If there’s a theme emerging from the five concerts we’ve played to date, it would have to be heat. Ottawa marked the first time we performed Mahler’s Fifth in concert, and by the end of the colossal seventy minute work everyone looked like they had just finished a marathon. The very next evening after the Mont-Tremblant concert, the general consensus was that if we don’t do laundry fast, nobody will come to the next few concerts. Though we’re constantly adjusting to playing in high heat, the concerts have gone exceptionally well, as has the sightseeing we’ve managed to work into our schedules.
We arrived in Ottawa early on Tuesday, and with the concert a day away we had plenty of time to take in the city. I was fast to grab a picnic lunch and go down to the banks of the Rideau Canal with friends, where we watched boats going by, played frisbee, and enjoyed the magnificent view of parliament. A little later we were posing for pictures on parliament hill and exploring the riches of the Byward market. I’ve been to Ottawa many times, and every time I go I manage to find something else that draws me in. This time it was the night time light show on parliament hill, where lasers and projections were displayed on the face of parliament with coordinated music and narration. At the end of the half hour spectacular everyone walked away with a profound pride in being Canadian, and knowing we are getting to represent Canada by playing in this orchestra is truly special.
Our concert took place in St. Bridge’s Centre for the Arts Wednesday evening, and after a scary sound check during which we realized the reverb was almost three seconds and there was a sound lag on stage, the concert went smashingly. There was a packed house with barely a seat free, and from the first note the orchestra poured out everything for the crowd. After a very intense two hour concert, we were more than happy to receive thunderous applause and march triumphantly back to the hotel for some well needed sleep.
As much fun as Ottawa was, our time passed quickly and no more than twelve hours after our concert ended we were traveling to Mont-Tremblant for our first show in Québec. We were playing in another church in the heart of the picturesque town, and during sound check and the show there was enough time to do a bit of exploring. After being in Ontario for a considerable amount of time it was fun to get a Québecois spin on everything, from the foods purchased at the local market to the music playing in all the little shops. The concert went off without a hitch, and though the venue was smaller than that in Ottawa it was obvious the audience really appreciated our music. Sometimes, that small crowd which is immensely pleased is more satisfying than a large crowd whose applause gets lost in all the sound.
Last night we rolled in to Montreal very late and got a few hours of sleep before again packing up the bus, this time to head to the United States for the one concert outside Canada. Rumour has it the orchestra’s been heavily marketed in New Hampshire, so we’re really looking forward to repeating Mahler’s Fifth after such a good first performance. As always, I’m off to go do what we do best on this tour bus: catch up on sleep!
Tour has started! It’s been six days since our first concert in London, and time is absolutely flying. Since that first concert we’ve played two more concerts in Stratford, and as I write we’re en route to Ottawa for an afternoon off followed by a concert Wednesday evening. Since we’re so busy playing concerts, exploring cities, and loading in and out of hotels and buses, I’ll do my best over the next two weeks to document this incredible journey.
The London concert took place in the middle of an awful heat wave; on the day of the concert the weather hit 36 degrees, and the short walk from our dormitory to the concert hall led to bouts of sweating and fatigue. Luckily the auditorium was air conditioned, and the heat outside wasn’t enough to stop a great audience from showing up. After spending so much time in London, it felt great to present our music to the locals with whom we’d been talking for so long.
Three days later we were loading up our first bus to say farewell to the University of Western Ontario. We rolled in to Stratford around noon, and set off for some lunch and exploration. There plenty of nifty little stores and restaurants, and I enjoyed trying on my first kilt in the Scottish souvenir store and basking in the smell of a fine cheese shop. In the afternoon we watched a Salvadorian percussion ensemble perform a park side concert on a river barge, then we headed off to our first sound check. The first Stratford concert took place in a large church which brought in a large crowd to hear another concert played in intense heat. As enjoyable as performing was the hours spent between sound check and performance, when the orchestra found a box of athletic equipment in the church gym and had impromptu soccer matches and frisbee tournaments.
After a night in a bed fit for a king at the Delta hotel in Kitchener, we were back in Stratford for a very special memorial concert celebrating the life of the beloved Canadian contralto Maureen Forrester, who passed away last year. The program took place in the beautiful Avon Theatre, and many people showed up to celebrate this iconic figure of Canadian music. Instead of playing one of our normal programs, we had a special program featuring a Gilbert and Sullivan suite, a few opera numbers, and then we ended our playing with the heart wrenching Adagietto from Mahler’s Fifth Symphony. Though not many of us in the orchestra were alive during the peak of Forrester’s career, being able to perform a concert that meant so much for so many people was incredibly moving and inspiring to us all. As soon as we left the stage though, we were told to get changed and hop on the bus to head to Kingston for the night. As quickly as we arrived in Stratford, we were gone.
If you’re wondering how an entire 95 piece orchestra and faculty travels, it’s no small feat. All the large instruments which wouldn’t fit on a bus, like the harps and basses, go on a separate truck along with the sheet music, music stands, and other concert supplies. The orchestra is split up on to two large coach busses, with our small instruments in the overhead compartments and our tuxedo bags and suitcases underneath. The maestro and his family, along with some program officials, travel in a super duper speedy minivan so that while our bus just goes hotel to hotel, they can attend dinner functions and media gatherings.
That’s all for now, as I’m going to take this opportunity on the bus to enjoy some much needed rest. More adventures lie ahead in Ottawa!
Just under a week ago, Maestro Jonathan Darlington arrived in London to start rehearsing the orchestra. With our first concert tomorrow night, we were in serious work mode from the moment he first stepped on to the podium. Rehearsal time seems to fly when he’s conducting; with an abundance of musical knowledge matched only by his array of jokes and energy, rehearsals are both educational and highly amusing. Matching the personality of a conductor with an orchestra is essential, and it’s wonderful to see the connection we’ve made with our conductor in such a short period of time.
Often when I invite friends who aren’t classical musicians to symphony concerts, someone always asks, “Does the conductor actually do anything besides wave his stick?” With Darlington’s arrival, I feel like this is the opportune moment to discuss the role of a conductor. In short, the conductor leads the orchestra. The stick he’s waving is a baton, and it’s used to dictate beats, so the orchestra can be rhythmically together. More importantly though, is the conductor’s role in interpreting music. A piece, like the Shostakovich we’ll be performing, can have parts that seem funny, but the conductor can show with his hands and face that the music should actually be sarcastic and harsher. Most of this interpretation is done in rehearsals, when the conductor really gets to take a lead and work a section until it’s as he imagines. Then when it’s concert time and the conductor is giving tons of energy to the orchestra, it can be expected the orchestra will return that same intensity.
While we’re thrilled to have the maestro with us, yesterday we said a heartfelt thank you and farewell to the coaches who have worked tirelessly with us upwards of three weeks. It was with their hard work and unyielding persistence on perfection that each section sounds as organized and solid as it does. To show our appreciation, each section presented a nice gift to our coaches, and many of us got to go out on a special sectional outing with our coach. It was fun to spend time away from the music with them, because beyond everything else, these are genuinely good people we had the privilege to work with. I personally learned a great deal about orchestral playing, viola, and the mentality needed for a musician from our viola coach, and I know others learned as much.
With the departure of the coaches and the arrival of the conductor, it really dawned on me that one person can have an enormous influence on a remarkably large group of people. There are ten of us violists for our one coach, and yet he was able to teach all of us at a personal level. The maestro has an orchestra of 95 musicians in front of him, yet he’s still managed to talk with almost all of us individually at some point. I believe this shows the enormous potential for influence everybody has. Even if you’re just one person in a group of nearly one hundred, if you can prove you know what you’re doing and encourage others to follow, you will be more influential than you ever thought possible.
As our tour kicks off tomorrow, here’s the question I’m proposing: with nearly a hundred of us on stage trying to reach out to our audience, how much will you be influenced?
The National Youth Orchestra of Canadais Canada's advanced orchestral training institute for musicians ages 16 to 28. Approximately one in three musicians performing in Canada's professional symphony orchestras are alumni of the NYOC. [read more]