Review: NACO Returns to Ottawa

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After performing in Toronto and New York, the National Arts Centre Orchestra brought its Truth in our Time program home to the NAC in Ottawa on April 13 and 14.

For my third and last time listening to this concert, I decided to sample the April 14 Livestream. The NAC has significantly upped its videocasting game over the pandemic. Although this particular livestream had a charge attached, plenty of events have been available for free. For all the setbacks and hardships the performing arts have experienced over the course of the Covid-19 pandemic, accessibility gains have been a silver lining. Livestreaming has brought music within easier reach of people who may have found going to a concert in person challenging; people with disabilities, the immunocompromised, the neurodivergent, people with social anxiety, people without easy access to transit or a car, or those caring for young children or older relatives.

The livestream’s multiple camera angles–especially the overhead shots of the percussion section– highlighted the intricate, imaginative orchestration in Nicole Lizée’s Zeiss after Dark. Likewise, close-ups of spoken-word artist Yao–back after missing the April 6 Carnegie Hall concert due to COVID–made his expressive performance feel more intimate and personal.

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NACO showed off its limpid sound and crisp articulation in Toronto and New York, but on home turf the orchestra was at its most relaxed and confident. Darren Hicks, principal bassoon of the Toronto Symphony, replaced NACO’s Chris Millard. Hicks’s long, exposed solo in the Shostakovich Symphony No. 9 was sterner and less plaintive than Millard”s–more sermon than lamentation, a different but equally valid interpretation.

Violinist James Ehnes was the soloist again in the Korngold Concerto. Ehnes is a NACO artist-in-residence; he always seems especially at ease in Southam Hall, and the Ottawa audience adores him. While Ehnes in New York and Toronto soloist Blake Pouliot received applause after the concerto’s first movement, only in Ottawa did the public also clap after the slow movement. The heartfelt Shevchenko encore was as moving as it had been on tour.

Toronto and New York audiences are noticeably less profligate with their standing o’s, so the warm, enthusiastic ovation Alexander Shelley and the orchestra received after the abrupt ending of the Philip Glass must have felt like a homecoming.

The Truth in our Time livestream is available to view for a fee of $15 at until May 5. A video recording of the pre-concert journalist panel, moderated by Paul Wells, can be watched free of charge.

The New York dispatch review

The Toronto Premiere review


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