072510 NACO plays Gershwin, Mendelssohn, Estacio, and Prokofiev, Ottawa, ON

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On July 25th, 2010 I made my way to LeBreton Flats for a free (and hence unticketed) concert by the National Arts Centre Orchestra.

To my knowledge this is the only time that the orchestra has held a concert series (this was the final concert – and the only one attended – of a four-day run) on the festival site in front of the War Museum and I’m not sure why; it was a great show and I remember a really impressive crowd in attendance for it.

And of course it was great.  I’ve been fortunate enough to work (regularly but sparsely) for the NACO and I can tell you these are astounding players under very, very qualified direction.  One of my favourite parts of working with the group is hearing them sit en masse and individually warm up.  It is a cacophony of brilliance, every player riffing with a lifetime of instrumental finesse and precision completely out of sync with everyone else.  It’s the ultimate sneakers-in-the-dryer rhythmic trounce; very Cagean and very beautiful to my ears.

And when they actually start playing together the material they perform is from the archives of the greatest composers the world has ever seen so really, they can’t miss.

For this show they were playing Mendelssohn, John Estacio, and Prokofiev, but what got my butt on the grass was the double-shot of Gershwin: Rhapsody in Blue and An American In Paris.  Of course Rhapsody was enough to cement George as one of the twentieth century’s more influential composers, being the pioneer piece of “serious” music that leaned on the blues.  As for An American in Paris, if you don’t know it, I urge you to youtube it.  The piece is a progressive, onomatopoetic cut-and-paste masterpiece that sounds exactly like it’s title (unlike Beethoven’s 5th, which is actually in 4*).  You can feel the taxis on the Rue, you can picture the cafes with characters like Erik Satie and Picasso sharing an absinthe on the patio, you can almost hear the Eiffel Tower in the background.  Nowadays it sounds like the clichéd soundtrack to a ’50’s movie set in New York City but at the time it was written it was innovative, fresh and new.

And how nice to sit on a blanket on a manicured lawn with good friends and a glass of smuggled wine listening to some of the greatest music ever written played by several of the best musicians you’ll ever hear!  And did I mention it was free?

So like I say, I’m not sure why they don’t do this ever year.  Heck, they should do it every weekend! 

*For the record, that was a joke.

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