Better without Zucker

One of the first things we did in setting up our calendar for Ottawa to get season’s tickets for the National Arts Centre Orchestra. I used to go with my Mom ages and ages ago when I was in high school, and my parents now share two tickets with another couple down the street (usually used by my Mom and Mrs. M.), so it was an obvious thing to start going again now that we’re back in town.

We were a bit nonplussed at our first two concerts, both conducted by principal conductor Pinchas Zukerman. The notes are there, no doubt, but for a piece to come to life you need things like focus, energy, and colour, and well, if these things were there we weren’t hearing them.

So we approached last week’s concert with guest conductor Eri Klas with a mixture of hope and trepidation.

In fairness, unlike the stalwarts Zukerman was conducting last week’s music was almost completely unfamiliar to me: a new NAC commission, Barber’s Cello concerto (which I don’t think I’ve heard before in any form), and Dvorak’s 9th (which is one of those pieces that’s kinda sorta familiar but I’ve never actually owned a recording). Nevertheless, to my ears, the contrast was like night and day. All of sudden, well, there’s “there” there–energy, focus, and structure–and unsurprisingly the audience was enthusiastic, with several curtain calls after the Dvorak and about 2/3 of a standing ovation.

The NACO is a smallish orchestra and has certain built-in limits in terms of the kind of sound it can produce and the repertoire it can perform convincingly. In the right hands, though, it’s very definitely on my “worth going to” list.