Alexander Shelley and Canada's National Arts Centre Orchestra conclude critically acclaimed album series with fall festival and final release
Clara, Robert, Johannes: Romance and Counterpoint unites performances by Angela Hewitt, Stewart Goodyear, Yosuke Kawasaki and the NAC Orchestra of Clara’s Romances for violin and piano Op. 22 and rarely heard solo piano works alongside the fourth symphonies of Robert Schumann and Brahms.
AUGUST 25, 2023 – OTTAWA – Canada’s National Arts Centre Orchestra and its Music Director Alexander Shelley have deepened their creative partnership in recent years with help from the works of three closely linked composers. The point is handsomely underscored by the fourth and final title in their pioneering Clara, Robert, Johannes series. The double disc album, set for release on September 22, 2023, on the Analekta label, offers the compelling combination of the fourth symphonies of Robert Schumann and Johannes Brahms. These towering landmarks of the orchestral repertoire are presented in company with Clara Schumann’s sublime Romances for violin and piano Op. 22, performed by the NAC Orchestra’s Concertmaster, Yosuke Kawasaki, and Canadian pianist Angela Hewitt.
Clara, Robert, Johannes: Romance and Counterpoint also includes Canadian pianist Stewart Goodyear’s interpretations of Clara’s Romance in B minor for piano and Trois Romances for piano Op. 11. Goodyear also highlights Clara’s deep knowledge of Bach’s counterpoint with readings of her Three Fugues on Themes by J.S. Bach, the spellbinding Prelude and Fugue in F-sharp minor and Three Preludes and Fugues Op. 16, and contributes an engaging personal reflection on Clara Schumann’s art entitled, Can I call you Clara?
Each of the Clara, Robert, Johannes volumes, soon to be available as a limited-edition box set, invites listeners to explore the symphonies of Robert Schumann and Johannes Brahms from fresh and enlightening perspectives. The first album, released in 2020, established the project’s programme pattern by presenting both composers’ first symphonies in company with Clara Schumann’s music. Gabriela Montero, one of the NAC Orchestra’s Creative Partners, was soloist in Clara’s Piano Concerto in A minor, and contributed four improvisations inspired by the romantic spirit of Clara’s compositions. Other series highlights include Montero’s seductive account of Clara’s Piano Sonata in G minor; a representative selection of the composer’s Lieder, brought to life by soprano Adrianne Pieczonka and pianist Liz Upchurch; and her yearning Piano Trio in G minor Op. 17.
“With this volume we reach the conclusion of a multi-year, multi-disc exploration of the music and, through that music, of the lives of Clara, Robert and Johannes,” comments Alexander Shelley. “Their creative output reflects not only their individual brilliance and characters, but also the role of the creative artist both in their time and across the centuries. In grappling with the abstract symphonic form at a moment in music history when storytelling was in vogue, Robert and Johannes carried forward a vital mantle, moulding it into their own shape. Clara, a musician of breathtaking skill and breadth, juggling the pressures of a solo career and motherhood, gifted us intimately touching and brilliantly crafted songs and chamber music.”
“It is my hope that across the span of these recordings you have been able to enjoy the mutual inspiration and admiration that is evident between these three friends. It is my hope also that through the prism of these programs and the brilliance of our guests—from the interpretations and improvisations of Gabriela Montero and Stewart Goodyear, to the joyous chamber music of Yosuke Kawasaki, Angela Hewitt, Rachel Mercer, Adrianne Pieczonka and Liz Upchurch—you have garnered a sense of how music was presented and consumed in their time. Fluid, improvisational, tautly constructed, intimate and deeply personal, they speak to us across the ages.”
Nelson McDougall, Managing Director of the NAC Orchestra, pays tribute to all involved in the creation of Clara, Robert, Johannes. “I am excited about the culmination of this series and proud of what it represents,” he notes. “I believe diving into the music of Clara Schumann has been a wonderful opportunity to explore her work in the context of these three composers as a group. It’s also contributed to the overall growth of the Orchestra. And, of course the recordings have featured Clara’s chamber compositions performed by such fantastic musicians as Gabriela Montero, Angela Hewitt, Liz Upchurch and Stewart Goodyear and some fabulous principal players from the Orchestra. Much of the music was recorded during challenging pandemic times, when the NAC Orchestra and Alexander Shelley were the epitome of class, collaboration, and strong mutual support. It has been a truly rewarding project for us.”
The artistic concept underlying Clara, Robert, Johannes was informed by the work of Clara Schumann scholar Julie Pedneault-Deslauriers and Brahms biographer Jan Swafford and refined in consultation with Alexander Shelley. Their insightful programming trains the spotlight on the close relationship that developed between Brahms and the Schumanns and the influence over Brahms and creative energy that stemmed from it.
“People are so often drawn to music by the stories behind it,” comments Nelson McDougall. “The relationship between Clara and Robert Schumann and Brahms is one of the most enthralling narratives in music history. We’re also interested in the fact that the young Clara was, for a time, much more famous than Robert and in how that shifted after their marriage so that his career could take precedence over hers. The exceptional quality of her music begs questions about neglected works by other female composers from the past and what we might be missing.”
The NAC Orchestra and Alexander Shelley are set to celebrate the final album’s release by launching their 2023-24 season with a five-concert festival devoted to the music of the three composers. The series begins on Wednesday, September 13 with a sequence of Clara Schumann’s songs, followed by Robert’s Symphony No. 1 ‘Spring’ and Brahms’s Piano Concerto No. 1, with Emanuel Ax as soloist. Soprano Midori Marsh opens the second concert on Thursday, September 14 with another selection of Clara’s songs, before Nicolas Altstaedt takes the solo part in Robert’s Cello Concerto and Alexander Shelley directs the NAC Orchestra in Brahms’s Symphony No. 1. On September 17, Creative Partner James Ehnes joins forces with Stewart Goodyear and string players from the Orchestra for an afternoon of chamber works by the three composers.
The festival continues Wednesday, September 20 when James Ehnes appears as soloist in Brahms’s Violin Concerto, which will be followed by a trio of Clara’s songs and Schumann’s Symphony No. 3 ‘Rhenish’. Altstaedt and Ehnes return to the National Arts Centre stage on Thursday, September 21 as the soloists in Brahms’s Double Concerto. The final concert of the series also contains a miscellany of Clara’s songs, freshly orchestrated by Canadian composers Sarah Slean and Cecilia Livingston, and Clara’s Piano Concerto, with Isata Kanneh-Mason as soloist. Each evening will include pre-concert discussions led by Julie Pedneault-Deslauriers, Jan Swafford, and musicologist Hannah Chan-Hartley, allowing audiences to discover more about three of the 19th century’s greatest musicians.
ABOUT CANADA’S NATIONAL ARTS CENTRE ORCHESTRA
Since its debut in 1969, the National Arts Centre Orchestra (NACO) has been praised for the passion and clarity of its performances, its visionary educational programs, and its prominent role in nurturing Canadian creativity. Under the leadership of Music Director Alexander Shelley, the NAC Orchestra reflects the fabric and values of Canada, reaching and representing the diverse communities we live in with daring programming, powerful storytelling, inspiring artistry, and innovative partnerships.
Since its inception, the NAC Orchestra has recorded for radio and more than 40 commercial recordings many of the 80+ new works it has commissioned, primarily from Canadian composers. These include:
- Angela Hewitt’s 2015 JUNO Award-winning album of Mozart piano concertos;
- The ground-breaking Life Reflected, which includes My Name is Amanda Todd by the late Jocelyn Morlock (winner of the 2018 JUNO for Classical Composition of the Year);
- Ana Sokolović’s Golden Slumbers Kiss Your Eyes, 2019 JUNO Winner for Classical Composition of the Year (from the 2019 JUNO-nominated New Worlds);
- The 2020 JUNO-nominated The Bounds of Our Dreams, featuring pianist Alain Lefèvre;
- Clara, Robert, Johannes: Lyrical Echoes, nominated for Classical Album of the Year at the 2023 JUNO Awards.
ABOUT THE NATIONAL ARTS CENTRE
The National Arts Centre (NAC) is Canada’s bilingual, multi-disciplinary home for the performing arts. The NAC presents, creates, produces, and co-produces performing arts programming in various streams — the NAC Orchestra, Dance, English Theatre in collaboration with Black Theatre Workshop, French Theatre, Indigenous Theatre, and Popular Music and Variety — and nurtures the next generation of audiences and artists from across Canada. The NAC is located in the National Capital Region on the unceded territory of the Anishinaabe Algonquin Nation.
THANK YOU TO OUR PARTNERS
The National Arts Centre Foundation wishes to acknowledge the leadership support of Mark Motors Group, Official Car of the NAC Orchestra. The NAC Orchestra Music Director role is supported by Elinor Ratcliffe, C.M., O.N.L., LLD (hc). Special thanks to the Janice & Earle O’Born Fund for Artistic Excellence.
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