NAC Orchestra ticket tips 2018–19

A friend asked whether I have any suggestions for next season at my adopted hometown’s symphony orchestra. I sure do. Here you go:

Opening Night With Beethoven, Sept. 13: Musical director Alexander Shelley kicks off a Beethoven festival, featuring all the symphonies. For opening night, he’s playing the first three, which cover the distance between Beethoven as a fiery young man who already had some ideas about how to personalize the language of Haydn and Mozart (Symphony 1), and Beethoven as history-making genius (Symphony 3). And Shelley has strong opinions about how to conduct these pieces (in many instances, way faster than the orchestra used to play them).

Britten War Requiem, Nov. 9: For the centenary of the armistice that ended WWI, a sombre landmark of 20th-century music, played by Shelley with NACO, a huge choir, and a visiting German youth orchestra.

Stars (Dec. 15) and Patrick Watson (Jan. 19) with the NAC Orchestra: Two great Montreal alternative-pop acts, in concert performance with the full orchestra. The NAC has played host in the past to pop artists who were touring with orchestral accompaniment, but this is the first time such shows have been conceived from the ground up for performance in Ottawa.

Pinnock’s St. Matthew Passion, Jan. 17–18: The great British Baroque specialist Trevor Pinnock used to be the NAC Orchestra’s music director in the 1990s. He returns to conduct Bach’s most ambitious work, for two orchestras, two choirs and vocal soloists.

Bronfman’s Beethoven, Feb. 7–8: Principle guest conductor John Storgårds concocts one of his trademark mad-scientist programs, with eerie minimalism from the Estonian mystic Arvo Pärt, British pastoralism from Vaughan Williams, and Beethoven’s 4th Piano Concerto (official tourist slogan: “It may even be more fun than his 5th”), played by Yefim Bronfman, who’s probably the greatest living performer of the big 19th-century piano repertoire.

James Ehnes — Music for a Sunday Afternoon, March 24: These occasional Sunday-afternoon chamber-music concerts at the National Gallery’s 400-seat auditorium routinely sell out. This one certainly will. It’s becoming clearer every year that James Ehnes isn’t just “a leading Canadian violinist” or whatever. He’s one of the most lyrical voices on the instrument anywhere. He also has close friendships with several NACO musicians, and the results will be on display in this intimate setting.

Marriage of Figaro in Concert, June 12–14: Alexander Shelley leads the orchestra in a concert performance (no sets or costumes) of Mozart’s wonderful opera. Three hours of glory to end the season.