NACO Playlist

with the NAC Orchestra

2022-01-28 20:00 2022-01-28 21:30 60 Canada/Eastern 🎟 NAC: NACO Playlist

In-person event

Given the COVID-related restrictions in effect, this concert will take place as a free livestream only.   Conductor: Alexander Shelley Guest curator: Anna Petersen (NACO second oboe / English horn) The National Arts Centre Orchestra is delighted to present the second edition of our new NACO Playlist series, curated by the NAC Orchestra’s own Anna Petersen (second oboe / English horn)—a joyful and intimate look at the music that has shaped her life and art. About...

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Southam Hall,1 Elgin Street,Ottawa,Canada
Fri, January 28, 2022

≈ 90 minutes · No intermission

Our programs have gone digital.

Scan the QR code at the venue's entrance to read the program notes before the show begins.


Paul Dukas

Fanfare from La Péri

I love the sound of loud, bombastic brass! This is probably because my dad is a trumpet player and a band director, and as a result, I grew up exposed to—and loving—music for wind ensemble and marching band. That wall of sound only a brass section can make is awesome!”

Paul Dukas (1865–1935) composed this scintillating opener to his ballet La Péri for its 1912 premiere in Paris, which took place at a series of “danced concerts” arranged by Natalia Trouhanova (the work’s commissioner and lead dancer) and the theatre director Jacques Rouché. It provides a glimpse into the composer’s masterful skill in writing for brass instruments—in this case, an ensemble consisting of three trumpets, four French horns, three trombones, and a tuba. Unfolding in three brief sections, the fanfare displays the bright and warm sonorities of these instruments. It opens with a brilliant “call-to-order”. An assertive theme follows, first played by French horns, then trumpets, then the rest of the brass join in, culminating in three confident chords; this is repeated, slightly varied. After a more flowing chorale-like section of bold harmonies, the “call-to-order” returns as a final summons.

Sergei Rachmaninoff

Piano Concerto No. 2 in C minor, Op.18

I. Moderato 
II. Adagio sostenuto – Più animato 
III. Allegro scherzando 

In March 1897, Sergei Rachmaninoff (1873–1943) was in St. Petersburg at the premiere of his first major work, Symphony No. 1. It was a total failure (he blamed it on Alexander Glazunov’s poor conducting), which led to a creative crisis lasting three years, during which he was unable to compose anything of significance. (He did, however, continue to perform as a pianist and began another career as a conductor.) Eventually, with the support and encouragement of his friends, as well as conversations with the hypnotherapist Dr. Nikolai Dahl, he resumed composing, and completed the Second Piano Concerto in 1901. A success from when he performed it on October 27/November 9 that year, it remains his most popular work today. 

And it’s easy to see why. The Concerto (which is dedicated to Dahl) is a powerful—and superbly crafted--drama between piano and orchestra, filled with passionate melodies, sumptuous textures, and rich harmonies. After the striking introduction of sombre chords played by the pianist alone, the first movement is dominated by two themes: a brooding, chant-like main theme presented by the violins and violas, and later, an ardent arch-like melody first introduced by the piano. These are developed in the middle of the movement, as the piano and orchestra together build tension and momentum, ultimately surging towards a climactic return of the main theme in a march-like version. The piano continues, the music more achingly melancholy now, leading into a nostalgic version of the second theme played by solo horn. After a dreamy episode for the piano, the tempo gradually accelerates, and the movement is brought to an abruptly emphatic end. 

From C minor sombreness, shifting harmonies played by muted strings progress to the luminous key of E major, at which point the piano enters with serene arpeggios hovering over descending chromatic lines and sustained bass notes. Solo flute enters with a nostalgically tender melody, which is then continued by the clarinet, and later, fully taken up by the piano. After subsiding in B major, the mode turns to minor, and the mood becomes more agitated, as the piano rhapsodizes on the main theme. It builds to a climax three times, each one becoming more intense and expansive; after the third peak, the piano suddenly drives forward, and brings us to an animated episode with fragments of the first movement’s opening theme in the violins and oboe sounding over the soloist’s flurry of notes. It culminates in a dazzling cadenza, after which the piano draws us back to a reprise of the main theme, now sung by muted violins. A sublime coda follows, unfolding like a passionate farewell, with the piano left alone at the close.

The third movement opens with a sprightly march that modulates out of the previous movement’s E major world back to C minor. From quiet tiptoe, the march crescendos to a noisy climax (with cymbals and bass drum), to which the piano responds with a brilliant cadenza, and eventually settles on the main theme with sparkling figuration. A grand transition in the piano arrives at the lyrical second theme, first sung by violas and oboe, then echoed by the piano. An enigmatic episode follows—the piano weaves a line through the march theme now slowed down, with haunting touches of cymbals and an unsettling timpani roll. The pace suddenly picks up, and the march theme is further developed, first gaining energy and speed, then via an orchestral fugue, with its initial rigor soon giving way to more flashy passages in the piano. Later, the second theme and the enigmatic slow march are reprised, after which piano and orchestra build to the ultimate climax: a blazing piano cadenza, silence, then a majestic presentation of the second theme by the strings, as the piano powers through virtuosic patterns of chords. In the final moments, the music rushes forth in jubilant C major, to the concerto’s exuberant finish. 

Sergei Prokofiev

“Montagues and Capulets” from Romeo and Juliet Suite No. 2, Op. 64ter

“‘Montagues and Capulets’ is another piece that just resonates with my ‘inner brass player’. It’s also tied closely to a memory of my first year at the Eastman School of Music, when I got to play principal oboe in the school’s orchestra. On the first day of rehearsal, we played 'Montagues and Capulets' in the grand theatre—it was such a powerful, terrifying, yet exciting experience!”

Composed in 1935, Romeo and Juliet was Sergey Prokofiev’s (1891–1953) first full-length ballet. While complications, both political and artistic, prevented it from being realized on the Soviet stage until 1940, audiences were already hearing the music in the form of the two orchestral suites the composer had compiled from the score. Whether in the concert hall or in the ballet theatre, Prokofiev’s music for Shakespeare’s enduring story about the two star-crossed lovers from feuding families is one of his greatest-ever artistic successes.

“Montagues and Capulets” is the first movement from the second suite, and it’s a prime example of Prokofiev’s formidable gifts as a dramatic composer. It opens with a powerful evocation of the longstanding bitterness between the families: two crescendos build to stridently dissonant chords, out of which very softly sustained strings materialize. The music of the Dance of the Knights follows—a ponderous march, featuring an aggressive theme played by the violins, against a menacing backdrop of low woodwind and brass instruments (plus bass drum). There’s a brief contrasting episode of ethereal atmosphere with a delicate flute solo, after which the main march theme returns, on saxophone, then the violins take it forcefully to the end.

Sergei Prokofiev

The Young Girl Juliet from Suite No. 2 from Romeo and Juliet, Opus 64b


Concierto de Aranjuez for Guitar and Orchestra

One of Spain’s leading composers of the 20th century, Joaquín Rodrigo (1901–1999) first made his name with this piece, which has since become a central work in the classical guitar repertory. He composed Concierto de Aranjuez, on the suggestion of the guitarist Regino Saínz de la Maza, in 1939, while living in Paris. On reflecting on the genesis of the piece, Rodrigo noted that the stirring main theme of the Adagio movement came to him as an “irresistible and super-natural inspiration”:

“I also remember—I don't know why but everything related to has stayed in my memory—, that one morning several months later, standing in my small studio on Rue Saint Jacques in the heart of the Latin Quarter, vaguely thinking about the concerto, which had become a fond idea given how difficult I judged it to be, when I heard a voice inside me singing the entire theme of the Adagio at one go, without hesitation.”
From Escritos de Joaquín Rodrigo, 1999

The movement unfolds as a dialogue between the solo guitar and the instruments of the orchestra, trading back and forth the poignant main theme, first introduced by the English horn, and its various motifs and phrases. As the “conversation” progresses, the solo guitar responds with increasing ferocity and virtuosity, culminating in an extended solo cadenza with rhapsodic passages. Rapid strumming leads into an emotional orchestral climax on the main theme, after which the guitar offers a concluding reflection.

Program notes by Dr. Hannah Chan-Hartley


Symphony No. 6 in B minor, Op. 74, "Pathétique"

I. Adagio – Allegro non troppo 
II. Allegro con grazia 
III. Allegro molto vivace 
IV. Finale: Adagio lamentoso 

“I definitely consider it the best, and, in particular, the most sincere of all my works. I love it as I have never loved any other of my musical offspring,” wrote Tchaikovsky to his nephew Bob Davidov in August 1893, after completing the score, begun seven months earlier, to his sixth symphony. He referred to it in a letter to his publisher as his “Patetitčeskaja simfoniye”; the closest English translation is “passionate symphony”, but the French subtitle “Pathétique” adds another layer of meaning. Coming from the “grande passion pathétique” of French opera (as noted by music theorist Timothy Jackson), it refers to the genre’s engagement with “difficult”, that is, forbidden relationships. Tchaikovsky had been fascinated with such works, probably relating them to his own struggle with homosexuality at a time and place where he could not openly have romantic relationships with men. Therein lies a clue to the “secret program” he told Bob was contained in his Sixth Symphony—their unmentionable love relationship.  

While the Sixth Symphony conforms in large part to the general structure and processes of the “classic” Austro-German symphony, the secret program clearly shapes some of the work’s formal innovations, thus intensifying its dramatic arc, as you’ll read about below. Also notable is Tchaikovsky’s deliberate use of the key of B minor, in which much of the symphony is firmly planted. Generally avoided, historically, by composers writing symphonies (Beethoven dubbed it the “black key”), B minor’s association with feelings of melancholy and anguish was ideal for the expression of intense emotions concerning romantic love. (It’s worth noting that Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet Overture-Fantasy (1880) and his Manfred Symphony (1885), both of which are based on narratives about a forbidden relationship, are also in B minor.) 

The first movement opens with a slow introduction “in the depths”: over sustained tones in the double basses, solo bassoon introduces a mournful theme—an ascending sequence of sighs. It picks up speed in the ensuing Allegro; several ideas follow—a strong rhythmic phrase, a chattering motif, a brass fanfare—and the mood becomes increasingly agitated. But the initial anxiety recedes, ending in a question. The answer is given by muted violins and cellos—a gorgeous theme of deep tenderness, set in sunny D major. When it returns, following affectionate duets between flute and bassoon and clarinet and bassoon, the upper strings, against the rest of the orchestra’s pulsating “heartbeats”, take it to an impassioned climax, after which the music luxuriates, as if on a fond memory, then fades out.  

The reverie is shattered by the brutal stroke of a chord, then snarling motifs; the main theme becomes a stormy fugal episode and builds to a desperate cry exclaimed in the brass. After it subsides, the trombones intone a brief quote of a chant from the Russian Orthodox Requiem, “With thy saints, O Christ, grant peace to the soul of thy servant.” From there, the first theme’s main motif reappears, restated obsessively, eventually arriving at a full statement—it’s the recapitulation, but it won’t proceed exactly as before. Instead, it drives to a catastrophic climax, to which the strings respond with a gut-wrenching lament. After a pause, the second theme returns, this time in the luminous key of B major. Sweetly tentative at first, it becomes more confident and soars to passionate heights. A chorale in the brass, then woodwinds, closes the movement with nostalgic consolation.

As a respite from the earlier intensity, the second movement is a graceful dance, unusually in five-time, featuring a mellifluous melody initially passed from cellos to the winds, then developed by the strings, who add crisp dotted rhythms. It bookends a contrasting central section in melancholy B minor, with a tune of descending sighs above insistently repeating Ds in the double basses and timpani. In the coda, the repeated Ds return as do the sighs, now given harmonic poignancy within the serene D major mood.   

The Scherzo begins with rapid chattering between the upper strings and woodwinds; oboes quietly pipe a fanfare motif, which the brass picks up, then is developed playfully by the strings. Gradually, the music builds, eventually leading to a full march tune based on the fanfare, introduced very softly by the clarinet, then intensified by the violins. The opening material returns;later, there’s a massive orchestral crescendo, which arrives dramatically, via raucous brass and a whirlwind of strings and woodwinds, on a triumphant statement of the march theme, and drives to a confident finish. 

But now, a significant departure from convention: “the Finale will not be a loud allegro but the reverse, a most unhurried adagio,” wrote Tchaikovsky to Bob. The Adagio lamentoso consists of two alternating sections: the first, featuring a deeply anguished melody in B minor, created by interweaving notes in the strings; the second, a heartfelt song over pulsating horns in a consolatory D major. After reaching an emotional climax, the music breaks into a cascade of scales. Silence. Then a howl of grief, which subsides and leads into another cycle of the two sections. This time, the first theme builds with an even fiercer intensity, then collapses with exhaustion. Trombones intone a solemn chorale, out of which the song, now in B minor, emerges as a lament that is steadily drawn, by pulsating double basses, to the symphony’s conclusion. 

Tchaikovsky conducted the first performance of his Sixth Symphony, which he dedicated to Bob, on October 16/28, 1893, before succumbing to death, nine days later.(There’s been much speculation as to the exact cause, but to this day, it remains a mystery.) Though the symphony’s ending intimates a tragic conclusion for a love that could not see the light of day, this might not have been what Tchaikovsky thought. At the very least, in creating this work, he at last found a way to be true to himself. 


Program notes by Hannah Chan-Hartley, PhD 

Samuel Barber

Violin Concerto, Op. 14

While many of his contemporaries were experimenting with the various avant-garde aesthetic trends of the 20th century, Samuel Barber (1910–1981) remained steadfast to a more traditional harmonic palette, creating deeply expressive works. Several of them, such as his Adagio for Strings (1936) and the Violin Concerto (1939) have become modern classics and audience favourites, beloved for their poignant melodies and lush orchestral timbres.

In the slow second movement of Barber’s Violin Concerto, muted strings set the stage for a haunting melody played by the oboe, which, supported by shifts in harmony, is alternately warm and melancholy. The cellos then take it on, and the melody continues to unfold via the clarinet, muted violins, and finally French horn, before settling on a chord. Here, the solo violin enters with a rhapsodic climbing passage, which leads into the middle section of more uneasy mood. Gradually, the violin winds through the mounting tension, and tempers it in a short cadenza before it eases into the main theme, which is played all on the G string (the instrument’s lowest string). Soon after, the orchestra breaks through with a soaring version of the melody, which the solo violin continues, impassioned. An anguished peak is reached, but eventually, the violin finds its way back to serenity on the final chord.

Program notes by Dr. Hannah Chan-Hartley

Dmitri Shostakovich

Festive Overture, Opus 96

In 1954, Dmitry Shostakovich (1906–1975) was given three days to create a short work for a concert celebrating the 37th anniversary of the October Revolution. His friend Lev Lebedinsky was with the composer when he received the commission; observing him at work, Lebedinsky noted that “The speed with which he wrote was truly astounding. Moreover, when he wrote light music, he was able to talk, make jokes, and compose simultaneously, like the legendary Mozart. He laughed and chuckled, and in the meanwhile, work was under way and the music was being written down.” The apparent glee and humour with which Shostakovich completed the work, found its way into the brilliant orchestral showpiece that is the Festive Overture.

An immense brass fanfare launches the work, after which the orchestra is released into the first theme—an exuberant melody introduced by the clarinets, continued by the woodwinds, and finally taken on by the violins. Later, French horn and cellos play a new expansive theme accompanied by chords punching on the offbeat. Motifs from the first theme are further developed at breakneck pace, after which the expansive theme is given bold and brash treatment. The fanfare returns, more splendidly garish than ever, and brings the Overture to a glittering, over-the-top finish.

Program notes by Dr. Hannah Chan-Hartley


  • Featuring Alexander Shelley
  • Featuring NAC Orchestra

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