Storgårds, Mozart & Shostakovich's 5th

Featuring Jessica Linnebach

2024-04-03 20:00 2024-04-04 22:00 60 Canada/Eastern 🎟 NAC: Storgårds, Mozart & Shostakovich's 5th

In-person event

The lark is a small ground-nesting bird with an extravagant song that English composer Ralph Vaughan Williams captured in his The Lark Ascending, just as World War I began. NACO’s own Associate Concertmaster, violinist Jessica Linnebach, tenderly conveys the lark’s almost impossibly beautiful call in this masterwork. Dmitri Shostakovich composed his Symphony No. 5 “in an atmosphere of heart-stopping terror” (, a time when the mercurial moods of Josef...

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Southam Hall,1 Elgin Street,Ottawa,Canada
April 3 - 4, 2024

≈ 2 hours · With intermission

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Last updated: April 2, 2024


WOLFGANG AMADEUS MOZART Symphony No. 40 in G minor, K. 550 (26 min)

I. Molto allegro
II. Andante
III. Menuetto: Allegretto – Trio
IV. Allegro assai

RALPH VAUGHAN WILLIAMS The Lark Ascending (15 min)

Jessica Linnebach, violin


DMITRI SHOSTAKOVICH Symphony No. 5 in D minor, Op. 47 (46 min)

I. Moderato
II. Allegretto
III. Largo
IV. Allegro non troppo



Symphony No. 40 in G minor, K. 550

I. Molto allegro
II. Andante
III. Menuetto: Allegretto – Trio
IV. Allegro assai

Mozart (1756–1791) composed his G minor Symphony, K. 550 (No. 40) during the summer of 1788, the same period in which he wrote No. 39 in E-flat major (K. 543) and the “Jupiter” Symphony in C major (No. 41, K. 551). They would be his final works in the genre. Information about their early performances remains scant, but they probably first appeared in concerts in Vienna in the autumn of that year. (Mozart was a pragmatic composer and was unlikely to have written symphonies, then a genre of increasing prestige, without the prospect of earning money or recognition.) Originally scored for woodwinds (including flute, oboes, bassoons), horns, and strings, it’s believed K. 550 received other performances, for Mozart later added a pair of clarinets to the instrumentation. He had long loved the sound and expressive qualities of the instrument, and in this version of the symphony, the first clarinet is given much of the principal moments that were initially intended for the oboe.

Scholars and critics regard the composer’s final three symphonies as the pinnacle of his orchestral oeuvre, bringing to these works, as Mozart specialists Cliff Eisen and Stanley Sadie put it, “a new understanding of [the orchestra’s] possibilities as a corporate body and as a collection of individuals.” This is evident in the way Mozart uses interaction among the orchestra’s instruments, that is, through dialogue—a prominent feature of K. 550. In the first movement, listen out for the exchanges between the woodwinds and strings; for example, the notes of the graceful second theme are divided and presented in alternation between the two groups of instruments (strings–winds–strings) that then switch (to winds–strings–winds) when the theme is repeated. Later in the central development section, strings and woodwinds echo each other with fragments of the main theme.

In the finale, Mozart forms distinct clusters of strings and applies strong dynamic contrasts to highlight the differences as they engage in dialogue—like the first theme, which opens softly on an ascending motive in the first violins, and then completed, suddenly loudly by all the violins. The finale’s developmental section also contains much imitative dialogue between woodwinds and strings, with the latter further split into additional groups including the first violins alone, upper strings (violins and violas), and lower strings (cellos and double basses). Throughout the second and third movements as well, you’ll hear many similar instances of inventive interaction.

Another notable aspect of K. 550 is the prominence of the woodwinds, practically equal to the strings, as employed in the dialogic texture. Moreover, they’re not just responding to the strings but are active, too, in presenting the main thematic material, thus providing variety of timbre and instrumental effect. In the Trio of the third movement, even the horns, which usually have a supporting role in late 18th-century symphonies, are given the melody’s smooth arcing phrases at its reprise.

Also distinctive of K. 550 is its setting in G minor, with all movements, save the second, firmly in that key. (It’s the second of only two minor-key symphonies that Mozart wrote; K. 183, or No. 25, from 1773 is also in G minor.) As a result, there’s a certain expressive power to the piece, suggesting inner anguish. This sentiment is amplified by other characteristics such as the repetitive figure of the symphony’s opening tune that dominates the whole first movement like an obsessive worry, the angular theme of the Menuetto, the bold harmonic shifts at the beginning of the development sections in the first and fourth movements, as well as extreme dynamic contrasts and poignant chromatic writing. It's for these aspects that K. 550, as noted by musicologist Simon P. Keefe, is “typically considered one of Mozart’s most progressive, proto-Romantic works.”


The Lark Ascending

The Lark Ascending is one of Ralph Vaughan Williams’s (1872–1958) most popular and beloved works. With its dreamy and idyllic atmosphere, the piece compels listeners to be present in a moment of balm. The circumstances in which the piece was composed also contribute to its potency with audiences, now as then, living in volatile times. Vaughan Williams composed it in early August 1914, just before Britain entered the First World War. He completed a version for violin and piano but then put it aside; within months, he joined the Field Ambulance unit of the Royal Army Medical Corps, which was posted to France and Greece. After the war, he returned to the score of The Lark Ascending and with the assistance of English violinist Marie Hall, created a revised version for violin and orchestra. Hall gave the first performance of the original version with pianist Geoffrey Mendham at Bristol’s Shirehampton Public Hall on December 15, 1920. The following June, on the 14th, she premiered the orchestral version in London with the British Symphony Orchestra conducted by Adrian Boult. Vaughan Williams dedicated the piece to her.

The Lark Ascending takes its title and inspiration from a poem by George Meredith, which was published in his collection Poems and Lyrics of the Joys of the Earth in 1881. In his score, Vaughan Williams includes three extracts from the beginning, middle, and end of Meredith’s poem, which pays exalted tribute to the flight and song of the skylark:

He rises and begins to round,
He drops the silver chain of sound,
Of many links without a break,
In chirrup, whistle, slur and shake.

For singing till his heaven fills,
‘Tis love of earth that he instils,
And ever winging up and up,
Our valley is his golden coup
And he the wine which overflows
To lift us with him as he goes.

Till lost on his aerial rings
In light, and then the fancy sings.

Subtitled a “romance” for violin and orchestra, this lyrical piece exemplifies the composer’s pastoral style infused with folk-inspired elements. Untouched by the musical modernisms dominating the period (Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring premiered only a year before the first version of The Lark Ascending was composed), it seems to stand outside of its time. In a review of the first performance, the critic of The Times praised the work for “show[ing] serene disregard of the fashions of today or yesterday. It dreams its way along.”

The Lark Ascending unfolds in a symmetrical design, beginning with a rising series of chords in the orchestra over a sustained note in the double basses. As strings hold a chord, the soloist enters with warbling music (built on a pentatonic scale) that ascends to the high register of the instrument—it evokes both the lark’s song and its flight. At the peak, a folk song–like melody emerges, as its phrases make a gradual descent. When the strings enter, the melody is now a clear theme. As different instruments take turns meditating on it, the soloist weaves in and out of the texture, alternating melodic fragments and elaborate figuration. A climax is reached with full orchestra and the violin playing in octaves, after which the music subsides with more contemplative musings on the theme. The opening chords return, restoring calm, as the violin/lark sings another (shorter) cadenza.

The flute opens the second section playing a gentle, dance-like tune, the phrases of which are then taken up in turn by various instruments, including the solo violin. When not playing the melody, the violin breaks out in a florid counterpoint of arpeggios, scales, and trills. An ensuing episode, featuring violin trills tinged with glints of triangle, intensifies to another peak. After it relaxes, the violin recaps the flute’s tune, the head motive of which then becomes a series of chords that are twice intoned by the orchestra. Each time, the violin responds with a gentle cascade of double stops, then joins the orchestra the third time to lead into a warm, full-bodied reprise of the theme from the first section. Following the final climax and winding down, the orchestra sinks into the rising sequence of chords, now in a state of deeper tranquility. The violin makes its songful ascent one last time, and at the conclusion, hovers alone in the ethereal heights.

Dmitri Shostakovich

Symphony No. 5 in D minor, Op. 47

I. Moderato
II. Allegretto
III. Largo
IV. Allegro non troppo

By the early 1930s, Dmitri Shostakovich (1906–1975) was one of the Soviet Union’s leading composers, renowned in his home country and abroad. In 1934, his opera Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District premiered in Leningrad to huge acclaim. Two years later, despite having already received 180 performances, the work was denounced in the newspaper Pravda as “muddle instead of music,” after Joseph Stalin and his officials attended a new Bolshoy production on January 26, 1936. Practically overnight, Shostakovich became an artistic pariah; on February 6, another public blow was dealt when his ballet The Limpid Stream was condemned in the paper as a “balletic falsity.” From these unsigned articles, the message of Stalin’s government became crystal clear: mend your artistic ways or face the consequences. Shockwaves rippled across the Soviet cultural establishment—one of their leading lights was under threat of being extinguished and soon many others would be targets. As Stalin’s Great Purge began, those found not falling into line risked arrest, time at a brutal labour camp, or execution.

Having endured the Pravda denunciations, Shostakovich now had to figure out a way to survive artistically. At this critical juncture, he might have created a work that either set a text or followed a programmatic description that, in explicitly extolling the party line, might placate Stalin and his officials. Instead, he sought to rehabilitate his reputation with a symphony. This was a gamble, to be sure. Shostakovich had been working on his Fourth Symphony when the denunciations happened, and even after his humiliation, he planned to have it premiered in December 1936. During rehearsals, the piece was withdrawn at the last minute (it was not premiered until 1961). He pressed on, composing his fifth symphony between April and June of 1937 (during the height of the Great Purge); the first performance, by the Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra, took place on November 21 that year.

Public reaction to the premiere was extraordinary—there was open weeping during the slow movement and at the end, a standing ovation that lasted over half an hour. The responses of critics were also generally very positive. Very quickly soon after, the work was absorbed into the Soviet canon of performance repertoire and Shostakovich’s stature was gradually restored. It also became a hit internationally. Today, it remains the most popular and most frequently performed of Shostakovich’s 15 symphonies.

Composed under unprecedented conditions of political surveillance and interference, the Fifth Symphony was a significant turning point for Shostakovich creatively. According to musicologist David Fanning, the composer “needed a formula for balancing his artistic conscience with requirements handed down from above, which could be as unpredictable as they were imperative.” The abstract form of the symphony was the way forward, for within it, Shostakovich could, Fanning further notes, “continue to moderate his style in the direction of ‘acceptable’ lyrical and heroic intonations while at the same time devising an interplay of contextual and intertextual meanings which could modify or even contradict the surface impression.” As the first development of this concept, the Fifth was a very successful one, not least also because of those who, as Shostakovich specialist Pauline Fairclough has observed, “knew how to frame and interpret [the Fifth] in such a way that its acclaim could be justified in ideological terms” to the Soviet authorities. In the months following the premiere, through the spin of journalism, the symphony came to take on the subtitle (not Shostakovich’s, to be clear) of “A Soviet Artist’s Creative Response to Just Criticism.”

For his Fifth, Shostakovich employed a tried-and-true model, established by Beethoven in his own Fifth Symphony over a century earlier and used by many composers thereafter: that of the symphony conveying a psychological journey from struggle to triumph. Speaking to a Literaturnaya gazeta correspondent for an article published January 12, 1938, he had claimed that he wished “to show in the [fifth] symphony how through a series of tragic conflicts and through great internal struggles, ‘optimism as a worldview’ could triumph.” Certainly, he was aware of the universal appeal of the concept. Only in the notes of the score did he hint at what this meant to him personally: the fourth movement includes musical quotations from his 1936 setting of Pushkin’s poem “Rebirth”, the text of which describes the survival of true art in the face of an “artist-barbarian” who “blackens the painting of a genius.”

Within this arc, the music of the Fifth traverses a vast emotional terrain conveyed through the composer’s inventive mastery of orchestration technique and symphonic process. The influence of Gustav Mahler is evident (Shostakovich had been studying his symphonies at the time of the Fifth’s composition), albeit with a Shostakovichian twist. You’ll hear it throughout in the evocation of bleak, desolate landscapes, sinister marches and ironic Ländlers, massive climactic build-ups that are brutally thwarted, and moments of fragility—tender, hopeful, consoling. From the tragic grandeur of its first movement, through the darkly humorous second, the anguished heart of the third, to its blazing finale, Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony is an intensely cathartic musical experience.

Yet, you’d be right in detecting more than a hint of ambivalence in the “triumphant” coda of the finale (observant critics at the premiere also perceived this). After all, it’s hardly the expression of unbridled joy: Following a massive slow down and a wrenching shift to D major, it proceeds at an obstinately steady pace. Over sustained brass fanfares and booming strokes of timpani, strings and woodwinds relentlessly intone the same pitches at fortississimo (extremely loudly) for well over a minute until just before the final chord. Over the years, subjected to competing interpretations (both in words and in performance), the “meaning” of this ending has proved particularly slippery and controversial. Some have doubted the sincerity of the triumph, but this, too, is overly reductionist. Moreover, as Fairclough has thoroughly investigated, it wouldn’t have made sense for Soviet audiences to react so openly and strongly to the symphony and for the Leningrad and Moscow Philharmonics to perform it as frequently as they did (at least 21 times between them alone from 1937 to 1941), risking their lives to champion a work by a composer whose reputation was on shaky ground, if it was felt the triumph was simply forced or false. Perhaps, then, the remarkable power of the ending of Shostakovich’s Fifth is in its multivalency—that it speaks to our capacity to feel conflicting emotions, and enables us to embrace them, individually and collectively, within the complexities of our own experiences.

Program notes by Hannah Chan-Hartley, PhD


  • Conductor John Storgårds
  • jessica-linnebach
    Violin Jessica Linnebach
  • Featuring NAC Orchestra


NAC Orchestra

First Violins
Yosuke Kawasaki (concertmaster)
Jessica Linnebach (associate concertmaster)
Noémi Racine Gaudreault (assistant concertmaster)
Carissa Klopoushak
Marjolaine Lambert
Manuela Milani
Emily Westell
*Andréa Armijo Fortin
*Oleg Chelpanov
*John Corban
*Marc Djokic
*Martine Dubé
*Renée London
*Erica Miller

Second Violins
Emily Kruspe
Jeremy Mastrangelo
Mark Friedman
Zhengdong Liang
Frédéric Moisan
Leah Roseman
Edvard Skerjanc
Karoly Sziladi
Winston Webber
*Sara Mastrangelo
*Heather Schnarr
*Sarah Williams

Jethro Marks (principal)
David Marks (associate principal)
David Goldblatt (assistant principal)
Tovin Allers
Paul Casey
David Thies-Thompson
*Kelvin Enns
*Carolyn Farnand
*Hillary Fay
*Mary-Kathryn Stevens

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

Double Basses
*Sam Loeck (guest principal)
Max Cardilli (assistant principal)
Marjolaine Fournier
Vincent Gendron
*Talia Hatcher
*Paul Mach

Joanna G’froerer (principal)
Stephanie Morin
*Christian Paquette

Charles Hamann (principal)
Anna Petersen

English Horn
Anna Petersen

Kimball Sykes (principal)
Sean Rice
*Shauna Barker

Darren Hicks (principal)
Vincent Parizeau
*Ian Hopkin

*Brian Mangrum (guest principal)
Julie Fauteux (associate principal)
Lawrence Vine
Lauren Anker
Louis-Pierre Bergeron
*Olivier Brisson

Karen Donnelly (principal)
Steven van Gulik
*Michael Fedyshyn
*Amy Horvey

*Steve Dyer (guest principal)
Colin Traquair

Bass Trombone
Zachary Bond

Chris Lee (principal)

*Bradley Davis (guest principal)

Jonathan Wade
*Andrew Johnson
*Louis Pino
*Joshua Wynnyk

*Angela Schwarzkopf (guest principal)
*Alanna Ellison

*Olga Gross

Principal Librarian
Nancy Elbeck

Assistant Librarian
Corey Rempel

Personnel Manager
Meiko Lydall

Orchestra Personnel Coordinator
Laurie Shannon

*Additional musicians
**On leave

International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees