Driven By Melody

with the NAC Orchestra
M. Arnold

Three Shanties, Op. 4a, arr. Philip Lane

I. Allegro con brio
II. Allegretto semplice
III. Allegro vivace

Malcolm Arnold wrote Three Shanties, originally for wind quintet, in 1942, around the beginning of what would be a rich and eclectic career as a composer, which is being celebrated worldwide this year to mark the centenary of his birth. At the time, he had recently joined the London Philharmonic Orchestra as second trumpet player and created this piece for his colleagues there. They premiered Three Shanties at an aircraft hangar near Bristol in August 1943, and today, it remains one of Arnold’s best-known chamber works. Tonight, you’ll hear an arrangement of this piece for chamber orchestra completed by Philip Lane in 2003.

Already in this early work, written when the composer was 21 years old, we can hear the depth of Arnold’s musical imagination—including a fondness for humour—and the sophistication of his craftmanship. For each movement, he’s taken the tune of a popular sea shanty (songs originally sung by sailors in the 19th century as they worked on their ships out at sea) and subjected it to inventive variations and quirky distortions, shifts in mood and timbre, and scintillating contrapuntal textures. In the first movement, the tune “What Shall We Do with a Drunken Sailor?” is the basis for a set of flash “episodes”, portraying the intoxicated sailor in various states: chasing fellow sailors or being chased by them (the theme in canonic imitation), darkening confusion (murmuring figures), hiccups, rowdy defiance. Later, there’s a tango of remorse, after which he’s roused to pull himself together in a galloping Presto.

For the Allegretto semplice, Arnold transformed the song “Boney was a Warrior” (an ode to Napoleon Bonaparte) into a tender, somewhat introspective melody. Its sweet strains are passed around the ensemble, supported by close-knit harmonies and delicate counterpoint. In the third movement, the shanty “Johnny Come Down to Hilo” appears in various colourful guises—vivacious and sparkling, sharply rhythmic with jazzy syncopations, bold and brash—thus closing the work with an ebullient crowd-pleaser.

Program notes by Dr. Hannah Chan-Hartley


Symphony No. 100 in D major, “Military”

I. Adagio – Allegro
II. Allegretto
III. Minuet and Trio: Moderato
IV. Finale: Presto

Franz Joseph Haydn’s Symphony No. 100 (1793–1794) is one of 12 symphonies the composer wrote for the major concert series in London that was organized by German violinist and impresario Johann Peter Salomon. The concerts were an enormous success, further boosting Haydn’s status as one of Europe’s most celebrated composers.

Appearing in the eight concert of the season, Symphony No. 100 was first performed in March 1794 at the Hanover Square Rooms, with Haydn leading from the keyboard along with Salomon as concertmaster, as was customary at the time. The work is, by turns, dramatic and full of wit and surprise, while also being intellectually stimulating (this was the age of “connoisseur” audiences for orchestral music). It caused a sensation and was one of the biggest triumphs of Haydn’s career.

The slow introduction begins with the violins presenting a theme of relaxed elegance, as if narrating the context for what is to come; a drum roll intrudes briefly, like a warning. The ensuing G major Allegro proceeds sunnily, with a charming first theme initially presented by flute and oboes; the second theme, consisting of playful repeated phrases, is later introduced by the first violins. Before returning to this music, the development section unfolds with many surprises, including opening with an abrupt silence, before the strings “restart” on the second theme in the remote-sounding key of B-flat major.

The second movement is the reason this symphony bears the title “Military”, for in it, Haydn adds the triangle, cymbal, and bass drum to trumpets and timpani to create a percussion section evoking Janissary bands of the Ottoman Empire. Having not appeared in orchestral music before, these sounds, as music scholar Robert Philip has pointed out, would have shocked audiences of Haydn’s time. (At the first performances, they were so enthralled they asked for encores.) Today, this music still astonishes, not least near the movement’s close when the proceedings are interrupted dramatically by a trumpet fanfare and orchestral “crash”.

The Minuet and Trio are both dances of stately character, underscored by the stentorian use of trumpets and drums at certain moments. A lively and vigorous finale rounds out the Symphony, with a journey of unexpected changes in key, dynamics, and interesting orchestral details. Near the end, the Turkish percussion from the second movement returns to close the piece with boisterous flair.

Program notes by Dr. Hannah Chan-Hartley

John Adams

Violin Concerto

I. —
II. Chaconne: ‘Body through which the dream flows’
III. Toccare

John Adams composed his Violin Concerto in 1993. “The proposal to write a violin concerto came from the violinist Jorja Fleezanis, a close friend and enthusiastic champion of new music,” he notes in his description to the piece. Since its premiere, the Concerto has been absorbed into the repertory of many violinists, including Leila Josefowicz, who has performed it numerous times and recorded it with  the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, conducted by David Robertson.

Adams was intent on writing a piece that was truly violinistic and he consulted Fleezanis throughout the compositional process. Moreover, “the violin commands incredible lyric intensity and has a fantastic capacity to deliver a white-hot message,” so, “a concerto without a strong melodic statement is hard to imagine. I knew that if I were to compose a violin concerto, I would have to solve the issue of melody.”

As Adams describes, “The Violin Concerto emerged as an almost implacably melodic piece—a example of ‘hypermelody.’ The violin spins one long phrase after another without stop for nearly the full 35 minutes of the piece. I adopted the classic [three-movement] form of the concerto as a kind of Platonic model, even to the point of placing a brief cadenza for the soloist at the traditional locus near the end of the first movement. The concerto opens with a long, extended rhapsody for the violin, a free, fantastical ‘endless melody’ over the regularly pulsing staircase of upwardly rising figures in the orchestra.”

The second movement is a chaconne, a type of musical piece that uses a recurring melodic pattern in the bass line, or a ground bass. The ground bass Adams uses here is a near-exact quotation of the one used in Pachelbel’s Canon. Typically, the pattern stays the same in terms of pitch and rhythmic shape throughout the piece, but in this movement, it “gently stretches, compresses, and transfigures its contours and modalities while the violin floats like a disembodied spirit around and about the orchestral tissue.” As for the chaconne’s title, “‘Body through which the dream flows’ is a phrase from a poem by Robert Haas, words that suggested to me the duality of flesh and spirit that permeates the movement. It is as if the violin is the ‘dream’ that flows through the slow, regular heartbeat of the orchestral ‘body’.” The final “Toccare” is a virtuosic display piece for the violin of “surging motoric power.”

Program notes by Dr. Hannah Chan-Hartley

NAC Orchestra

Yosuke Kawasaki (concertmaster)
Jessica Linnebach (associate concertmaster)
Noémi Racine Gaudreault (assistant concertmaster)
Elaine Klimasko
Marjolaine Lambert
Jeremy Mastrangelo
Manuela Milani
Leah Roseman
Erica Miller*
Martine Dubé*
Marc Djokic* 

Mintje van Lier (principal)
Winston Webber (assistant principal)
Mark Friedman
Carissa Klopoushak
Frédéric Moisan
Edvard Skerjanc
Karoly Sziladi
Emily Westell
Andréa Armijo-Fortin*
Renée London*
Sara Mastrangelo*
Heather Schnarr*
Sarah Williams*

Jethro Marks (principal)
David Marks (associate principal)
David Goldblatt (assistant principal)
Paul Casey
Ren Martin-Doike
David Thies-Thompson
Sonya Probst*

Rachel Mercer (principal)
Julia MacLaine (assistant principal)
Timothy McCoy
Marc-André Riberdy
Leah Wyber
Thaddeus Morden*

Hilda Cowie (acting assistant principal)
Marjolaine Fournier
Vincent Gendron
Paul Mach*

Joanna G'froerer (principal)
Stephanie Morin

Charles Hamann (principal)
Anna Petersen

Kimball Sykes (principal)
Sean Rice

Christopher Millard (principal)
Vincent Parizeau

Lawrence Vine (principal)
Julie Fauteux (associate principal)
Elizabeth Simpson
Louis-Pierre Bergeron

Karen Donnelly (principal)
Steven van Gulik
Michael Fedyshyn*

Donald Renshaw (principal)
Colin Traquair

Douglas Burden

Chris Lee (principal)

Feza Zweifel (principal)

Jonathan Wade
Louis Pino*
Matthew Moore*

Angela Schwarzkopf*

Olga Gross*
Frederic Lacroix*


Nancy Elbeck

Corey Rempel

Meiko Lydall

*Additional musicians