112614 NACO featuring Michelle DeYoung plays Brahms, Bach, and Wagner, Ottawa, ON

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On November 26th, 2014 I went to hear Canada’s incredible national orchestra play some of the greatest music in human history under the baton of one of the world’s most renowned conductors.  It was pretty good.

I see that I attended in the company of both m’lady and her mother which leads me to believe that I was free to dole out free tickets as fast as they could be printed.  Y’see, every once in a while I receive an email addressed to “Dear Friend of the NAC…” that includes an attached voucher that is good for a pair of tickets to a specific upcoming concert.  Moreover, after enquiring with the box office years ago I discovered that I am allowed to print out as many copies of the voucher as I want to, and I can hand them off to any interested parties I choose (of which I can usually find none).

The tickets are always for weeknight performances and whenever I have taken advantage of them (which was often) I’ve generally scored pretty good seats, so I’ve always assumed these vouchers would get sent out if a show was a tad undersold, though that’s just conjecture.  

Regardless, I’ve seen a lot of great concerts this way.

Speaking of undersold, it’s hard to believe that this ticket doesn’t even mention that the orchestra would be starting with a Johann Sebastian Bach piece, which it did.  Sure, the other two pieces were Brahm’s final symphony which marked the pinnacle of his work and multi-Grammy winning guest vocalist Michelle DeYoung yelping expertly along with Wagner – which is even harder to do than it is to hear – but c’mon now, you’re not even going to mention that the program included music from the greatest composer of all times past present future and in all dimensions?  That’s a little cheeky.

Anyway, the concert was divine.  This was very close to the end of Pinchas Zukerman’s tenure as maestro of the National Arts Centre Orchestra and I gotta tell you, the guy could squeeze some damn fine music out of those fabulous musicians.*  The guy is just an astounding violinist too – even (especially?) when standing amongst other top-tier violin players – and though he didn’t play at this concert it’s clear that he is able to extend the sensitivity he has for the instrument to the entire orchestra.  Which makes sense, as the conductor’s instrument is not his little waving stick (which makes no sound), but the other musicians themselves.  Conductor waves stick, stick controls musicians, musicians react to the best of their ability, and their collective skill equates to the sound of the conductor’s “instrument” just as the quality of a guitar is apparent in the hands of a skilled guitarist.

Sorry, didn’t mean for this to be a tutorial on the merits of conducting, as crude as it is (my tutorial, not the act of conducting).  What I meant to say was “good show”.

Good show.

*Not to take away from Alexander Shelley, who was handed the baton in 2015.  Shelley is also fantastic (and never seems to look down at his scores – if he even has any on the conductor’s podium at all – which always blows me away), and the sound of those same musicians under his control versus the sound when Zukerman was at the helm would be an excellent study for those who wonder what it is a conductor brings to the table.

It’s kind of like Dennis DeYoung-Styx versus Gowan-Styx, but more dramatic.

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