October 2020 update on live performances and events at the NAC.
Pinchas Zukerman ©Cheryl Mazak
NACO Home Delivery

Pinchas Zukerman Plays Mozart

This special Home Delivery arrives just in time to wish Pinchas Zukerman a very happy birthday on July 16.  

The NAC Orchestra has enjoyed a long and fruitful relationship with the brilliant musician Pinchas Zukerman, as guest artist, Music Director, and now Conductor Emeritus, with many memorable concerts on tour in Europe, China, the Middle East and the UK, throughout Canada, and at home in Ottawa.

This special relationship began over 40 years ago with Pinchas’ 1976 debut as a visiting guest artist, flourished during the 1990 European Tour where he both played and conducted, and culminated in his appointment as Music Director in 1999. As you can imagine, there have been many great moments onstage and in the recording studio with Pinchas Zukerman and the NAC Orchestra. With advice from our musicians who were there in performance, we have selected two standout archive recordings from 2000 and 2002.

In 2000, Pinchas led the Orchestra on a tour of Europe. Hear this archive from a concert on October 23 in Paris at the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées, with one of Pinchas’ signature pieces—Mozart’s sublime Violin Concerto No. 3.

Then, we have an archive from September 2002, taken in Southam Hall, with Pinchas Zukerman conducting the Orchestra in its first performance of Bruckner’s towering Symphony No. 7. This Symphony is monumental for both its large scale and length (nearing 70 minutes!) but also for its searing intensity and lush climaxes. Many considered Bruckner to be indulgent in his writing but in Pinchas’ hands, we hear the Orchestra sound both intimate and expansive, showcasing their truest sound.

Reflection from Violinist Winston Webber

“The NAC Orchestra is playing Bruckner 7.” That substantial bit of programming would not raise many eyebrows now, but 20 years ago it sure did. 

For its first three decades, the NAC Orchestra was virtually identified with Mozart, Haydn and Beethoven – big music for a small orchestra that took on a special vitality when NACO played it, all 46 of them. The original idea of the NAC Orchestra was a “classical-sized” orchestra, modelled on an orchestra in Mannheim, famous during Mozart’s time for its discipline and the solo quality of its individual players - “an army of generals” it was called. And, originally, NACO’s size was exactly the early Mannheim orchestra – double winds, two trumpets, two horns, timpani and a string section less than half the size of a “full-size” orchestra. But comparisons flew out the window when the new NAC Orchestra followed the Mannheim example by playing the socks off anyone else in the classical repertoire, and in virtuoso modern works for small orchestra also, like the supremely virtuosic Prokofiev “Classical Symphony” – NACO’s party piece for decades. But Bruckner? Never! 

Enter Pinchas Zukerman, who had many times performed Mozart concertos with NACO, conducting by ESP and playing like a god. But he also had ideas for expanding NACO’s repertoire and when he put Bruckner 7 on the schedule, there was a collective intake of breath. Even Mahler – Bruckner’s famous student – wrote in such a way that even some of his largest symphonies would “work” with smaller ensembles. NACO performed Mahler 4 with Pinchas – the smaller scale of that particular symphony being a sort of doorway into the large repertoire – and there are chamber orchestra versions for Mahler’s Fourth, Ninth and Tenth Symphonies and for Das Lied von der Erde – a big symphony by another name. But Bruckner doesn’t work like that, because his characteristic sound is MASSIVE. 

Bruckner worshipped Wagner and adopted some of Wagner’s harmonic language and penchant for huge orchestrations. But, unlike his idol, Bruckner did not need a story or heroic characters to organize and bring his music to life. Bruckner wrote immense, coherent musical structures just as absolute music – no story, just the music. Mentally, he likely could have conceived of even larger musical structures, but basic biology puts a limit on how long an audience can sit.

Bruckner’s Seventh Symphony has less length than most and more memorable music than most, and you’re a lucky person to get to hear the NAC Orchestra’s fresh take on it from this live concert archive in 2002. For this performance, NACO – already grown to 48 players after several years with Pinchas – was further enlarged by 32 additional musicians. So, from a fleet-footed sports car, NACO became a musical ocean liner of 80, majestic in outline and implacable with weight. Such a transformation was only possible with superb musicians and a conductor who has, somehow, Bruckner’s sound in his very DNA. 

The thing that works with Bruckner is – he has the overwhelmingly compelling harmonic language of Wagner – the chromaticism that reaches right inside and twists you into knots - without the whiff of the “Übermensch”. Bruckner as a person was retiring and insecure. His music brings the approach not of the master, but of the supplicant. His unearthly beautiful sacred motets for unaccompanied choir reveal his true heart – a heart, if one is honest, much easier to live with than Wagner’s. A heart – if you get the pace right, which is not today’s pace – that you’ll miss when the 65 minutes of the Seventh Symphony is over and our less consecrated reality returns.

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