with the NAC Orchestra

2020-10-31 20:00 2020-10-31 21:30 60 Canada/Eastern 🎟 NAC: Solace


NAC Livestream

Original broadcast date: Saturday October 31, 2020 The NAC Orchestra makes a triumphant return to Southam Hall! This livestream concert heralds a new era for NACO, throwing wide open the doors of the orchestra experience. We offer you music for reflection, contemplation and celebration. The concert opens in a quiet and prayer-like fashion with George Walker’s Lyric for Strings. It was originally titled Lament, and composed in 1946 when the composer was only 24 years old. Walker was the...

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Southam Hall,1 Elgin Street,Ottawa,Canada
Sat, October 31, 2020
NAC Livestream

≈ 90 minutes · No intermission

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Last updated: October 30, 2020



Lyric for Strings



Jacques Hétu

Concerto for Guitar and Strings (Christ Habib, guitar)

Samuel Barber

Knoxville: Summer of 1915 (Jonelle Sills, soprano)

Commissioned by the American soprano Eleanor Steber, Knoxville: Summer of 1915 is a “lyric rhapsody” by Samuel Barber. Steber premiered the work in 1949, with the Boston Symphony Orchestra conducted by Serge Koussevitsky. The text is from an autobiographical prose poem by James Agee (1909–1955) and is a nostalgic reflection on a childhood summer in Knoxville, the year before his father’s death. Barber closely identified with the poem, who noted that it “particularly struck me because the summer evening he describes in his native southern town reminded me so much of similar evenings, when I was a child at home.” Moreover, it resonated with his experience of the long illness and subsequent death in August 1947 of his own father, to whom he dedicated this work.

Barber used a third of Agee’s original poem, specifically choosing the closing paragraphs, which “I put it into lines to make the rhythmic pattern clear.” Musically, as musicologist Benedict Taylor has aptly described, the “nostalgia and wistful tone of Agee’s poem is translated into Barber’s music by several markers for childhood, past time, and musical nostalgia.” These elements include a recurring lullaby refrain and a simple, folk song–like vocal line. The diverse timbres of the orchestra’s instruments vividly evoke the various sights and sounds described in the poem. To guide listening, the text is provided in full below with brief commentary on the music.

The introduction, with the sounds of the English horn, clarinet, bassoon, and harp create a pastoral setting, conjuring up a simpler time and place. The voice enters, with the words on the primary lullaby theme, and gentle, rocking accompaniment.

It has become that time of evening when people sit on their porches, rocking gently and talking gently and watching the street and the standing up into their sphere of possession of the trees, of birds' hung havens, hangars. People go by; things go by. A horse, drawing a buggy, breaking his hollow iron music on the asphalt: a loud auto: a quiet auto: people in pairs, not in a hurry, scuffling, switching their weight of aestival body, talking casually, the taste hovering over them of vanilla, strawberry, pasteboard, and starched milk, the image upon them of lovers and horsemen, squared with clowns in hueless amber.

An urgent episode disrupts the reverie with the noise and bustle of daily urban life, here represented by the sounds of a streetcar, emulated by staccato woodwinds and plucked strings, among other effects.

A streetcar raising into iron moan; stopping; belling and starting; stertorous; rousing and raising again its iron increasing moan and swimming its gold windows and straw seats on past and past and past, the bleak spark crackling and cursing above it like a small malignant spirit set to dog its tracks; the iron whine rises on rising speed; still risen, faints; halts; the faint stinging bell; rises again, still fainter; fainting, lifting, lifts, faints foregone: forgotten.

Another brief episode follows, that, with muted strings, has a wistful, magical quality, as the voice tenderly recalls this memory:

Now is the night one blue dew, my father has drained, he has coiled the hose.
Low on the length of lawns, a frailing of fire who breathes…

It then sinks back into the lullaby refrain.

Parents on porches: rock and rock. From damp strings morning glories hang their ancient faces.
The dry and exalted noise of the locusts from all the air at once enchants my eardrums.

The third episode introduces a new melodic motif, and the music becomes somewhat unsettled and intensifies—through wide leaps in the violins and the infusion of more chromatic harmonies—as the voice contemplates “their people” around them and the ephemerality of life.

On the rough wet grass of the backyard my father and mother have spread quilts. We all lie there, my mother, my father, my uncle, my aunt, and I too am lying there. … They are not talking much, and the talk is quiet, of nothing in particular, of nothing at all. The stars are wide and alive, they all seem like a smile of great sweetness, and they seem very near. All my people are larger bodies than mine, … with voices gentle and meaningless like the voices of sleeping birds. One is an artist, he is living at home. One is a musician, she is living at home. One is my mother who is good to me. One is my father who is good to me. By some chance, here they are, all on this earth; and who shall ever tell the sorrow of being on this earth, lying, on quilts, on the grass, in a summer evening, among the sounds of the night.

The pastoral music from the introduction returns; the voice intones an impassioned prayer, to which the orchestra responds with an intense climax.

May God bless my people, my uncle, my aunt, my mother, my good father, oh, remember them kindly in their time of trouble; and in the hour of their taking away.

For one last time, the lullaby returns. On the final words, which, in Barber’s view, “expresses a child’s feeling of loneliness, wonder, and a lack of identity in that marginal world between twilight and sleep,” the voice soars to ethereal heights above the orchestra.

After a little I am taken in and put to bed. Sleep, soft smiling, draws me unto her: and those receive me, who quietly treat me, as one familiar and well-beloved in that home: but will not, oh, will not, not now, not ever; but will not ever tell me who I am.

On the lullaby’s rocking motif, the orchestra draws the rhapsody to a reflective close.


Knoxville: Summer of 1915 Libretto (PDF 188.91 KB)

Carlos Simon

Portrait of a Queen (Jonelle Sills, narrator)

Portrait of a Queen Narrative (PDF 107.8 KB)

Jocelyn Morlock

Solace (Yosuke Kawasaki, violin; Julia MacLaine, cello)


  • Composer George Walker
  • montgomery-jessie-copy
    Composer Jessie Montgomery
  • Composer Jacques Hétu
  • Guitar Christ Habib
  • Composer Samuel Barber
  • sills-jonelle-copy
    Soprano Jonelle Sills
  • simon-carlos-2
    Composer Carlos Simon
  • jocelynmorlock-bio
    Composer Jocelyn Morlock
  • Violin Yosuke Kawasaki
  • julia-maclaine-2
    Cello Julia MacLaine
  • bio-orchestra
    Orchestra National Arts Centre Orchestra
  • Conductor Alexander Shelley

International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees