arrived in Canada at the age of three. His vast and eclectic catalogue of more than two hundred works embraces ballet scores, vocal and choral music to texts by Canadian figures, film scores (including Lies My Father Told Me and Act of the Heart) and many orchestral works. It is in the latter category that we find the majority of Freedman’s most successful scores, due certainly in part to his 24-year career as oboist and English horn player in the Toronto Symphony (1946–1970). After retiring from that orchestra, Freedman devoted himself entirely to composition and became one of the few composers anywhere who could afford this luxury without the added commitments of performing and/or teaching.

Freedman wrote the Toccata for Soprano and Flute in 1968 at the request of his wife, soprano Mary Morrison. “I decided to write something that was sheer fun but that also displayed the pure, instrumental quality of Mary’s voice and how beautifully it blends with the flute,” wrote the composer. “Musically it is full of tricks, with the singer using syllables and vocalizing rather than singing words.”

Program notes by Robert Markow

Ian Cusson

Where There’s a Wall for mezzo-soprano and sextet

Born in Midland, Ontario, August 24, 1981
Now living in Toronto

Where There’s a Wall is the first of Cusson’s two commissions for the National Arts Centre Orchestra as part of his Carrefour Composer residency, which runs from 2017 to 2019. The song cycle is written for mezzo-soprano and six instrumentalists. The poems Cusson chose reflect Joy Kogawa’s experience in an internment camp during the Second World War. All except the early poem “Invasion” come from the collection Woman in the Woods (1985). “On the surface they don’t seem to share any common ground with my Métis history,” says the composer, “but deep down they do share something with my key interests as a composer: themes of displacement, dislocation, and fear of outsiders – all of which are surprisingly common themes of the Métis experience. 

“Each song uses a particular formal structure as an organizing system (theme and variations, fugue, rondo, etc.) The entire work develops a series of motifs that derive from a deconstruction of the Japanese folk song ‘Sakura.’ Most of this material is buried within the texture of the work, but it is a central thread that runs through the cycle. 

“The narrative journey begins with a refugee invasion as seen from the perspective of the one being invaded, and who fears the coming of outsiders with their ‘feeble outstretched palms / To our apple trees and parlours.’ The work then turns to the perspective of the displaced, who, like birds, are ‘flung from our nests… and ordered to fly or die.’ There is then a song of mourning over the loss of language and the realization that this language can no longer be passed on to the next generation (‘grief poem’ – another Indigenous theme!). 

The fourth song, ‘Where There’s a Wall,’ considers the many ways we can cross over walls. Barriers made to keep people out are easily breached, one of the means being through language. This setting is a fugue whose subject climbs upward, then downward – ‘over the wall’ as it were. The cycle closes with ‘Offerings,’ which is about the ephemeral things offered to ‘us.’ (I imagine the ‘us’ in the poem refers to the interned, or, perhaps in a more contemporary context, refugees). The things offered are poor gifts, they don’t last. In the end what is left are ‘ashes’ and ‘silence.’ It is a bittersweet note to end on, perhaps one that reflects the state of the world today where internment of children happens in cages, where walls are built to keep people out, and where the fear of ‘the other’ is at an all-time high.”

Program notes by Robert Markow


Septet in E-flat major, Op. 20

Born in Bonn, December 16, 1770
Died in Vienna, March 26, 1827

The Septet was one of the earliest works of Beethoven to achieve popular success, and the first to earn him respect with publishers. Inevitably, it was published in numerous arrangements and transcriptions; even Beethoven himself arranged it for a trio consisting of piano, clarinet or violin, and viola (Op. 38). The Septet was completed early in 1800 when the composer was 29, and was first heard in a private performance at the home of Prince Schwarzenberg in Vienna. The first public performance was given in Vienna’s Burgtheater on April 2.  

Although the Septet was written at a time when Beethoven was suffering ever-increasing anguish over his hearing problem, it exudes a spirit of optimism, youthful energy and good cheer. In character and design it harks back to the serenades and divertimentos so popular during the latter half of the century just ended –  a mixed ensemble of strings and wind instruments playing an extended composition of five or more movements and imbued with a lighthearted, galant spirit.  

The Septet begins with a proud, slow introduction full of abrupt contrasts of texture and dynamics, signifying that this is to be a work on a grand scale. The main Allegro section is in sonata form, though with a twist: the recapitulation unfolds “correctly” as regards return of the home key of E‑flat major, but the themes keep on developing.  

The quiet, meditative Adagio movement explores a wealth of beautiful melodies, and includes extended solo passages for each of the wind instruments.  

The next movement is the shortest but may be the most familiar to many listeners. Beethoven arranged this gracious, lilting minuet from the second movement of his “easy” Piano Sonata in G (Op. 49, No. 2), written before but published after the Septet.  

The “Theme and Variations” (Tema con variazioni) movement uses for its theme a close imitation of a folksong from the Rhineland. Each of the five variations gives prominence to a different combination of instrumental colours.  

The Scherzo exudes good-natured charm and a genial, happy-go-lucky spirit while its central Trio section features the viola in a more relaxed mood.

The finale opens in E-flat minor, with portentous, darkly serious gestures which only serve to set off the bustling gaiety of the Presto that follows, a sonata-form movement of exquisite craftsmanship, genteel humour, and impeccable taste.

Program notes by Robert Markow