NACO at the Fourth

2022-05-03 20:00 2022-05-03 22:00 60 Canada/Eastern 🎟 NAC: Danza


In-person event

Curated by the NAC Orchestra’s principal flute Joanna G’froerer, this lively edition of NACO at the Fourth features a spirited confection of chamber music written by brilliant composers past and present. Among the selections is Mélanie Bonis’s utterly contagious Flute en trio, Op. 59, which opens languidly and ends with playful energy. Severely underrated as a composer, she composed under the name Mel Bonis, believing a masculine name would...

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Fourth Stage,1 Elgin Street,Ottawa,Canada
Tue, May 3, 2022

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Last updated: April 29, 2022



Suite en trio for flute, violin, and piano, Op. 59

I. Sérénade. Allegretto 
II. Pastorale. Andantino 
III. Scherzo

Mélanie Bonis (1858–1937) wrote Suite en trio for flute, violin, and piano in 1899, four years after she became active as a composer in Paris. It became her first successful piece for chamber ensemble. She eventually created over 300 works in many genres, most of which were published under the gender-neutral pseudonym Mel Bonis. Several of them won prizes and many were praised by other French composers such as Camille Saint-Saëns and Gabriel Pierné.  

“Mon Petit Trio”, as Bonis fondly called it, exhibits her distinctive use of traditional forms and tonality combined with an original sense of harmony and rhythm that lend its movements a certain sensuality and vitality. The opening Sérénade is sweet and tender, with a touch of melancholy; the flute plays the melody first, with the piano’s chords and arpeggios imitating guitar accompaniment. A brief impassioned duet between flute and violin follows, after which the violin takes up the song. True to its title, the Pastorale evokes—with the flute and violin’s meandering melodies over sustained “drones” on the piano—the languid quality of an idyllic afternoon outdoors. The lively Scherzo jolts us out of the reverie, as the ensemble’s instruments playfully trade themes and motifs, by turns sparkling and warm. 

Program notes by Dr. Hannah Chan-Hartley 


Le Merle noir for flute and piano

Since his student days, French composer Olivier Messiaen (1908–1992) had developed a deep interest in ornithology and later incorporated birdsong into many of his works. Le merle noir (The Blackbird), composed in 1951, was the first piece he created based on the songs and calls of a particular species that he had heard in nature, transcribed, and adapted for instruments. It was commissioned as an examination piece for the Paris Conservatoire, as part of its then-director Claude Delvincourt’s policy to reinvigorate the program with modern works that tested students’ technique and their openness to avant-garde musical ideas. This work’s sophisticated subtleties make it a favourite among flute players. 

In Le merle noir, Messiaen used several rigorous compositional techniques, though the final effect to the ear seems to be of improvised spontaneity. Its large-scale structure is AA’B form (or Bar form), with the A section consisting of six distinctive segments. The piano first provides an atmospheric introduction; it’s followed by a flute cadenza, for which Messiaen established melodic motifs and employed Greek poetic metres to convey the blackbird’s song. Here, the flutist is also required to “flutter-tongue”, a then-novel technique, to mimic the bird’s alarm rattle. Afterward, flute and piano perform a combined song, in canon; there’s a series of stacked octaves, then “colour” chords alternating with brief silences, and lastly, a rapid flurry of notes, including trills. The segments are repeated, with the musical material undergoing further intensification. Finally, the tension is released in the B section, in which Messiaen employs strict 12-note technique in the piano part, while the flute’s bird figuration is pushed to the limits of the instrument’s range.

Program notes by Dr. Hannah Chan-Hartley


Danza de la Mariposa for solo flute

African American composer Valerie Coleman (b. 1970) is also a renowned flutist with diverse experiences performing as a soloist and chamber musician. She is the founder and a past member of Imani Winds, and currently plays in the performer-composer trio Umama Womama, with violist Nokuthula Ngwenyama and harpist Hannah Lash. Her works, which have been performed by notable orchestral and chamber ensembles throughout North America, frequently fuse elements from Black music and themes drawn from her Black heritage and experience with aspects of European classical music. She also draws inspiration from various other cultures for her compositions, as she does for this piece written for solo flute.

Danza de la Mariposa, composed in 2011, is described as a “rhythmic, melodic tone poem, giving the listener a tour of South America. Inspired by the various species of butterflies inhabiting the continent, this work is full of rich colour, with butterflies dancing and weaving in syncopated rhythms while alternating between the feel of three-over-four throughout. Its slower sections pay homage to the beautiful and sorrowful sounds in the style of Yaravi, a Peruvian lament song. The melodies and rhythm eventually evolve into the spirit and syncopation of Argentinean concert tango, and the conclusion returns to the feel of Yaravi.”

Program notes by Dr. Hannah Chan-Hartley


Concert-Paraphrase on Schubert's Die Verschworenen for two flutes and piano, Op. 18

Allegro – Andantino – Allegro vivace

Albert Franz Doppler (1821–1883) was one of the 19th century’s great flutists. Born in Lemberg (now L’viv, Ukraine), he was principal flutist in Pest’s German Town Theatre and Hungarian National Theatre, and later at Vienna’s Hofoper, where he later became the chief conductor of the ballet. As a composer, he found notable success writing music for the stage, completing six operas (five in Hungarian, one in German), as well as 15 ballets that were widely popular. In addition to these activities, he embarked on concert tours with his younger brother Karl (1825–1900), also a flutist, composer, and conductor. Performances featuring them both frequently included works they created together, highlighting their mastery of the instrument—in tone, expression, and virtuosity—as well as their ensemble playing, for which they became famous.

It was a fairly common practice in Doppler’s day for composers to take tunes from popular operatic works and create virtuoso pieces—that is, paraphrases—with them. The one on this program uses themes from Franz Schubert’s comic opera “The Conspirators” (also known as Der hausliche Krieg, or “The Domestic War”); though performed only privately during the composer’s lifetime, it found posthumous success in the 1860s. Doppler was no doubt inspired by its attractive melodies, and probably found the opera’s comic plot about sparring spouses an amusing context for a piece for two flutes and piano accompaniment. The Concert-Paraphrase spans three main sections. In the first, the two flutes give a straightforward presentation of one of the opera’s tunes. It’s followed by a slower middle section; here, the two flutes trade off florid motifs of another melody, as if in conversation, which alternate with moments of coming together again. The final section is highly dramatic, and features a cadenza for both flutes, after which the piece closes with good cheer.

Program notes by Dr. Hannah Chan-Hartley


Liguria for flute, clarinet, violin, cello and piano

American composer Elizabeth Brown (b. 1953) plays the flute, shakuhachi (a type of Japanese and ancient Chinese bamboo flute), and the theremin. Her works have been performed worldwide—in Asia, Europe, Australia, South America, and in South Africa. Playing the shakuhachi and studying the instrument’s music has significantly influenced her own musical language, with many of her compositions combining eastern and western sensibilities. Along with writing music for European classical instruments, she composes extensively for Japanese traditional instruments. 

Brown’s chamber music is particularly shaped by her experiences with the unique group of instruments she plays, the distinctive characteristics of which often give these pieces a “luminous, dreamlike, and hallucinatory” quality. Liguria, completed in January 1999 while Brown was in residency at the MacDowell Colony certainly embodies this aesthetic. As Brown describes the piece:

Liguria was commissioned by the Fromm Foundation for the New York New Music Ensemble, who premiered it on May 18, 1999, at Hunter College in New York City. The music, constructed of layers, echoes, and shadows of a few themes set in a resonant, pulsing sound world, reflects a certain lyrical melancholy I felt during an Italian residency in 1998. Above the Liguria Study Center, steep narrow walkways twisted through ancient olive groves and between walled houses and small farms, with the Mediterranean spread below. In nearby Genoa, centuries of history were revealed in layers of beautiful decay in the dark old quarter. Even the food and wine had accumulated ages of rich flavour, and I always had a sensation of falling backward through time.”

Program notes by Dr. Hannah Chan-Hartley

Bohuslav Martinů

Trio for flute, cello, and piano

I. Poco allegretto
II. Adagio
III. Andante – Allegretto scherzando

Bohuslav Martinů (1890–1959) was one of the 20th century’s significant Czech composers. He wrote music in a singularly distinctive style, characterized by colourful harmonies and propulsive rhythmic drive that was expanded by elements of jazz music and early music. In 1940, Martinů fled Paris just before the Nazis invaded the city, and, via Portugal, ended up in the United States, where he lived for over a decade. During the war years, he was mostly in New York City; in 1942, he received his first major American commission, his first symphony, from Serge Koussevitsky, conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. With Koussevitsky’s help, Martinů also secured a post to teach composition at Tanglewood in Lenox, Massachusetts, and it was during the summer of 1944, while in New England, that the composer wrote this trio for flute, cello, and piano. 

The American composer and critic Virgil Thomson loved this Trio, which he called “a gem of bright sound and cheerful sentiment. It is tonally perfect, it sounds well, it feels good, it is clearly the work of a fine jewelry maker, and it does not sound like any other music.” It is, indeed, a finely wrought work of transparent textures and appealing themes, consisting of two lively outer movements book-ending a reflective centre. The Allegretto is sunny and carefree, opening with the flute playing a sprightly melody with bird-like trills. A series of other attractive tunes are presented and developed within the dialogue of the instruments, infused with Martinů’s signature syncopations. The second movement has a meditative quality, with motifs lyrical and expressive on which the instruments muse. At times, the music intensifies to a passionate yearning. A pensive flute solo of pastoral mood introduces the finale, which then launches into the energetic Allegretto scherzando (listen for the jazzy rhythms). An eloquent middle episode of striking delicacy and rich harmonies offers a respite from the bustle, which later resumes with renewed vigour to ultimately bring the piece to a satisfying close.

Program notes by Dr. Hannah Chan-Hartley


  • flute Joanna G’froerer
  • stephanie-morin-2
    flute Stephanie Morin
  • sean-rice-2
    clarinet Sean Rice
  • noemi-racine-gaudreault
    violin Noémi Racine Gaudreault
  • mintje-small
    violin Mintje van Lier
  • rachel-mercer
    cello Rachel Mercer
  • fred-lacroix-photo-william-meekins-2-e1612898539101
    piano Frédéric Lacroix

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