NAO’s “Double of Brahms” Reply

Review by Tony Kilgannon

The 2nd concert of the BROTT SUMMER FESTIVAL – A Double of Brahms was a thoroughly satisfying evening of great music beautifully played, and listened to under conditions that I think were absolutely ideal. The evening began with the Fidelio Overture, a piece which is unmistakeably Beethoven. The concert programme announced it as his “middle period symphonic style” (that alone would get the rapt attention of this huge fan of the Fifth Symphony!). It was conducted by Brendan Hagan, Maestro Brott’s apprentice, and was a delight, allowing the mind to focus, the ears to tune, and something inside the listener to open up and receive the music. Like so many of life’s pleasure’s Fidelio seems too short!

Maestro Brott stepped back onto the conductor’s podium for Brahms’ Symphony No.3 in F major. Before lifting his baton to the orchestra, informed us, along with other things, that Brahms is interpreted in more than one way, depending partly on the size of the orchestra.

I gathered that we were about to hear the “classical” version, with its “sense of athleticism”. It was a thoroughly enjoyable performance with the orchestra sounding confident, controlled & powerful. One could isolate and follow the various sections with ease, feeling the ebb and flow of the symphony through them. I like the way this group plays, and I very much the impact of their sound in this relatively small venue.

Before the concert, I found a group of the male players adjusting their ties, etc. before going onstage. They welcomed me into their light conversation, and I brought up the subject of the Brahms symphony. A young bassoon player very enthusiastically told me “I love to play Brahms. Brahms and Beethoven are my favourites to play!” That enthusiasm, so readily displayed, framed the whole symphony for me. It was partly the result of the smaller, more intimate venue that I had that experience. In a previous review, mentioned the generosity of Denninger’s; plus the availability of Highlander Brewery; & wines from Rockway Glen Estate Winery.

For the second half, Brahms’ Concerto in A minor for Violin, Cello, and Orchestra which was the highlight of the evening, with two fantastic soloists for the price of one (“four hands, no waiting…”). Yehonatan Berick based in both Ann Arbor Michigan and in Toronto, played the violin, and cellist Rachel Mercer, former member of the N.A.O. How does one describe such a sonic treat? Two such powerful musicians; on two such glorious instruments playing music designed by one of the greatest composers. who ever lived. It would be hard to imagine a more musical and exciting rendition of this work. The soloists & orchestra thrilled me from start to finish.

The National Academy Orchestra is a professional training orchestra, with a unique mentor-apprentice program. While we enjoy the great skills and enthusiasm of these young players, we also have the pleasure of knowing that they are gaining invaluable experience playing for us under the tutelage of the Maestro. This is the 25th Anniversary year of the Brott Festival, and the upcoming schedule is a full and varied one. Check for information and for a schedule of upcoming concerts on the homepage of this publication.

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