Freshwater Trio
Two members of Borealis String Quartet


National Youth Orchestra of Canada
Sunday, 8 August 2010 at 3:00pm • The Chan Shun Concert Hall, UBC

Performers Jacques Lacombe & The National Youth Orchestra of Canada

Reviewer John Jane


Now fifty years in existence, the National Youth Orchestra of Canada musters promising classical musicians every year from coast to coast to coast for summer tour. The 2010 assemblage made it all the way to Vancouver for a rare treat as part of this year’s Musicfest for a Sunday afternoon concert in the Chan Shun Concert Hall.

Program director George Laverock, himself an NYOC alumnus, introduced the orchestra that has frequently been acknowledged as one of the best of its type in the world. Maestro Jacques Lacombe led a dynamic reading of the appropriate opener, Dimitri Shostakovich’s Festive Overture. One of the composer’s lighter scores, it came about by way of an official commission for an international conference sponsored by the now defunct state of the Soviet Union. Under Lacombe’s inspiring direction the talented protégés had little trouble keeping the, at times, breathless tempo.

I was just a little disappointed when Katie Agócs’s Perpetual Summer was pre-empted for Jacques Hétu’s Sur les rives du Saint-Maurice. Not that I had ever heard either work before, but I had heard the Agócs composition, Hymn for Saxophone Quartet and was simply ‘blown away.’ My mild dissatisfaction didn’t last long however; Hétu, who died of lung cancer on February 9 this year had a natural proclivity for creating atmospheric and pastorally evocative music. Maestro Lacombe led the orchestra with passion and gusto; as well he might, the piece was dedicated to him by his fellow Trios Rivières native.

In terms of sheer verve, Maestro Lacombe’s interpretation of Don Juan surpasses every other live performance I've ever heard. The youth orchestra examined all the orchestral elements of Richard Strauss’ celebrated oeuvre. Its familiar opening percussive stream had me wanting to crash my imaginary cymbals.

After what seemed an interminably long intermission, two members of the orchestra introduced the players by region who were joined on stage by orchestra alumni for a ‘special treatment’ of the “Happy Birthday” theme.

The orchestra rounded out the afternoon with their final selection of the afternoon, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov's Scheherazade. It’s now 100 years since Rimsky-Korsakov's masterpiece was choreographed and staged as a ballet and it remains much beloved for its compelling third movement melody and driving orchestration, it somehow continues to entertain regardless of how many times one hears it.

When Bing Thom architects designed the incredible acoustics for the Chan Shun Concert Hall thirteen years ago, they may have used such a concert as an acoustic model.

© 2010 John Jane