Concert Review: “Our Grand Finale: Choral Spectacular!”

Choral Spectacular, NAO’s terrific Festival closer 

The Brott National Academy Orchestra finished its 30th season with a superlative concert; four featured soloists and seventy-four choir-members selected from dozens of diverse venues – all coming together as one coordinated unit. The magic required to accomplish such a feat was contributed by chorus manager Paul Hawkins and under the mastership of Stephane Potvin. The latter is artistic director of MUSIKAY, a small ensemble whose popularity is growing with each season, but the challenge of creating something tenfold in size boggles the mind. It would be egregious not to mention the challenge facing the podium – choral group AND an orchestra.

Bradley, Segal, MacMaster & Westman performing ‘Ode to Joy with the NAO & Chorus

Brott’s knowledge, expertise and appreciation of classical music is certainly revealed in his program selections. Choosing movements from Gustav Mahler’s Symphony #2 (1894) and Beethoven’s 9th symphony is serendipitous. The Mahler was composed seventy years after the famous ‘Choral’ and was immediately considered a plagiarized concept. But both pieces are totally different – just the included vocalizations. The N.A.O.; soloists and Festival Chorus performed the 4th& fifth movements of the Mahler work written as a platform for poems of the period. ‘Ulricht’ translates as earliest light, or reference to the beginning of ‘Genesis’. The 5th’s name ‘Aufersteh’n’ somewhat decodes as ‘re-rising’. This writer has of-times opined that Mahler’s intent was based on his Jewish background; but given that he was an ardent fan of Richard Wagner, I’m probably wrong! In any case, the presentation of the work, especially the utilization of a brass quintet performing beside the audience gave the effect of a resonating echo chamber. Listening to the three contributing elements working as one was something worthy of memory retention.
Orff’s Carmina Burana is a 24-part cantata based on Medieval poetry and represented by the composer in songs and dances. The selection- conducted by apprentice Ruï Azoulay was the part III ‘In Taberna’, (which this humble scribe always thought was part 2!) The two male soloists John MacMaster & James Westman contributed a very guy-ish reading with some dude-like sound effects somehow expected in a bar. Azoulay demonstrated that a season with the NAO and the opportunity afforded, make him almost the equal of his mentor.
Beethoven’s 9th – the Choral’ was composed after he was completely deaf. Based on Schiller’s 1785 poem ‘Ode to Joy’ the final movement is performed by soloists, chorus and orchestra and is almost a ‘stand-alone’ piece. The male vocalists joined by mezzo Lauren Segal and soprano Leslie Ann Bradley who had performed so exquisitely in the Mahler, together brought all the fervor and emotion that the movement needs. Hearing almost eighty voices singing out the poetry and creative melody of the work either raises the audience to a poignant pitch, or else has failed. This event was certainly the former.
Part of the lyrics state ‘freude trinken alle wesen’, “every creature drinks in-joy, at Nature’s breast.” Hopeful wish in these times of global warming & pollution problems.
Some years ago, while competing in a yacht race in Detroit, I learned from another competitor that the Ford ‘Mustang’ category was always working five years ahead before a new vehicle’s tweaks would be produced…Five years! The NAO takes recent successful graduates in musicology, brings them together with established orchestral principals; and forms them into a cohesive unit. This all takes place within nine months and almost assures the young musicians a successful career. It’s been doing so for thirty years. The industry demands that there be at least ANOTHER thirty years of such accomplishment. To fail would be egregious.

Original story found at: https://ontarioartsreview.ca/2017/08/18/choral-spectacular-naos-terrific-festival-closer/

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