2024: A Summer Odyssey

With the NAC Orchestra & Kerson Leong

2024-07-04 20:00 2024-07-04 22:00 60 Canada/Eastern 🎟 NAC: 2024: A Summer Odyssey

https://nac-cna.ca/en/event/36330

In-person event

Take a break from the summer sun and experience a different kind of heat as the NAC Orchestra conjures up a musical world premiere, a brilliant homegrown international violin sensation, and Japanese sci-fi magic—all on the stage of Southam Hall. If the sunrise were depicted by a song, it would be Also sprach Zarathustra by Richard Strauss. You’ve heard it before: it symbolizes the dawn of time in 2001: A Space Odyssey and, more recently, the dawn of Barbie in...

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Southam Hall,1 Elgin Street,Ottawa,Canada
Thu, July 4, 2024

≈ 1 hour and 45 minutes · With intermission

Our programs have gone digital.

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

Last updated: July 2, 2024

Program

IAN CUSSON 1Q84: Sinfonietta Metamoderna* (9 min)

MAX BRUCH Violin Concerto No. 1 in G minor, Op. 26 (26 min)

I. Prelude: Allegro moderato –
II. Adagio
III. Finale: Allegro energico 

Kerson Leong, violin

INTERMISSION

RICHARD STRAUSS Also sprach Zarathustra (Thus Spoke Zarathustra), Op. 30 (32 min)

* World premiere, NACO commission

Repertoire

IAN CUSSON

1Q84: Sinfonietta Metamoderna

Behind Richard Strauss’s tone poem Also sprach Zarathustra is the Friedrich Nietzsche novel of the same name, which explores, among other things, the idea of an “eternal recurrence.” A 21st-century understanding of this might look something like the multi-verse, a complex and overlapping vision of reality where multiple worlds become a metaphor for the strangeness of lived experience in our contemporary time.

In the novel 1Q84, novelist Haruki Murakami explores the possibility of multiple realities—worlds that split off one from the next because of minute decisions. As in Strauss’s tone poem, 1Q84: Sinfonietta Metamoderna loosely follows the novel’s structure, with thematic material connected to the characters and events of the story.

When the novel opens, it is April of 1984. On her way to her next hit, professional assassin and fitness instructor Aomame finds herself stuck in traffic on Tokyo’s Metropolitan Expressway 3. The radio is blasting Janáček’s Sinfonietta. So as not to be late, she exits the taxi and climbs down the emergency stairway. In so doing, she enters the world of 1Q84—an alternate version of the world she knows, where the sky has two moons, and where the leader of a powerful cult is controlled by the Little People. She thinks often about a boy she once knew, Tengo.

Tengo, now 30 years old, is a cram school instructor and the ghostwriter for the highly successful novel Air Chrysalis—a story about a powerful cult under the control of supernatural beings called Little People who move about between worlds through the mouths of their victims. Tengo longs to reconnect with a girl whose hand he held briefly when he was a child.

Aomame is sent to kill the Leader of the cult. The Little People swarm in a fit to stop her. A violent storm thunders above the city. Aomame assassinates Leader and goes into hiding until she can escape 1Q84. But before leaving this world she needs to find the boy she has loved since she was a child when they briefly held each other’s hand after class. While in hiding she discovers that she is pregnant. Despite not having seen Tengo for 20 years, she learns that she is pregnant with his child.

Tengo and Aomame reunite. They climb up the emergency stairway to Metropolitan Expressway 3 to get back into the world they left behind. Standing on the Expressway, they realize they may just have stepped into a new unfamiliar world, but it is a world they will journey through together.

Program note by the composer

MAX BRUCH

Violin Concerto No. 1 in G minor, Op. 26

I. Prelude: Allegro moderato –
II. Adagio
III. Finale: Allegro energico

German composer Max Bruch (1838–1920) is best known today for really only one of the nearly 100 works he ever created: his G minor Violin Concerto. He began writing it in 1865, just before he became director of the Royal Institute for Music and of the Subscription Concerts in Coblenz. A first version of the concerto was completed and performed in the spring of 1866, but Bruch was dissatisfied with it. A few years later, in a letter to the music publisher Fritz Simrock, he admitted that composing it had been a struggle: “It is a damned difficult thing to do [to write a violin concerto]; between 1864 and 1868 I rewrote my concerto at least half a dozen times, and conferred with x violinists before it took the final form in which it is universally famous and played everywhere.”

Among the violinists he had consulted was his friend Ferdinand David, who premiered Felix Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto in 1845, and the Hungarian virtuoso Joseph Joachim, for whom Johannes Brahms would later write his concerto in 1878. As extant letters exchanged between Bruch and Joachim reveal, some of the latter’s advice shaped aspects of the version of the G minor Concerto we know today. Joachim gave the first performances of it in early 1868 (in Bremen, Hanover, and Aachen) to great success; soon after, it was taken up by many violinists, including David, Leopold Auer, Henri Vieuxtemps, and Pablo de Sarasate. Together, they helped to establish it internationally as a key work in the concert repertoire, a position it has maintained through the 20th century to the present. Unfortunately for the composer, he never benefitted financially from his Concerto’s popularity. In his naivete, Bruch had sold the work for a single lump-sum payment and consequently received no further royalties, which he and his descendants could have earned until 1990. 

It’s not difficult to see why this violin concerto has such appeal, with its strong Romantic sensibility—from the first movement’s gripping drama to the tender passion of the Adagio, and the finale’s vigorous energy and sweeping grandeur. Throughout, Bruch demonstrates his gift for melody, no doubt inspired by the violin itself, which he said, “can sing a melody better than a piano, and melody is the soul of music.” There are, of course, plenty of virtuosic passages for the soloist—quicksilver runs, rapid arpeggios, fearsome double-stops. These, however, aren’t merely displays of technical brilliance against an accompanying backdrop but rather, serve to develop various thematic ideas in dialogue with the orchestra. The result is a concerto with a certain “symphonic seriousness” that demands much from both soloist and ensemble in terms of musicianship and artistic sensitivity.

Bruch’s G minor Concerto has several striking innovations to traditional concerto form. For one, the first movement is entitled “Vorspiel” or “Prelude”, suggesting it’s a preface to the second movement. It opens with the orchestra intoning a solemn motive, to which the solo violin twice responds with recitative-like passages. The movement gets going after that in more typical sonata-form fashion, featuring themes of contrasting character—one rugged, one smooth-lined—that are both introduced by the violin and are subsequently developed. But in an unusual twist, the usual recap of these themes gives way instead to a powerful orchestral episode that leads to the return of the opening recitatives in the solo violin. Now more like a cadenza (here, Bruch had accepted an alteration from Joachim that he said was “written as if from my soul”), the passage gains momentum. A final rapid ascent culminates in a passionate orchestral outburst, one of the Concerto’s most affecting moments, then winds down gradually, ultimately coming to rest on a single note in the first violins that leads directly into the next movement.

The Adagio is rich with beautiful melodies; solo violin first introduces a sustained tune of devotional character, after which it progresses to a more fluid idea. Later, as the violin climbs upward, horns and bassoons intone a ringing new theme of falling intervals that at its climax, the violin picks up and embellishes with cascading arpeggios. Listen out for its return, now with greater intensity at the peak of an inventive developmental episode in which the cellos carry the fluid theme as the violin muses reflectively in counterpoint.

In the finale of the G minor Concerto, Bruch incorporates Hungarian musical elements and the fluid virtuosity of Romani performing style, no doubt influenced by Joachim’s heritage. (Joachim himself had written a concerto “in the Hungarian manner” in 1857; Brahms later composed for the violinist a similarly inspired third movement for his concerto.) Over viola tremolos, the first violins introduce a crisp rhythmic motive, which turns into a fiery tune in double-stops for the soloist. Following a bold orchestral statement of the tune, the soloist sets off on florid passages, which arrive at the soaring second theme—grandly presented, first, by the orchestra, then by the soloist on the violin’s lowest string. Another virtuosic episode ensues, eventually leading to a recap of the main theme. A powerful reprise of the soaring melody leads to an exchange between orchestra and soloist on the fiery tune. Then, as the tempo accelerates, the violin plunges from high to low and back up with wide leaps, after which soloist and orchestra make an exhilarating dash to the finish. 

Program note by Hannah Chan-Hartley, PhD

RICHARD STRAUSS

Also sprach Zarathustra (Thus Spoke Zarathustra), Op. 30

In the 1880s and 90s, Richard Strauss (1864–1949) made his name internationally as the bold, modernist composer of tone poems. A single-movement work that illustrates or evokes the content of an extramusical source such as a story, poem, or painting, a tone poem was a novel way to structure an orchestral piece compared to the more abstract forms of a multi-movement symphony. With each one he composed—from Don Juan (1888) and Tod und Verklärung (Death and Transfiguration, 1889), to Till Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks (1895) and Ein Heldenleben (A Hero’s Life; 1898)—Strauss found innovative and ever expansive methods of using orchestral timbre, texture, and sonority to vividly convey the breadth of human experience.

Strauss composed his tone poem Also sprach Zaruthustra (Thus Spoke Zarathustra) in 1896 and conducted the premiere in November that year to great acclaim. The work, as indicated in its subtitle, is based “freely after” Friedrich Nietzsche’s book of 1883–1885, which the composer had read (among other works by the philosopher) during a period when he was emerging out of a personal crisis. Facing a collapse of faith in the then-dominant metaphysical view of music—i.e., that music could convey redemptive spiritual truths—Strauss found in Nietzschean philosophy a new concept and purpose for his music.

To this end, Zarathustra is Strauss’s first composition to manifest an anti-metaphysical view of music. From Nietzsche’s book, he selected the prologue and eight of its 80 subsections, the titles of which he indicates in the orchestral score and are outlined below. These sections, though in a different order from the book, form an overarching “narrative” that still highlights its central theme: in a world where (in Nietzsche’s formulation) “Gott ist tot” (God is dead), human beings should strive to evolve into a “higher humanity” (the Übermensch— “overhuman” or “superhuman”), which can only be achieved through an individual’s persistent overcoming of metaphysical longing (blind faith, superstition, ignorance) in eternally recurring cycles. To convey this concept, Strauss links key ideas with musical motives, whose presentation, recurrence, and transformation we can follow through the piece.

Prologue. The text of Nietzsche’s Prologue, quoted in full at the beginning of the score, describes Zarathustra awakening and addressing the sun in admiration of its light. After ten years in solitude on top of a mountain, he decides to descend to be among humans again. In what has become one of the most famous excerpts of classical music due to its use in Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 film 2001: A Space Odyssey, trumpets introduce the first of the piece’s fundamental musical motives: a three-note call in the tonality of C, representing “Nature” as the great unsolved “world riddle” that all humanity must face. After two more calls, the orchestra arrives at a resounding C major chord, on which the organ is left hanging.

“Von den Hinterweltlern” (Of the afterworldsmen). Zarathustra reflects on the beliefs of his youth, characterized by the “dream and fiction of a God”. Cellos and double basses start this section with a shuddering phrase. Soon after, they pluck out the “Longing” motive with its characteristic upward reach that evokes mankind’s desire to understand; set in B minor, the tonal area symbolizing humankind, it will come into conflict with “Nature’s” tonality of C throughout the tone poem, thus signifying the irreconcilability of the two realms. “Longing” is immediately answered apprehensively by muted horns on a phrase representing blind religious faith (Strauss added the words “Credo in unum deum” (I believe in one God) to these notes in the score). Strings and organ begin a hymn, which builds with intensity to a warm peak, then relaxes as a lone violin wanders upward.

“Von der großen Sehnsucht”(Of the great longing). The reverie is interrupted by the return of the “Longing “motive in the lower strings, which is further developed in this section. Zarathustra realizes that “this God which I created was human work and human madness, like all gods!” “Nature’s” call repeatedly punctuates the turbulent texture, like a critique barring further attempts to carry on with a religious life.

“Von der Freuden- und Leidenschaften” (Of joys and passions). Zarathustra’s epiphany leads him to determine a new solution to the “world riddle”: to “listen to the voice of the healthy body,” which is a “purer and more honest one” than that of religion. Violins unleash a swirling theme in C minor that surges forth with youthful vigour. As they reach their climax, trombones blast out the first statement of a new important motive, “Disgust”, which disrupts further progress. Two quicker variants sound in the bassoons, trombones, cellos, and double basses, dissolving into the…

“Das Grablied” (Song of the grave). TheLonging” motive (in B minor) returns, this time given a chromatic extension by solo violin, as oboe and English horn carry over the swirling theme. Zarathustra takes stock, surveying the “graves of my youth” where he has relegated his metaphysical hopes—his “sights and visions”, “all you glances of love, you divine momentary glances”. The restless web of motives builds, until once again, a trumpet sounds the “Nature” motive, after which they wind down into a single falling line on solo cello.

“Von der Wissenschaft” (Of science). Several cellos and double basses initiate a slow fugue, which represents the rationality of science as another solution to the “world riddle”. Making its way up the strings and woodwinds, the subject begins on the original three notes of the “Nature” motive in C, then extends into a melody using all twelve notes of the chromatic scale. The tempo picks up with the relaunch of the B minor “Longing” motive; it soon morphs into a hopeful new melody in B major—the “Ideal” theme, a glimpse of the “overhuman”—on flutes and first violins, then becomes a sparkling dance tune on woodwinds and strings. But soon, the shimmering vision of the latter is confronted by “Nature”, which triggers a gradual build-up of “Disgust”.

“Der Genesende” (The convalescent). The “Disgust” motive swirls fiercely around entries of the fugue subject, suggesting the violent dismantling of faith in scientific rationality. A terrifying climax is reached, on C, as the lower brass announce in colossal fashion the “Nature” motive. Afterwards, a dramatic silence, evoking the parallel moment in Nietzsche’s text in which Zarathustra “fell down like a dead man and remained like a dead man for a long time.” He awakens (the section restarts with the “Longing” and “Disgust” motives in B minor) and the idea of eternal recurrence comes to him: “Everything goes, everything returns; the wheel of existence rolls forever.” In an extended transitional passage, the “Disgust” motive is transformed into a cheeky laugh on high clarinet, while “Longing”, now in B major, assumes a joyous mien as it dialogues with the “Dance” theme.

“Der Tanzlied” (The dance song). Zarathustra discovers a “new music”—“one must have chaos in one, to give birth to a dancing star”—having arrived at the revelation that overcoming metaphysical longing is not a state of permanent freedom, but rather “is a cycle of disgust and recovery that must continue eternally,” as noted by musicologist Charles Youmans. The music begins on the “Nature” motive, then spins out to a lilting melody on solo violin (in C major), itself an introduction to the “Dance” theme which is now recast as an exuberant waltz played by the strings. Later, the “Longing” motive (now in B major) is taken up into the dance, moving through various keys, nearly though never actually resolving into C major. It cycles through intensifying waves, eventually culminating in a massive climax.

“Das Nachtwanderlied” (The night-wanderer’s song). Over tolls of the “midnight” bell, the climax subsides. Violins sing the “Ideal” theme in B major, suggesting humanity’s persistent dream of its continued evolution. But it will come with no easy answers—near the end, this rarified B major realm in the upper woodwinds and violins is haunted by that of the C major of “Nature”, its motive quietly plucked by cellos and double basses, before fading out on a final C.

Program note by Hannah Chan-Hartley, PhD

Artists

  • Conductor Alexander Shelley
  • 323448776-1226118521320468-4351194276933999285-n-cropped
    Violin Kerson Leong
  • Composer Ian Cusson
  • Featuring NAC Orchestra
  • Stage Manager Tobi Hunt McCoy

Credits

NAC Orchestra

First Violins
Yosuke Kawasaki (concertmaster)
Jessica Linnebach (associate concertmaster)
Noémi Racine Gaudreault (assistant concertmaster)
Emily Kruspe
Marjolaine Lambert
Emily Westell
Manuela Milani
Carissa Klopoushak
*Martine Dubé
*Erica Miller
*Georgy Valtchev
*Renée London
*John Corban
*Alexander Lozowski

Second Violins
*Miho Saegusa (guest principal)
Jeremy Mastrangelo
Frédéric Moisan
Leah Roseman
Edvard Skerjanc
Winston Webber
Mark Friedman
Zhengdong Liang
*Oleg Chelpanov
*Andréa Armijo Fortin
*Heather Schnarr
*Bethany Bergman
*Sara Mastrangelo
*Sarah Williams

Violas
Jethro Marks (principal)
David Marks (associate principal)
David Goldblatt (assistant principal)
Paul Casey
David Thies-Thompson
Tovin Allers
*Mary-Kathryn Stevens
*Kelvin Enns
*Sonya Probst
*Brenna Hardy-Kavanagh

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

Double Basses
*Sam Loeck (guest principal)
Max Cardilli (assistant principal)
Vincent Gendron
**Marjolaine Fournier
*Talia Hatcher
*Brandyn Lewis
*Paul Mach
*Doug Ohashi
*Travis Harrison

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

Oboes
Charles Hamann (principal)
Anna Petersen
*Anna Hendrickson
*Lief Mosbaugh

English Horn
Anna Petersen

Clarinets
Kimball Sykes (principal)
Sean Rice
*Shauna Barker
*Eric Abramovitz

Bassoons
Darren Hicks (principal)
Vincent Parizeau
*Thalia Navas
*Nicolas Richard

Horns
*Louis-Philippe Marsolais (guest principal)
Julie Fauteux (associate principal)
Lawrence Vine
Lauren Anker
Louis-Pierre Bergeron
*Olivier Brisson
*Micajah Sturgess
*Marie-Sonja Cotineau

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

Trombones
*Steve Dyer (guest principal)
Colin Traquair
*Felix Regalado

Bass Trombone
Zachary Bond

Tubas
Chris Lee (principal)
*Austin Howle

Timpani
*Andrei Malashenko (guest principal)

Percussion
Jonathan Wade
*Andrew Johnson
*Andrew Harris

Harp
*Angela Schwarzkopf (guest principal)
*Alanna Ellison

Celeste
*Frédéric Lacroix

Organ
*Thomas Annand

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