Review by Judith Caldwell
Thursday, the National Academy Orchestra of Canada (NAO) offered an evening of fantastic music which began with four much-loved John Williams’ compositions: “The Theme from Superman”; Highlights from Jurassic Park; the “Theme from Schindler’s List” and the flying theme from E.T. Each had their own instantly recognizable leitmotif which then expanded into a grand symphonic film score. Superman was masterful and heroic; Jurassic Park curious and probing and Schindler’s List heartbreakingly haunting (the audience barely breathed during the violin solo played by Concertmaster Mark Skazinetsky). E.T. was light, airy and so hopeful… the music intricate and difficult – written by a true master.
The melodies were so familiar that they had to be played precisely as the audience would have recognized every wrong note. Everyone did notice how brilliantly the five percussions accomplished their task in the big brass section.
The concert included Gustav Holst’s The Planets and Alexander Brott’s Spheres on Orbit. These pieces tested all the orchestral players – especially the brass. They ably rose to the challenge – to the delight of the capacity audience. Four of Gustav Holst planets were divided in half – with Artistic Director Boris Brott conducting Mars and Venus – and Apprentice Conductor Karl Hirzer leading for Mercury and Jupiter.
The interpretation of Mars was extremely masterful and strong and the audience loved it. Venus was more mystical and Mercury was cheeky. Jupiter is probably the best known. This demanding piece of music was done so well. This was probably one of the best renditions of the Planets this scribe has ever heard. Kudos to both conductors and the NAO.
After intermission, came Alexander Brott’s Spheres in Orbit which his son, Boris, said was written at their cottage. With no light pollution, they were able to clearly see the passage of Sputnik. Brott said the satellite fascinated his father in terms of the future of space exploration. Brott senior wished to communicate his feelings in the language of music, and to create a mood which suggested awe-inspiring achievement. According to the program notes, eerie sections punctuated by sharp brass and woodwind utterances, were meant to portray the political battle between the East and the West for space supremacy. It is a shame we do not hear this wonderful piece of Canadian content much more often. It is genuinely interesting and lovely music.
Finally, it was back to John Williams with three more huge movie themes: the ‘March from Raiders of the Lost Ark’; a concert suite from Harry Potter and a Star Wars medley – complete with storm troopers and a light sabre fight between Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker. It was great fun but it distracted from the music.
The chosen music revealed Williams’ genius. He can instantly transform a recognizable melody of four or six notes into a lush, large orchestral piece. The NAO played superbly and was led by two very capable conductors. The audience went home deeply satisfied. Check out further concerts at BrottFestival.com.