This week in classical and dance, plus an announcement!


Pianist George Li (Photo: Christian Steiner).

I have a pretty full  dance card this week, starting tonight with George Li, the exciting young American pianist who won second prize at the 2015 Tchaikovsky Competition.

Presented by Roland Graham’s Master Piano Recital Series at Southminster United Church, Li plays a beefy program of Rachmaninoff’s Corelli Variations, Liszt’s Consolation No. 3 and second Hungarian Rhapsody, Beethoven’s Sonata No. 18 in E-flat Major, Op. 31 no. 3; and Haydn’s B Minor Sonata.

It’s NACO Thursday with Principal Guest Conductor John Storgårds conducting Sibelius’ Symphony No. 6, the Nielsen rarity An Imaginary trip to the Faroe Islands,  and the Rach 3 with guest soloist Denis Khozukhin. Here’s a taste of the Nielsen, technically a “Rhapsody-Overture”, with Kristjan Järvi conducting the Berlin Phil:


On Sunday, I’ll be hearing Canadian soprano Measha Brueggergosman at the National Gallery of Canada, part of NACO’s Music for a Sunday Afternoon series. She’ll be singing Strauss’ Four Last Songs and Schubert’s Die Forelle. I’m hoping she’ll include some encores off her newest CD of African-American spirituals, Songs of Freedom.


NACO members will also play Schubert’s Trout Quintet and Schoenberg’s chamber arrangement of the other Strauss’ Rosen aus dem Süden Waltz.

On another topic, I’m excited to share the news that I’ve started writing about classical music for Ottawa Magazine. They have an innovative editorial team and we’ve already been discussing lots of cool ideas for covering Ottawa’s vibrant classical scene. Look for my first piece in their upcoming issue.

Review: Thirteen Strings Concert for Peace a “perfect pearl” on a dark day.


A choir of Syrian refugee kids joined soprano Miriam Khalil and Thirteen Strings, conducted by Kevin Mallon.

Classical music isn’t usually an overtly political medium. When the repertoire is hundreds of years old, and the presentation and traditions largely unchanged since before World War I,  you could be forgiven for concluding this world has willfully isolated itself from day-to-day turmoil. Barring some contemporary works inspired by current events,  or when the topic of arts funding comes up, classical music seems to exist in a kind of Rip Van Winkel torpor, where the tastes of long-dead aristocrats or the class strife of Mozart’s day are more relevant than Black Lives Matter or #MuslimBan. So it’s striking when a mainstream classical concert does make a political statement, even inadvertently.

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What’s on in classical and dance

I’m heading off on vacation this week, trading cold and ice for some sun, surf, and sand. The Red Chair will be empty while I’m away, and I’ll be missing a busy week. Here are a few notable performances happening over the next 7 days or so:

Thursday, Jan. 19: The National Ballet of Canada brings its sublime Onegin to the NAC. The ballet runs to Jan. 21. Watch for the exalted pairing of Greta Hodgkinson and Piotr Stanczyk on the 20th, and the rock-star magnetism of Evan McKie in the title role on the 21st.


The National Ballet of Canada’s Greta Hodgkinson and Guillaume Côté in Onegin (Photo: Aleksandar Antonijevic)


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5 questions for Hilda Cowie


No treble: NACO double bassist Hilda Cowie. (Photo: Fred Cattroll)

Confession: I’ve always secretly wanted to play the double bass. Whether they’re driving the rhythm in a jazz trio or thundering in unison at the back of an orchestra, bassists always look badass to me.

Considering I’m barely 5’3″, struggle to lug my groceries, and have tiny hands, it’s probably best that I picked a less physically imposing instrument. I’d be hopelessly overhorsed. Not like Hilda Cowie, a versatile NACO bassist who plays with an impressive combination of muscle and grace. Her ease comes from native familiarity. Cowie grew up among the giant strings: her mother was a bass player and her first teacher in her hometown of Halifax.

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Update: St. Petersburg Phil’s Canadian cancellations

I can share some additional details about the St. Petersburg Philharmonic cancellations I wrote about on the weekend.

The orchestra cancelled both its planned Canadian concerts: Toronto as well as Ottawa. According to Daphne Burt, artistic planning manager at NACO, the reason the orchestra gave was financial constraints due to another presenter dropping out. Neither NACO nor Show One Productions, the Toronto presenter, have replaced the concert.


St. Petersburg Philharmonic and Yuri Temirkanov in their home hall. Image courtesy of Opus 3 Artsits

However, Burt also confirmed that as far as she knows, the US portion of the tour is going ahead as planned, despite there being no mention of it on the orchestra’s own website. The Philharmonic is scheduled to perform in Rochester, Chicago, and San Francisco, among other stops, between February and March.



Again, anyone who had tickets to the Ottawa concert can refund or exchange them at the NAC Box Office.



St. Petersburg Philharmonic, Miloš cancel NACO concerts



St. Petersburg Philharmonic and Yuri Temirkanov in their home hall. Image courtesy of Opus 3 Artsits

February is turning out to be an unlucky month for the NAC Orchestra, with two high-profile cancellations.

The St. Petersburg Philarmonic,  the venerable Russian ensemble led by Yuri Temirkanov has cancelled its NAC performance on February 25. In a statement, NACO says it learned of the cancellation in the fall and was hoping to book a substitute, but no suitable replacement was found.

The orchestra had been set to play Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 5 and the Rach 2 with Russian pianist Nikolai Lugansky.

No explanation for the cancellation was given.  US performances appear to be going ahead as planned, but the orchestra’s own official website shows no international tour dates for that period. I’ll be following up with the Philharmonic’s management company, Opus 3 Artists, to see if they have more information.

Meanwhile, guitarist Miloš Karadaglić has cancelled all upcoming performances for health reasons. This includes his NACO concerts on February 23-24, which were to feature the world premiere of a new guitar concerto by Howard Shore, of Lord of the Rings soundtrack fame.

In this case, NACO has found quite the pinch hitter: the great Spanish guitar virtuoso Pepe Romero, who will join Alexander Shelley for Rodrigo’s popular Concierto de Aranjuez. The program will also feature the world premiere of Zeiss after Dark, a new work by the impossibly cool and clever Nicole Lizée, as well Walton’s Symphony No. 1 and his Suite from Henry V (which I just heard Shelley’s compatriot Edward Gardner conduct in October, with the National Symphony at the Kennedy Center.)

Your Miloš tickets will be honoured for the  Pepe Romero concert on the same date and in the same seats.  If the substitution doesn’t strum your guitar, you have until February 22, 2017 to either exchange them for any other NAC performance this current season, or  return them in person to the NAC Box Office for a full refund. As a reminder, during construction the Box Office has moved to 54 Elgin St. (corner of Queen).  You can also get a refund or exchange for your St. Petersburg Philharmonic ticket.

Stay tuned; if I find out anything else about the St. Petersburg tour I’ll be updating the blog.

EDIT: Forgot to mention that NACO has announced the Shore-Miloš premiere will take place in 2018.