An evening at Canada’s National Arts Centre always guarantees an enjoyable performance of the highest calibre. When a show boasts the world premiere of a work, a talented Canadian pianist, and a renowned conductor at the helm of “The Great” symphony, one knows they are in for an unforgettable treat.
The May 16th performance at the NAC opened with the premiere of composer Ana Sokolovic’s Ringelspiel, a work specifically commissioned by the National Arts Centre orchestra. Although she was born in Yugoslavia, Sokolovic now lives in Montréal, teaching at the Université de Montréal where she received her Master’s degree. As she explained via a brief video introduction to the work, Ringelspiel is Austrian German for “merry-go-round”. Indeed, the piece used various mechanical sounds and circular motion to conjure up images of a once-grand fair ride cranking to life at the opening, labouring through its circuit, and finally breaking down at the conclusion. Sokolovic, who sat in the audience for the performance and appeared onstage afterwards, appeared thrilled by its execution at the hands of conductor Ainars Rubikis.
After exposure to a brand new work, concertgoers were presented with Ludwig van Beethoven’s decidedly better-known Piano Concerto No. 4 in G major, featuring Canadian pianist Marc-André Hamelin. First performed in Vienna in 1808 and considered radical at the time, the piece does not fail to delight and surprise audiences even in 2013. Throughout this performance, the interplay between soloist and orchestra was highlighted, as Hamelin and the NAC orchestra conversed beautifully to create a whole that was, indeed, greater than the sum of its already outstanding parts. Both soloist and instrumentalists were allowed to shine, as the two remained divided throughout most of the concerto until concluding triumphantly united. Hamelin, who was born in Montréal and began studying piano at the age of five, offered a delicate touch to juxtapose the expressive orchestra, and received an overwhelming and well-deserved standing ovation after his performance.
The second half of the program consisted of Franz Schubert’s Symphony No. 9 in C major, commonly referred to as “The Great”. This work, the final symphony Schubert completed before his early death at the age of thirty-one, maintains a high level of energy and a lively pace throughout, keeping an audience breathless and riveted. The expressive passages and grand musical statements offered herein were perfectly suited to a conductor with a flare for the dramatic.
Originally conducted – and lauded – by legendary composer Felix Mendelssohn, “The Great” remained in talented hands, as dynamic Latvian conductor Ainars Rubikis masterfully led the work. Rubikis, who made his Canadian premiere with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra only last year, conducted with energy, expression, and enthusiasm, often abandoning his baton and throwing his entire body into his passionate direction. Rubikis’s excitement seemed to infect not only the audience but the always-splendid NAC orchestra as well as they delivered this lengthy yet invigorating symphony. A beautiful oboe solo by Charles Hamann was especially noteworthy.
Any evening spent with the NAC orchestra promises to be memorable. One that offered the opportunity to experience as much as was presented during this performance in particular, however, was truly unforgettable.
Photos & musical information accredited to the National Arts Centre