When I was offered a pair of tickets to see the NAC Orchestra for their Casual Fridays series, I knew exactly whom I wanted to take. My Dad was a drummer back in the day, and taught me almost everything I know about music. He’s also forgiven me for somehow genetically bypassing every shred of musical talent I might have inherited from him.
I have to admit that as much as I am a fan of the NAC, I forget how much I love the NAC Orchestra until I see them again. It’s easy to forget we have this incredible, world-class ensemble right here in our own home town. Did you know the NAC has a new Music Director this fall? Alexander Shelley will succeed Pinchas Zukerman as Music Director in September. He was the conductor of Friday’s performance and he was a joy to watch. Aside from a welcoming and genial manner, he’s a handsome young thing. Imagine being the Music Director of Canada’s national orchestra at only 35 years old!
Friday’s performance included two very different musical pieces: Beethoven’s Piano Concerto #1 and Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite. The guest pianist for the Beethoven performance was even younger than Shelley (so much for the NAC Orchestra being an affair for grey-hairs!), twenty-two year old Benjamin Grosvenor. He absolutely blew me away! I loved watching him play – his mastery was beyond question, but there was something delightful in just watching his body language as his fingers flew up and down the keyboard, and how he seemed to connect with Shelley and defer to him throughout the piece. He was about half way through the concerto, which runs about 40 minutes or so, when my jaw dropped open in astonishment as I realized he was playing without a score – he was playing from memory. That’s maybe 100 pages or so of sheet music. And I can’t tell you what I had for breakfast most days.
I liked the Stravinsky piece a little less than the Beethhoven, simply because I had so enjoyed watching Grosvenor play. With the Stravinsky piece they introduced an element you don’t often associate with a classical orchestral concert: a puppeteer. She used transparencies and a projector and odd bits of things like feathers and pieces of lace to interpret Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite, which reminded me of a modern movie score. While I appreciated the interpretation as interesting, I actually found it detracted a bit from the performance in some spots, and I think I would have rather simply watched the musicians and the conductor. That’s my favourite part of a live musical performance: choosing one particular instrument or even one particular musician and studying them as the music flows through and around them. It was genuinely delightful to watch Alexander Shelley and the joyfulness of his body language as the Stravinsky piece barreled toward its finale. I may have a little musical crush on him now!
Two of the boys are taking music lessons right now. Had I had an inkling of Grosvenor’s performance before hand, I may have considered taking Simon instead. He’s playing a piano recital at the end of May and has also memorized his performance – all 45 seconds of it. Tristan’s class has taken up band instruments in music class, and he has chosen the trombone, which seems like an absolutely random and yet somehow perfect instrument for him. I’m very much hoping he chooses to join the school band in a few years. I think my experience with my own school band helps me appreciate events like Friday’s concert that much more, even though I’ll be the first to admit that I never was much of a musician. I think they’d both benefit from seeing the NAC Orchestra in action, now that they have a little bit of musical experience of their own for context.
I was curious to ask my Dad’s opinion of Shelley’s performance on the drive home from the NAC. He’s played with many musical organizations over the years, including Orchestra London. He too was impressed by Shelley’s joie de vivre and mastery over the performances.
Seems like I’ve got a bit of a dilemma on my hands now. Whom shall I bring for the next NAC date night? One thing is for sure – there will be a lot more NAC Orchestra in our lives in the next little while. And if you haven’t recently gone out on a date with your Dad, I highly recommend that, too!