TRUTH IN OUR TIME: CANADA’S NATIONAL ARTS CENTRE ORCHESTRA AND ALEXANDER SHELLEY PRESENT THE WORLD PREMIERE RECORDING OF PHILIP GLASS’S SYMPHONY NO. 13

Truth in Our Time complements American minimalist’s new symphony with compelling programming including Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 9, Korngold’s Violin Concerto, featuring James Ehnes, and potent contemporary works by Nicole Lizée and Yao 

 "The concert was as much a capsule presentation of the orchestra as an institution as well as a performing ensemble. The NACO has a crisp, slightly light sound, sonorous but expressive through articulation, color, and agility rather than mass, and this suited all the pieces," New York Classical Review of the US Premiere at Carnegie Hall, April 2022  

FEBRUARY 9, 2024 – OTTAWA, CANADA – Music and the arts have long played their part in confronting ‘alternative facts’ with reality and deconstructing political propaganda and reductive rhetoric. The latest recording from Canada’s National Arts Centre Orchestra stands as a fitting tribute to the Canadian American journalist Peter Jennings, anchor of ABC World News Tonight for more than thirty years before his death in 2005, diving deep into the debate surrounding the value of truth and the ways in which composers have probed and reinforced it.  

Truth in Our Time includes the world premiere recording of Symphony No. 13 by Philip Glass, commissioned by the NAC Orchestra (NACO) and first performed by NACO and its Music Director Alexander Shelley in 2022. The new album, set for release by Orange Mountain Music on February 9, 2024, opens with Zeiss After Dark by Canadian composer Nicole Lizée. Its compelling program also includes Erich Wolfgang Korngold’s Violin Concerto, with James Ehnes as soloist, Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 9 and the haunting Strange Absurdity / Étrange absurdité by Yao, a bright star of Canada’s Francophone music scene. 

Peter Jennings gained the trust of his audience for impartial and honest reporting, qualities that he inherited from his father, a prominent radio journalist with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. To honour his commitment to truth-telling, his family supported the NAC Orchestra to commission a new work from Philip Glass in his memory. The composer’s Thirteenth Symphony, inspired by the veracity of Jennings’s reporting, explores the theme of truth in our time. Alexander Shelley chose to couple Glass’s score with Shostakovich’s Ninth Symphony, which was completed weeks after the end of the Second World War, later condemned by Stalin’s regime for its ‘ideological weakness’ and dismissed as an inappropriate response to the great sacrifice made by the Soviet people in their Great Patriotic War against Nazism.  

The program, recorded live in Southam Hall, the Orchestra’s Ottawa home, reflects the Music Director’s determination to create a supporting context for diverse compositions. “Although music can be purely abstract, composers throughout history have often written works to serve a purpose with an intent,” comments Alexander Shelley. “It could have been simply to entertain an audience, to make a deeper point or reflect a story back to us. Truth in Our Time grew from the long conversation we’ve been having at the National Arts Centre about our multifaceted roles as an orchestrasomething we try to refresh as often as possibleone of which is to consider art as one of the pillars of truth in society, or as a means of holding up a mirror to the time in which we live. ‘What is Truth?’ is among today’s most pressing questions, especially with the advent of AI, and this album looks at how composers have responded to it at various times.” 

The composer, whose works frequently explore social and environmental issues, and who admired Peter Jennings, was at the top of the NAC Orchestra’s commission hitlist. “He [Philip Glass] jumped at the idea and said he’d like it to be his next symphony,” recalls Alexander Shelley. “This was the perfect vehicle for us to perform as part of our return to Carnegie Hall after a hiatus. We decided to pair it with works written in the aftermath of the Second World War that showed how the distortion and obfuscation of truth at the time had affected composers. We came to Carnegie Hall just after Russia invaded Ukraine, which raised other questions about war and objective truth.” 

“What can a piece of music express about the idea of truth? When we consider a figure like Peter Jennings, a Canadian by birth, an immigrant, a journalist, an American by choice, rather than making a proclamation about ‘what is truth,’ for the composer we are on much better ground when we talk about ‘This is the music that I listen to, this is the music that I like, and this is the music that I write,’” says Philip Glass about his Symphony No. 13. 

Shelley and the NAC Orchestra gave the world premiere of Glass’s three-movement symphony at Roy Thomson Hall in Toronto on March 30, 2022, presented its US premiere at New York’s Carnegie Hall the following week and returned home to Ottawa soon after for a run of performances at the National Arts Centre. In its assessment of the work’s Carnegie Hall outing, New York Classical Review found that the symphony ‘was full of surprises that felt personal, the artist doing what pleased him rather than what might have been expected. It was simple, and guileless, not trying to guide any feelings but instead nonchalantly opening a myriad of them.’ 

Nelson McDougall, Managing Director of the NAC Orchestra, recalls how audiences in Toronto, New York and Ottawa were receptive to the stories behind the works in Shelley’s Truth in Our Time 

“If you want to punch through the noise of what’s happening on the cultural front in a place like New York, turning up and playing Beethoven Five is not going to cut it,” he notes. “Alexander Shelley’s bold program with the storytelling that runs through it, offered the opportunity to explore the present state of truth in the media. He took part in a pre-concert talk with David Muir, Peter Jennings’s successor at ABC; Gillian Tett, editor-at-large, US of the Financial Times; and Javier C. Hernández, culture reporter for the New York Times. They had a rich and thoughtful conversation around the subject of truth. That’s entirely in tune with the package of work that the NAC Orchestra has delivered since Alexander arrived in post eight years ago.” 

Truth in Our Time seeks to continue that conversation by encouraging listeners to reflect on the album’s overarching theme. Alexander Shelley points to the case of Korngold, whose Violin Concerto represented his return to writing absolute music after a long and successful run of Hollywood soundtrack scores. The Austrian composer, who found refuge in California following Hitler’s annexation of Austria in 1938, marked the defeat of the Nazis in 1945 by making substantial revisions to the score of the Violin Concerto he had written eight years earlier. “Korngold refrained from writing concert music while the Nazis were in power,” notes Shelley. “This concerto was his joyful response to their fall and celebration, if you will, that falsehood had been cut down so that truth could live again.” 

Shostakovich, he adds, subtly undermined the falsehoods and cynicism of Stalin’s regime with his Ninth Symphony, another product of 1945. The light-hearted, occasionally introspective, often ironic score was anything but the triumphal work that the authorities expected from its composer in the aftermath of victory over the Nazis.  

James Ehnes first recorded Korngold’s Violin Concerto in studio in 2006. He says that it was an “unexpected delight” to record the work again. “I value this relationship with Alexander Shelley and the NAC Orchestra as one of the most important and rewarding in my career,” he reflects. “There had been discussions for many years about potentially recording together, but as it turned out, this ‘recording’ was not planned at all. Rather, it was the serendipitous result of having microphones in place for the recording of Philip Glass’s Symphony, and capturing, almost coincidentally, the excitement and energy of a very special night. We have a great history with this piece, having performed it on two separate tours. The concert performance you hear on this recording is the culmination of years of collaboration and a testament to the unique bond between Alexander, the orchestra, and me. I’m beyond delighted to have this souvenir of such a special experience.” 

Canadian composer Nicole Lizée, born in 1973 in Saskatchewan, compresses a wealth of ideas into the brief span of Zeiss After Dark. The work, co-commissioned by the NAC Orchestra and the Toronto Symphony Orchestra as part of Canada’s sesquicentenary celebrations in 2017, is built from multiple layers of percussion, wind and brass sounds that move in and out of focus like an image viewed through the lens of an old Zeiss camera. The piece was directly inspired by the cinematography in a famous scene from Stanley Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon lit solely by candles and filmed with intimate warmth using a special low-light Zeiss lens. “Nicole’s one of the most mind-bendingly brilliant composers of our time,” comments Alexander Shelley. “Her music is rooted in the world of machines, of records, CDs, analogue and digital entities getting stuck and scratching. Zeiss After Dark deals with how music can reflect the flickering light and atmosphere of a film scene, the real-life ‘sound picture’ of a Zeiss lens.” 

Strange Absurdity / Étrange absurdité, written and performed by singer-songwriter and spoken-word artist Yao, is an intensely moving incantation that confronts racism and media culture with references to Billie Holiday and George Floyd. 

ABOUT CANADA’S NATIONAL ARTS CENTRE ORCHESTRA  

Since its debut in 1969, Canada’s 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, 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 Philip Glass Commission is made possible thanks to The Jennings Family. The National Arts Centre Foundation wishes to acknowledge and thank the donors who have made the 2022 NACO Tour possible: Adrian Burns, LL.D. & Gregory Kane, Q.C., Elinor Gill Ratcliffe, C.M., O.N.L., LLD (hc), Susan Glass, C.M. & Arni Thorsteinson, O.M., Ambassador Bruce Heyman and Vicki Heyman, John Roger McCaig, Michael F. B. Nesbitt, Gail O'Brien, LL.D. & David O'Brien, O.C., Earle O'Born and Janice O’Born, C.M., O.Ont, Dasha Shenkman, OBE, Hon RCM, R.N.C. Tennant, and The Hilary and Galen Weston Foundation. 

-30-

Join our email list for the latest updates!