Montero Plays Tchaïkovsky

with the NAC Orchestra

2023-03-01 20:00 2023-03-02 22:00 60 Canada/Eastern 🎟 NAC: Montero Plays Tchaïkovsky

In-person event

Program updates:
Elinor Rufeizen replaces Eva Ollikainen on the podium
Not performed: Sibelius, Four Legends, Op. 22
Program addition: Dvořák, Symphony No. 7    -   -   - The artistry of Venezuelan-born pianist and NACO creative partner Gabriela Montero might well defy description, but it is always magically rewarding. Her masterful execution of classical repertoire and her uncanny ability to improvise complicated...

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Southam Hall,1 Elgin Street,Ottawa,Canada
March 1 - 2, 2023

≈ 2 hours · With intermission

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Last updated: February 24, 2023


SOFIA GUBAIDULINA Fairytale Poem for orchestra (10 min)

PYOTR ILYICH TCHAIKOVSKY Piano Concerto No. 1 in B-flat minor, Op. 23 (33 min)

I. Allegro non troppo e molto maestoso – Allegro con spirito
II. Andantino semplice – Prestissimo
III. Allegro con fuoco


ANTONÍN DVOŘÁK Symphony No. 7 in D minor, Op. 70 (38 min)

I. Allegro maestoso
II. Poco adagio
III. Scherzo: Vivace
IV. Finale: Allegro



Fairytale Poem for orchestra

Russian composer Sofia Gubaidulina is one of today’s preeminent musical figures. Born in Chistopol, a small town in the Tatar Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic, she celebrated her 90th birthday in 2021, a milestone that was commemorated with performances of her music by ensembles and organizations throughout the world. For decades in the latter part of the 20th century, she had dared to defy the Soviet cultural authorities, in exploring spiritual topics and ideas in her works, as well as her use of modern compositional techniques including alternative tunings and 12-tone serialism. She continues to evolve and integrate such aspects with elements of her Tatar heritage, to forge a distinctively powerful compositional style. 

Gubaidulina composed Fairytale Poem for orchestra in 1971. The score was originally for a children’s radio program based on the fairy tale, The Little Piece of Chalk, by the Czech writer Mazourek. At the time, Gubaidulina said she was pleased to transform it into an independent orchestral piece because “I liked the fairy tale so much and it seemed so symbolic of an artist’s destiny that I developed a very personal relationship with this work.” It received its first performance in 1992, by Hanover’s NDR Radiophilharmonie conducted by Bernhard Klee.

As Gubaidulina described the story that her music brings to sonic life:

“The piece of chalk dreams of drawing wonderful castles, beautiful gardens with pavilions, and the sea. But day after day, it is forced to draw boring words, numbers, and geometric figures on the blackboard, and in doing so every day, it becomes smaller and smaller, unlike the children who grow every day. Gradually, the piece of chalk is in despair, increasingly losing hope it will be allowed at some point to draw the sun or the sea. Soon it becomes so small it can no longer be used in the school class and is thrown away. After which the chalk finds itself in total darkness and thinks it has died. This assumed darkness of death, however, turns out to be a boy’s pocket. The child’s hand takes the chalk out into the daylight and begins to draw castles, gardens with pavilions, and the sea with the sun on the pavement. The chalk is so happy it does not even notice how it is dissolving in the drawing of this beautiful world.”

On a “blank slate” of sustained tones, flute, violins, and solo clarinet individually add line and colour—an arcing phrase reaching longingly upwards, the tension then subsiding on an extended trill. Out of an otherworldly transition, a lively fugue on plucked strings emerges (the chalk springs to life) and reaches a peak only to tumble down chromatically. The violins then take up the upward arcing melody, developing it further with more intensity. A series of brief episodes follows, with different instruments playing various figurations that evoke the chalk’s forced submission into writing “boring words, numbers, and geometric figures.” Each spurt of activity, however, disintegrates into a haunting soundscape suggesting the chalk’s growing despondency. Then, a turning point: sinewy motifs in the flutes tentatively intertwine upwards, arriving at atmospheric piano chords and harp scales; solo flute and bass clarinet muse. Suddenly, the music blooms with vibrancy, the violins singing the arcing melody against a pulsating backdrop of lush harmonies, followed by jagged phrases—the chalk’s ecstatic strokes. The marimba’s ascending scale leads into the piece’s final moments: a simple piano melody against very quiet strings. Strokes on the vibraphone complete the ethereal fadeout. 


Piano Concerto No. 1 in B-flat minor, Op. 23

I. Allegro non troppo e molto maestoso – Allegro con spirito
II. Andantino semplice – Prestissimo
III. Allegro con fuoco

“Worthless and unplayable.” “Passages so fragmented, so clumsy, so badly written that they were beyond rescue.” “The work itself was bad, vulgar. …only two or three pages were worth preserving; the rest must be thrown away or completely rewritten.” According to Tchaikovsky in a letter to his patron Nadezhda von Meck, these were Nikolai Rubenstein’s first impressions of the composer’s first piano concerto. He had hoped Rubenstein would perform the work and had brought it to him for consultation on the solo part. Rubenstein said he’d only play it if the composer revised the work substantially. Greatly offended, Tchaikovsky said that he would not alter one note and offered Hans von Bülow the premiere instead, which occurred in Boston on October 24, 1875, on one of von Bülow’s tours. While critics were initially skeptical about the piece, it was a huge success with the audience.

And it has remained beloved and popular in the concert hall today. (Initial drama aside, Rubenstein eventually warmed to the piece, conducting it and playing the solo part himself; Tchaikovsky ultimately did make some revisions.) Compared to concertos written earlier in the 19th century, this one is of unprecedented grand scale, with piano and orchestra as equals in the unfolding of its drama. The piano part demands much from the soloist, not only virtuosic technical displays—double octave passages, quicksilver runs, rhapsodic cadenzas, and the like—but also deep expressiveness. The large orchestral part is symphonic in scope and sophistication, presenting and developing musical material in intense dialogue with the pianist. 

This concerto’s emotional appeal owes much to Tchaikovsky’s unforgettable melodies. After a stern horn call, it opens with a soaring melody played by the violins and cellos, accompanied by majestic chords on the piano. While the tune only appears in the work’s introduction, certain aspects of it are subtly embedded in later motifs. Moreover, its passionate character connects it to the lyrical themes in the concerto’s other movements. 

Providing striking contrast are several melodies based on popular tunes. The lively main theme of the first movement proper is based on a street song accompanied by the hurdy-gurdy that Tchaikovsky had heard in Ukraine. In the second movement, following the tender lullaby, the sparkling middle section features the orchestra playing a French popular tune, “Il faut s’amuser, danser et rire”, that Tchaikovsky’s brother Modest recalled he and his brothers singing together frequently in the early 1870s. The spirited first theme of the third movement is a Ukrainian spring song, while the Russian folk tune “I am going to Tsar-gorod” is the basis of the second theme. It is the latter’s expansive melody that, following a technical firework of a piano cadenza, forms the magnificent climax of the movement. Together, orchestra and piano present it in full glory—thereby closing the grand lyrical arc that was introduced at the beginning of the concerto—after which they hurtle to a dazzling finish.

Antonín Dvořák

Symphony No. 7 in D minor, Op. 70

I. Allegro maestoso
II. Poco adagio
III. Scherzo: Vivace
IV. Finale: Allegro 

In the early 1880s, Dvořák found himself at an artistic crossroads. He was rapidly gaining renown as a Czech composer, but with rising nationalistic fervour in his homeland also came growing anti-Czech sentiment in Vienna and Germany, places that were crucial in expanding the dissemination of his music and his reputation. Thus, as his international fame developed, Dvořák faced mounting pressure to choose a “side”: whether to write music that was in solidarity with his compatriots at the risk of remaining a “provincial” composer, or to pursue a more “international” (i.e., Austro-German) style, as his friends Johannes Brahms and Eduard Hanslick encouraged him to do, that would make his works more appealing abroad. 

It was within this context that he wrote the Seventh Symphony. Composed between 1884 and 1885, the work fulfilled a commission by the Philharmonic Society in London, where Dvořák had become a figure of significant standing. On April 22, 1885, he conducted the premiere, which was received with great applause. In the view of many music scholars, the work marks a turning point in the composer’s symphonic writing, possibly reflecting his struggle to reconcile the artistic paths that laid before him during this period. Indeed, the music seems to reveal him wrestling with integrating Czech elements—so much a part of his melodic expression—with Germanic technique (as exemplified in Brahms’s music), which prioritized formal coherence through the tightly wrought development of motivic ideas. Moreover, forceful rhythms, strong dynamic contrasts, and gripping melodies give this symphony an intense and moody edge.

A pedal note sounds from the depths; over top, the main theme of the first movement is introduced very quietly by violas and cellos—a sombre roiling melody with an energetic rhythmic tail, which will become a driving force. An initial climax is reached, and after a brief, tender duet between horn and oboe, the main theme is re-asserted at full blast by the orchestra. Later, the lilting second theme, first played by flutes and clarinets, then taken up by the violins, provides a serene respite in the major mode, before the opening melody reappears and builds to triumph. In the middle section, the forceful tail is further developed, followed by the second theme. The main theme also endures new struggles, ultimately arriving at a grand presentation at the beginning of the recapitulation, which then quickly segues to the second theme. Further turbulence peaks in the coda, then subsides; the horns intone the main melody like a melancholy reflection, and the movement ends quietly. 

The Poco adagio features three contrasting ideas: a hymn-like tune initially played by clarinet, enriched by oboe and bassoons; an anguished questioning phrase in the violins and cellos, answered by stern trombones; and a luminous horn call. Each, in turn, are given extended treatment, but in the development section, the third idea dominates. Following a meandering transition, the hymn returns, this time imbued with passionate warmth by the cellos. The second idea is also reprised with more intensity and reaches a climax, after which there’s an abbreviated reminiscence of the horn call. A final meditative rendition of the hymn by the oboe closes the movement.

In the Scherzo, Dvořák cleverly combines two dances—one, a robust Czech furiant introduced by the violins, the other, a sweeping Viennese waltz played by bassoons and cellos—as if showing how his artistic “sides” could be united in his music. As the dances make their way through the instruments, they gain ferocity, coming to a bold climax. The Trio offers a pastoral interlude, featuring a gentle tune with a climbing phrase played by oboe, answered by the flute with bird-like trills. After a perky dialogue between violins and woodwinds, the climbing motif develops, building with energy to the return of the Scherzo. Later, after a reflective moment, the forceful rhythms of the furiant take over, driving the movement to an exhilarating conclusion.

The finale opens with a theme consisting of a leap followed by a winding line—its chromatic inflections give it a Slavic character. Appearing somewhat ominously at first in the clarinets and cellos, it’s ultimately transformed, after several march-like passages, into a defiant cry by the violins, punctuated by trumpets. A rigorous dance in the strings follows, eventually ending up in a sunnier place—an easy-going tune sung by cellos. In the central section, the main melody’s motifs are developed, almost obsessively. The evolving tumult finally arrives at a climactic statement of the opening melody by the violins, but then moves quickly on to the cellos’ sunny song, which builds to yet another peak via the dance’s energetic rhythms. In the coda, the music gets increasingly agitated, hurtling forward until suddenly, it slows down dramatically to make way for a final majestic proclamation of the main theme. At last, the sombre D minor resolves into D-major glory—hope at the end of the struggle.

Program notes by Hannah Chan-Hartley, PhD


  • 5da6f0fc58568ab475f8302a-elinorrufeizen-facebookpixel-cropped
    Conductor Elinor Rufeizen
  • Piano Gabriela Montero
  • Featuring NAC Orchestra
  • Assistant Conductor (appears courtesy of Tapestry Opera’s Women in Musical Leadership Program) Juliane Gallant

NAC Orchestra

First violins 
Yosuke Kawasaki (concert master) 
Jessica Linnebach (associate concertmaster) 
Noémi Racine Gaudreault (assistant concertmaster) 
Emily Kruspe 
Marjolaine Lambert 
Frédéric Moisan 
Carissa Klopoushak 
Zhengdong Liang 
*Erica Miller 
*Martine Dubé 
*Renée London 
*Oleg Chelpanov

Second violins 
Mintje van Lier (principal) 
Winston Webber (assistant principal) 
Jeremy Mastrangelo 
Emily Westell 
Manuela Milani 
Leah Roseman 
Karoly Sziladi 
Mark Friedman 
**Edvard Skerjanc 
*Heather Schnarr 
*Andréa Armijo Fortin

Jethro Marks (principal) 
David Marks (associate principal) 
David Goldblatt (assistant principal) 
Paul Casey 
David Thies-Thompson 
*Kelvin Enns 
*Sonya Probst

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

Double basses 
*Joel Quarrington (guest principal) 
Max Cardilli (assistant principal) 
Vincent Gendron 
Marjolaine Fournier 
**Hilda Cowie 
*Paul Mach

**Joanna G'froerer (principal) 
Stephanie Morin 
*Kaili Maimets 
*Lara Deutsch

Charles Hamann (principal) 
Anna Petersen

English Horn 
Anna Petersen

Kimball Sykes (principal) 
Sean Rice 
*Shauna Barker 
*Juan Olivares

Darren Hicks (principal) 
Vincent Parizeau

Lawrence Vine (principal) 
Julie Fauteux (associate principal) 
Elizabeth Simpson 
Lauren Anker 
**Louis-Pierre Bergeron 
*Olivier Brisson

Karen Donnelly (principal) 
Steven van Gulik 
*Amy Horvey

*Robert Conquer (guest principal) 
Colin Traquair 
*David Pell

*Marc-André Lalonde (guest principal)

Jonathan Wade

*Angela Schwarzkopf

*Frederic Lacroix

Principal Librarian 
Nancy Elbeck

Assistant Librarian 
Corey Rempel

Personnel Manager 
Meiko Lydall

Assistant Personnel Manager 
Laurie Shannon

*Additional musicians
**On Leave

International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees