Chamber music? Strauss’s Rosenkavalier Suite, Mahler’s Symphony No. 5 and a new piece for a large orchestra? Hardly – but Roman Borys, one of the music directors of the festival (and better known in some parts as the cellist in Toronto’s Gryphon Trio) explained it all to me. When the NYOC comes to Ottawa they usually play at the National Arts Centre – but the Centre is unavailable this summer. So Ottawa’s Chamberfest stepped up to present the ensemble.
Okay, they don’t all want to be musicians: some of them will go on to lead productive lives as doctors, lawyers and stock-brokers. And even those who do plan on a career in music have a few thousand hours in the practice-room ahead of them. These young musicians are highly skilled – yet as with most youth orchestras, there’s a blunt enthusiasm about the NYOC that time will no doubt refine.
But, as they say, no pain, no gain – and under the emphatic baton of Jonathan Darlington, the Strauss and Mahler taxed the young musicians to the max. Playing in an ensemble like the NYOC that puts big, demanding, repertoire up on the music stand is an excellent experience for these kids at this point in their development.
I mentioned a new piece on the program. It was called Soma, and was written for the NYOC by Brian Current, a young-and-happening composer from Toronto. Soma is a glittery, kaleidoscopic work, all colour and texture. Sometimes when I hear a contemporary piece like this – in which concrete thematic material is pretty much absent – I’m inclined to dismiss it as “an orchestration in search of a composition.” But I quite liked Soma: it was elegantly fluid, and well paced, with a sure-footed sense of drama.
And now it’s time for a little rant. As they always do, the NYOC inserted a political advertisement into their program. Two players got up and spoke: a young woman from Quebec, and a young man from Alberta – except la Québécoise began her remarks in English, and the Albertan opened in French. Get it? National unity at work! Then they introduced the musicians by province (which is always a little embarrassing for the Maritimes, represented by only a smattering of players – but what can you do?) It saddens me to see that the NYOC feels it has to posture in this way to safeguard its government funding. And it saddens me more to think that the underlying assumption – that our politicians don’t give a hang about the arts – is probably true.
© Colin Eatock 2011