Friday, September 25, 2009

Beethoven's 3rd Symphony in E-flat Major, Op. 55, "Eroica" at the NAC

I've always been a real fan of bold music ... classical with punch if you will. Beethoven fits; so does Tchaikovsky. Rossini too ... maybe that's getting too close to pop, but so what.

Anyway, as you saw in this post, I attended the closing performance of last season in June -- Brahms' Sublime Requiem. An awesome concert, both halves. I was looking to see what was upcoming and found that the opening performance of the season included Beethoven's 3rd Symphony. Seemed too good to pass up, so I called my friend Jackie to see if she was up for it and then snagged the tickets I'd been eying. First box on the right side, about 20 feet off the stage.

The night arrives and I am debating the dress code ... last time I went business casual and found it pretty OK. But this was opening night and I know that many people really dress for it. The orchestra and choir would be decked out in formal wear (and how!) so it seemed appropriate to break out my rather nice black suit.

Not being a total fool (partial perhaps), I ran this by Jackie and she was planning on a blue or black dress and heels, so we agreed that we had a match. Wow ... I'd forgotten how fricken hot a suit is in warm, humid weather. Oh well ... not too bad with the air conditioner running full blast and Alison Krause playing ...

No images this time by the way ... the F70EXR is still in the shop and I really did not feel like toting the G10 in the suit pocket. Turns out the F11 would have been fine from such a short distance.

Anyway ... got to Jackie's and said hi to the cats, one of whom seemed catatonic. Get it? Jackie gave me a disk of meditative music she had burned to try out. Listening to it now and it's really, really nice ... very native sounding ... some eastern influence too I think. I can imagine that the mind could go away if one were actually meditating ...

Regarding the dress ... the black won ... and clung. Black stockings and heels .... um ... ahhh ....

Anyway ... off to the Green Door restaurant ... a nice little vegetarian buffet with cafeteria styling. Great food ... I was looking forward to one or two spanky pitas (Spanakapita if you ever try to order one :-) but they were out! Dang. But tons of other fare ... the kale was amazing, the lasagna was nice, the lentils were nice ... I loved the kimchi, first three letters guarantee absolute perfection of course.

Afterward, we went to the ridiculously well stocked dessert section and I got a spectacular chocolate swirl cheesecake. Jackie chose the strawberry lemon cake. I added a thumbelina to see what it was ... turned out to be a cinnamon cookie. All in all ... wow ... they all tasted superb.

We checked out a health food store that was next door ... she wanted me to try a couple of goodies they normally stock, but they were out. A bit disappointing, but I did see one of the most amusing product displays ever ... a whole row of shampoo-style bottles labeled "Green Beaver" ... what a great chuckle.
One could imagine a training center for ladies of the night ... and the rest of my ideas shall remain safely in my head before all my readers (I mean both of you) lose all respect for this blog of high knowledge ...
OK ... Jackie swears that they a great products, and I would not doubt her.

Anyway ... off to the show. I got lazy and parked underneath. Minimal construction tonight (Nevermore was a nightmare for parking) and when we arrived at the top, we enjoyed a drink before show time. The lights flashed and we went to find our seats. I quite like the long walk that signifies that you are really close to the stage. But how close we were took my breath away.

Box 2 hangs over the 6th row normally, but the orchestra requires a much bigger stage, so rows BB through FF are covered and we hang just over rows 1 through 3. Wow. Can't say enough about sitting up there ... stunning view of the orchestra and choir and stunning acoustics.

So ... the program. Well, it turns out that this is the 40th Anniversary of this orchestra. Awesome. A very special opening night.

And the lineup of music and performers is ... well ... I'm getting tired of superlatives. Can you just imagine that I use some variation of stunning or superb as I go along?

So the Cantata Singers of Ottawa opened with a 13 minute piece composed by Brahms. Very cool for Brahms to close last season and open this season. The choir is not huge ... call it about 40 to 50 members. I think they made up about 1/3 of the 150 member uber-choir that sang with the requiem to close last year.

This piece turns out to have some wonderful punctuation and counter points ... kind of a battle between groups of singers. Very nice. All in all, it was about the right length.

The Orchestra came out next and played the Jubilee Overture, composed by Michael Forsyth. He is unique this evening in that he is still around and even more so because he was there for the performance. And sitting in the same box we were ... but on the other side :-)
Aside ... I'm on the second track of the CD Jackie made for me. Oh my god ... this woman has a beautiful voice ... an angel ...
By the way, this was the first-ever performance of this overture by the NAC Orchestra. And it was a beauty. I enjoyed everything about it. Two sets of tympani ensured an exciting and dramatic piece and I was not disappointed. The brass section got a real workout. Just excellent.

At the end, they got a standing ovation and the composer stood and received one as well. It was a really, really nice moment.

The third piece of the first half was Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto in E Minor, Op. 64 with guest violinist Gil Shaham. After reading his Wikipedia page, I must say that we were in the presence of greatness. He is an amazing artist and plays at the top of his field. He sounded incredible, but I had no idea beforehand.

As he walked onto the stage, he formally addressed the lead violinist (what is that position really called?) of the NAC Orchestra and they shook hands and spoke. Shaham's smile is infectious and it rarely leaves his face, except when his concentration hits its peak, in which case his face is equally compelling. Anyway, the greeting seems to be one of those "I am in your house as a guest" kind of protocols and it adds quite a bit to the feeling of the proceedings.

And when it got going, he played stunningly fast and every note just sounded right. Runs up and down at such speed that it was breathtaking. I've really not heard anything like it ... a beautiful piece of music and a brilliant musician and orchestra make for a pretty compelling combination. I found myself engaged throughout, despite my tendency to connect too deeply and thus get drowsy in the slow parts. It did not work that way with this performance ...

When it was over another standing ovation ensued. No surprise there. No doubt quite a few members of the audience were aware of just how special he is ... and only 38 years old. That's depressing :-)

So ... on to intermission. The intermission seemed unusually short and we had to down the drinks a little quickly ... but her wine was nice and my diet coke was just a diet coke. Of course, the bar there charges theater prices ...

And now it was time for Beethoven. Wow ... a very long piece, in fact the longest symphony in existence at the time it was written in 1804. Really interesting rhythms ... wonderful staccato tunes that reminded us of Bugs Bunny cartoons ... it was a fun and rewarding performance. I won't try to describe the whole thing because I will not be able to do it justice. I simply enjoyed every minute of it.

A lovely evening shared with a terrific friend. What more is there?

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