EDINBURGH – While in the United Kingdom for a ten-day tour, the National Arts Centre Orchestra dedicated its first concert to the memory of Cpl. Nathan Cirillo, the soldier killed at the National War Memorial in downtown Ottawa. A sad coincidence, since the orchestra's musicians are there to commemorate the centennial of the First World War.
Spectators were asked to observe one minute of silence at the beginning of Thursday night’s concert, as homage to the young soldier killed Wednesday.
The NAC Orchestra's tour had been planned for months and was part of commemorations to honor the sacrifice of the 600,000 Canadians who enrolled during the First World War.
"It is important that the world remembers the courage and sacrifice displayed by those young Canadians, beyond the era's controversies surrounding the conscription and the refusal to serve the monarchy," said Christopher Deacon, managing director of the NAC Orchestra.
"To us, art is a pivotal part of the relationship between nations. Music compels people to listen, contemplate and reflect, and one can learn a lot when reflecting about one's past."
A Major Tour
After concerts in Edinburgh and Nottingham, the Canadians will play alongside London's Royal Philharmonic Orchestra on Oct. 27, a concert Prince Charles will attend.
The idea came from Pinchas Zukerman, the NAC Orchestra's conductor and guest conductor of the London orchestra.
"Our musicians will play alongside each other, just as our troops fought side by side one hundred years ago," said Deacon. "London is one of the world's most important hubs when it comes to classical music with five major orchestras, two operas and two ballet companies. To play alongside one of those orchestras is an honor."
Next Monday, the musicians will be accompanied by mezzo-soprano Patricia Bardon, the choir of the London Philharmonic, as well as a handful of soloists to interpret Beethoven's 9th Symphony, which culminates in his famous "Ode to Joy."
"In Beethoven's time, the 'Ode to Joy' was associated with the idea of joy, but nowadays, it has come to symbolize the freedom of the human spirit. That, in itself, perfectly summarizes the goal of this tour."
Another Sad Coincidence
At the London concert, the NAC Orchestra musicians will also play "A Ballad of Canada," a piece composed by Malcolm Forsyth, a South African who moved to Canada in 1969, as an homage to a country he considered "the safest place on Earth."
His daughter Amanda Forsyth, who is a cellist in the NAC Orchestra, said, "It is the last piece my father composed. To him, Canada was synonymous with peace. He once told me that if he managed to change the vision of people who listened to his music at a concert, influencing their emotions even for one brief moment, his work was accomplished."
The NAC Orchestra will also visit Bristol and Salisbury, where the first contingent of 30,000 Canadian soldiers landed to be trained one hundred years ago. The concert at Salisbury Cathedral on Oct. 29 will be broadcast on CBC Radio 2 and CBC Television on Nov. 11 as part of the Remembrance Day events.
An Educational Mission Across the United Kingdom
Aside from the several orchestral and chamber music concerts on its schedule, the orchestra will host educational activities in all five cities it will visit.
"We devote as much energy to our performances as we do to our educational mission," said the managing director.
"We believe that children of the world do not have sufficient access to education in the arts, so we have developed several programs that aim at rectifying this situation, even partially."
Pinchas Zukerman will host a master class while in London. For the remainder of the tour, many of the orchestra's musicians will visit schools and host composing and interpretation workshops, as well as skill-building workshops.
"In addition, there are five young musicians who will follow the orchestra during our rehearsals and concerts across the United Kingdom, providing them with a unique learning experience."
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