Bryan Cheng Plays Saint-Saëns

with the NAC Orchestra

2023-04-19 20:00 2023-04-20 23:00 60 Canada/Eastern 🎟 NAC: Bryan Cheng Plays Saint-Saëns

In-person event

This concert is made possible in part through the generous support of the Friends of the NAC Orchestra's Kilpatrick Fund. Ottawa’s own international award-winning (2nd Prize and Audience Prize, 2021 Geneva International Music Competition) cellist Bryan Cheng made his Carnegie Hall debut at 14 and has been captivating audiences with his vibrant musicality ever since. Under the baton of guest conductor Yan Pascal Tortelier, Cheng and the NAC Orchestra perform Saint-Saëns’s...

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Southam Hall,1 Elgin Street,Ottawa,Canada
April 19 - 20, 2023

≈ 1 hour and 30 minutes · With intermission

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Last updated: April 17, 2023


LOUISE FARRENC Overture No. 2 in E-flat major, Op. 24 (7 min)

CAMILLE SAINT-SAËNS Cello Concerto No. 1 in A minor, Op. 33 (19 min)
Allegro non troppo – Allegretto con moto – Tempo primo


CÉSAR FRANCK Symphony in D minor (41 min)
I. Lento – Allegro non troppo
II. Allegretto
III. Allegro non troppo



Overture No. 2 in E-flat major, Op. 24

Louise Farrenc (1804–75) emerged as a French composer of note at a time when musicians of her gender were more often performers rather than writers of music. Her reputation was primarily established on her chamber music, for which she was hailed regularly in the French musical press, praised by composers such as Robert Schumann, Franz Liszt, and Johannes Brahms, and awarded prestigious prizes. In 1842, she became professor of piano at the Paris Conservatoire, a position she retained until 1873; as music scholar Bea Friedland has noted, Farrenc was the only woman musician in the 19th century to hold a permanent chair of this rank and importance.

In opera and salon music-obsessed 19th century Paris, Farrenc dared to defy prevailing musical fashion by venturing to compose for orchestra. In 1834, she completed two overtures, and during the 1840s, three symphonies, all of which received multiple performances in Paris, as well as presentations in Copenhagen, Brussels, and Geneva. However, she did not write more orchestral works than these, likely due to limited support for symphonic music within her cultural milieu and societal expectations for her gender. Since her lifetime, even the pieces she had written have been mostly absent from the performance repertory of orchestras, until recently.

From first hearing, Farrenc’s second overture in E-flat major makes a strong case for her merits as a composer for orchestra. It progresses in the standard concert overture structure: a slow, rather majestic introduction, followed by a fast and energetic sonata form, with the main sections of exposition (featuring two main themes—one light and rigorous, the other smooth and lyrical), development, and recapitulation. While it is an “abstract” work (that is, not conveying any kind of extra-musical subject, like a story or image), there’s certainly a great sense of drama throughout, reminiscent of grand opera overtures that set the tone for the action to come. Farrenc’s gift for orchestration is also evident, with the varied timbres of the ensemble’s instruments employed to brilliant effect, demanding technical virtuosity (such as in the work’s many quicksilver passages) and musical finesse from all players. Indeed, no less a figure than Hector Berlioz, whose landmark Symphonie fantastique premiered only four years before, commended Farrenc’s talents as an orchestrator in this overture.


Cello Concerto No. 1 in A minor, Op. 33

Allegro non troppo – Allegretto con moto – Tempo primo

Camille Saint-Saëns (1835–1921) composed his Cello Concerto No. 1 in 1872 for the eminent Belgian cellist Auguste Tolbecque, who performed the premiere at a Paris Conservatoire concert in January 1873. Since then, it has attained significant status within the cello repertoire, alongside the earlier cello concertos of Joseph Haydn and Robert Schumann, and the later ones by Edward Elgar and Antonín Dvořák. Long admired by many composers, it also remains one of the French composer’s most popular works with concert hall audiences. Its appeal, along with much of Saint-Saëns’s music, is well summed up by the French writer Romain Rolland, who penned in 1908, “[H]is music strikes us by its calm, its tranquil harmonies, its velvety modulations, its crystal clearness, its smooth and flowing style, and an elegance that cannot be put into words.” Furthermore, this distinctive “neoclassicism” is fused with a dramatic sense of narrative, aspects in this work that make it especially compelling emotionally.

Saint-Saëns eschewed the typical three-movement concerto form for something that unfolds more organically—a single movement in three parts, in which the musical material of the first section returns and is developed in the third. (He was likely influenced by composers like Robert Schumann and Franz Liszt who were experimenting with cyclic forms.) Overall, the work is characterized by a certain lyrical freedom, which shows off the cello’s capacity to be an instrument for virtuosic display as well as spotlighting its sonorous tone. Used subtly and delicately, the orchestra is in dynamic interaction with the soloist throughout.

A powerful shock of a chord from the orchestra opens this Concerto, to which the soloist immediately responds with the main theme—a cascade of notes ending in a bold gesture that’s echoed in the low register. After a rhapsodic moment, the theme is picked up by the woodwinds and then the violins. It’s developed urgently by the cello, eventually reaching a passionate yearning melody. The cascading first theme returns, which prompts a virtuosic episode for the cello. Further dialogue between strings and woodwinds on the main theme with fragmented phrases in the cello takes the orchestra to a climax, after which the soloist emerges singing the yearning second theme.

Lingering in reverie, the cello brings us to the concerto’s middle section: a rather prim little minuet introduced by muted strings. It has an otherworldly effect, as if a hazy flashback to the dance’s 18th-century courtly origins. The cello enters initially alone with the first notes of a gentle countermelody, then carries on hovering over the strings as they repeat the minuet. Its song intensifies, reaching a suspended peak; a short cadenza of a rapid chromatic descent ends on a trill, over which the minuet is reprised by the woodwinds. Cello then spins out lyrical phrases, reaches an ardent peak, and subsides, somewhat resigned. Like a tender remembrance, it sings alone in its low register the notes of the countermelody…

…and in its dissolution, the oboe creeps in with the return of the concerto’s opening theme. The cello picks it up, driven and determined, but it soon gives way to a poignant new theme of heartfelt melancholy. Thereafter, the music alternates between fiercely virtuosic music (listen for a sequence of daring bravura passages for the cello), and warm melodies exploiting the resonant depths of the instrument’s range. Eventually, we return to the melancholy theme, which has now taken on a new intensity. At the climax, the orchestra jumps in aggressively with the first theme, which leads into the brisk coda. The mode turns to bright major when the cello re-enters, waxing lyrically until its final flourish, and the orchestra drives to an enthusiastic finish.


Symphony in D minor

I. Lento – Allegro non troppo
II. Allegretto
III. Allegro non troppo

In 1871, Camille Saint-Saëns founded the Société Nationale de Musique to support and perform the music of living French composers. In 1886, he reluctantly resigned from it, as the organization became divided on the future aesthetic direction of French music—between the more “conservative” composers who endorsed the classical values of the music of Mozart and Beethoven (and with whom Saint-Saëns sided), and the “progressive” composers, who favoured a more “modern” approach, inspired by Richard Wagner. The latter camp was led by César Franck (1822–90), who, in that same year, began to sketch this symphony, which he completed two years later. Although he had previously written several symphonic poems (single movement orchestral works evoking images or narratives), the Symphony in D minor was his only foray into the “abstract”, multi-movement genre. It was premiered in February 1889, at one of the Paris Conservatoire’s concert series. Although initially criticized by the conservative faction of composers and critics, the piece has since been recognized as one of the key works of the French orchestral repertoire and is regularly performed today.

Franck’s Symphony exhibits several hallmarks of his compositional style, two of which show the strong influence of Wagner. For one, there’s frequent modulation—the main themes and motifs are typically reiterated in many different keys throughout a movement—and much use of chromaticism in the melodic line and in the underlying harmonies of melodies. The result is a kind of restless quality to the music, but also a kaleidoscopic effect in terms of the shifting harmonic colours.

Another Wagnerian-inspired feature is that of thematic transformation, in which the principal themes of the symphony return in various new versions at key points throughout a movement or in later movements, thus creating a sense of organic evolution as the music progresses. In this Symphony’s slow introduction (Lento), the main motifs are presented immediately: first, a series of searching phrases climbing upward in the lower strings, then, in the violins, a smooth falling line that partly winds down chromatically, supported by evocative harmonies. They soon turn fast and forceful in the ensuing Allegro non troppo section, with the falling line energized by assertive dotted rhythms. Later in the first movement, two new themes are presented: a sweetly singing melody, and a euphoric tune. These all undergo further transformation in the other movements: for example, the melancholy English horn solo in the second movement is a subtle variant of the first movement’s opening phrases; in the same movement, the euphoric tune has its angles smoothed out into a warm melody played by the violins; and the finale opens with yet another metamorphosis of the euphoric tune, introduced by the cellos as a straight-up joyful tune, with no chromaticisms to complicate its breezy mood. Also, changes in the character of musical materials are used to dramatic effect, like the new ferocity and intensity of the reprise of the first movement’s themes, or the English horn melody acquiring a new expressive power when boldly blared by trumpets in its last return in the finale.

The second movement deserves special mention for Franck’s organic presentation of several musical elements in turn—the English horn melody, a warm theme in the violins, a “buzzing” meandering line played by muted violins, and a sweeping version of the first movement’s sweet second theme—which are then ingeniously integrated together in their recapitulation. Notably, the “buzzing” line and the melancholy English horn solo combine and venture to new keys, after which the warm and sweeping melodies become intertwined, reaching a luminous climax that gradually melts into the twilight glow of the movement’s serene conclusion. 

Finally, Franck’s distinctive orchestration in this work often references the timbres, sonorities, and effects of the organ, the instrument on which he built a considerable reputation as a gifted improviser in his position at the basilica of Sainte Clotilde in Paris’s Saint-Germain-des-Prés. Notably, he considered the organ there, built by Aristide Cavaillé-Coll, as his “orchestra”. Certain combinations of woodwind instruments sound not unlike using particular stops on the organ, and the massive crescendos evoke the opening up of the instrument’s swell box. The brass chorale in the finale, first introduced quietly and later becoming bold and confident, has undoubtedly an organ-like sonority, as do the radiant conclusions of each of the Symphony’s movements.

Program notes by Hannah Chan-Hartley, PhD


  • yan-pascal-tortelier-2-cropped
    conductor Yan Pascal Tortelier
  • cello Bryan Cheng
  • Featuring NAC Orchestra


NAC Orchestra

First Violins
Yosuke Kawasaki (concertmaster)
Jessica Linnebach (associate concertmaster)
Noémi Racine Gaudreault (assistant concertmaster)
Emily Kruspe
Marjolaine Lambert
Frédéric Moisan
Carissa Klopoushak
Zhengdong Liang
*Martine Dubé
*Oleg Chelpanov
*Heather Schnarr
*Marc Djokic
*Soo Gyeong Lee

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

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

Rachel Mercer (principal)
**Julia MacLaine (assistant principal)
Marc-André Riberdy
Leah Wyber
Timothy McCoy
*Karen Kang
*Desiree Abbey
*Daniel Parker

Double basses
Max Cardilli (assistant principal)
Vincent Gendron
Marjolaine Fournier
**Hilda Cowie
*Paul Mach
*Brandyn Lewis

Joanna G'froerer (principal)
Stephanie Morin

Charles Hamann (principal)
Anna Petersen
*Anna Hendrickson

English Horn
Anna Petersen

Kimball Sykes (principal)
Sean Rice
*Shauna Barker

Darren Hicks (principal)
Vincent Parizeau

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

Karen Donnelly (principal)
Steven van Gulik
*Michael Fedyshyn
*Charles Watson

*Gord Wolfe (guest principal)
Colin Traquair
*David Pell

Chris Lee (principal)

*Aaron McDonald (guest principal)

Jonathan Wade

*Angela Schwarzkopf

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