Kelowna Commnity Concert Association (2010-2011 Season)

Concert Review by Charles Velte in The Daily Courier

NBO Concert Bristles with Significance

Rising phoenix-like from the ashes of the CBC Radio Orchestra, Vancouver's National Broadcast Orchestra came to Kelowna Thursday evening with a few things to prove; namely, that they are a major Canadian ensemble, relevant, vital, and with a mission.

That mission is to serve as exponent and sounding board for Canada's composers of serious music, which the group did impressively in the second half of its program. First, however, the NBO opened with some lesser-known pearls of the classic repertoire: Haydn's Symphony 85, Mozart's Rondo Concertante for Violin and Orchestra, and Beethoven's second Romance, again for violin and orchestra. Exuding confidence as well as competence were Alain Trudel, the NBO's conductor, and Jonathan Crow, its featured soloist.

Neither from the program notes nor from the concert itself would one suspect that Maestro Trudel is perhaps the world's greatest living trombone player. What did come across, though, was his knowledge of music, his ease on the podium, and his mastery of many musical styles.

Despite his awesome technique, soloist Crow seems never to have entertained dreams of becoming the world's greatest violinist. He's just a kid who was born and brought up in Prince George and studied violin for a while at the University of Victoria before going after a performance degree at Montreal's McGill University.

Even before graduating from McGill, Crow landed a pretty good position playing second violin with the Montreal Symphony Orchestra. Only months later, he was promoted to Assistant Concertmaster of the MSO. His meteoric rise continued, and two years later Crow became the youngest concertmaster in any major North American orchestra. In 2006 (while the MSO was on strike), Crow was offered--and he accepted--the position of Associate Professor of Violin at McGill.

The NBO itself is a chamber orchestra. It has about 15 strings and (for this outing) seven wind players. It plays with precision, in regard both to duration and to pitch. The group's tonal texture seemed fairly light and transparent to me at first, until I decided that it must be the ensemble's crisp attack and intonation that makes it sound smaller than it actually is.

At the intermission, the subscription audience for Kelowna Community Concerts was perhaps realizing that it was experiencing a high quality group of musicians. The second half of the program would present the concertgoers with not just one but two world premiers of music by Canadian composers.

Equally remarkable was a third Canadian work, commissioned by the NBO, with the composer on hand to explain the piece and answer questions that the audience might pose. World premiers are rare events, as is a performance of a work with the composer in attendance. To have three such occurrences in the same concert is about as rare as winning the big lottery.

The Canadian section started with Jaques Hétu's Adagio and Rondo for Strings, which featured thematic material treated contrapuntally. Many of the chordal happenings were quite strident, but the overall effect was of traditional music.

Next came the premier performance of David Litke's Aedis, which Maestro Trudel admitted was quite bizarre. The work is a fascinating collection of sound effects, but, alas, it seems totally devoid of melody, and it offered no harmonic progressions that the audience could follow. If all this had been superimposed upon a steady beat, the audience might have had a rescue ring on which to cling, but such was not the case; the rhythms were complex and syncopated.

After such a strange sounding concoction, the next world premier, Joel Balzun's Miracle Ten-Zero-Two-Five-One, sounded fairly tame by comparison. At only 19, Balzun shows much promise as a composer.

To bring this remarkable concert to a satisfying conclusion, Maestro Trudel chose the most approachable and traditional of the Canadian works, a handsome, four-movement violin concerto with the composer in attendance and featuring the fine playing of Jonathan Crow. The work, Cameron Wilson's Canadian Seasons, progresses from light and airy in the Maritime spring to dark and depressing in the Nunavut winter.

So as not to give his concert a depressive ending, Trudel started the Canadian Seasons with Autumn in Gatineau Park and ended with a rousing Summer in the Prairies.

Hats off to the Kelowna Community Concert Association for snagging the National Broadcast Orchestra on its inaugural tour and to the NBO for a stimulating concert.

Charles Velte is a former opera singer (1962-67) who holds a Master of Music degree in Music Theory from the University of Wisconsin (1961). He now leads a music appreciation group at the Society for Learning in Retirement.