Review by Judith Caldwell
The National Academy Orchestra gave an outstanding performance of Beethoven’s monumental Ninth Symphony, in Waterdown, Part of The Brott Music Festival, the concert also featured a large choir and four talented soloists. The N.A.O. is made up of recent music graduates who are just beginning their professional careers. They gain the opportunity to play orchestral music during the Festival, while being mentored by seasoned orchestral players, who give them both musical and business advice. The competition for places is quite fierce and the standards very high.
The Brott Festival Chorus consists of a group of 50 singers from a variety of backgrounds and choral experience, led by Stephane Potvin. The four soloists were Leslie Fagan, soprano; Mia Lennox, mezzo soprano; Michael Colvin, tenor and baritone James Westman.
The Ninth Symphony is a huge work in four movements. The long opening movement, conducted by apprentice conductor, Karl Hirzer, sprawled a bit. When Brott took the baton for the second movement’s – the Scherzo became wonderfully fiery. It held together just when it seemed it would fly apart. The long third movement, Adagio, was deeply solemn and moving. The finale seemed to sift through all the preceding themes before reaching the ‘Ode to Joy’ – the five note theme quietly introduced by the double basses. Then the baritone solo seemed to suggest that the music needed to lighten up. The melody transformed into a jaunty march, which led to a call for universal brotherhood. Finally, the familiar joyful noise arrived.
The performance was energetic, enthusiastic, profound and joyful and the last note had not faded before the audience were on their feet with well deserved applause.
Also on the program was a work called Mijidwewinan – Anishinaabe for Messages – composed in 2008 by Barbara Croall – an extraordinarily talented and powerful Indigenous musician from Manitoulin Island. She sang, recited a text in her language, played a traditional cedar flute, drums and shakers – backed up by the orchestra. Ten episodes told the story of a whole day from the darkness before dawn right through until evening. A haunting flute (shaped like a recorder) solo led into the work – at times atonal and at others melodic – with remarkably natural transitions between the two. There were periods of very loud and stress-filled drumming and other segments that sounded like quiet bird song. The piece ended with another flute solo.
Although there were moments of stress and crisis for Mother Earth, the message was ultimately hopeful. Through working together, we can protect the earth and we can prevail. The near capacity audience, of approximately 1000, loved it.
The next Brott Festival concert, “Popera”, is slated for July 7th, 2016 at the McIntyre Performing Arts Centre in Hamilton.