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Promising Conductor Scores a Fine Evening in Montreal

Maison symphonique de Montréal, Place des Arts
05/10/2019 -  
Ludwig van Beethoven: Leonore Overture No. 3, Op. 72b – Symphony No. 4 in B flat major, Op. 60
Stacey Brown: En soi, in and of itself (World Premiere)

Stéphane Beaulac (Trumpet)
Orchestre Métropolitain, Nicolas Ellis (Conductor)

N. Ellis (© Stéphane Bourgeois)

Young conductor Nicolas Ellis is the “artistic partner” of Yannick Nézet-Séguin’s hometown orchestra, the Orchestre Métropolitain (OM) in Montreal. On Friday evening Ellis conducted vibrant, exciting performances of Beethoven’s Leonore Overture No. 3 his Symphony No. 4, and the world premiere of Montreal composer Stacey Brown’s Trumpet Concerto.

Ellis took a quickly-paced but firm approach to the two Beethoven works, both of which begin in a slow, dark universe only to suddenly blaze forth in triumph and joy. The music never lagged as Ellis navigated the dynamic and rhythmic shoals with aplomb, establishing a tight, unified arc over each work. The woodwinds were in fine form, with outstanding solos from flutist Marie-Andrée Benny. Ellis maintained a felicitous balance between the interplay of woodwinds and strings.

The world premiere of Montreal composer Stacey Brown’s “Trumpet Concerto” was a resounding success. This accomplished 20-minute work is written in one movement, and the trumpet takes center stage for almost the entire concerto—an enormous task that the OM’s principal trumpet, Stéphane Beaulac, admirably performed. In a recent interview with Philadelphia’s WRTI radio station’s Susan Lewis, Brown asserted that her work was not atonal (which can be associated with dissidence) but “post-tonal”. The leisurely-paced music seems to be organically generated. As with the two Beethoven works, it begins slowly, with the solo trumpet gently sustained by the orchestra. A creeping crescendo builds to raging fury before beginning a long descent to an extensive, plaintive cadenza suddenly cut short by ominous low notes from the bass trombone, tuba and double basses. Overall, the music conjured up, for this listener, a journey through a haunted forest at night, replete with bird, animal and other ghostly emanations, but not ultimately threatening, as if human beings also had their place within.

The concert’s program notes, however, were far from satisfactory. Why was the length of the note for each work inversely proportional to its length? That for the Leonore Overture comprised an entire page of the program (73 lines), the Trumpet Concerto (only 31 lines) and the Symphony (a mere 15!). In addition, the content added little to understanding the musical structure or meaning of the works themselves.

It is also becoming increasingly tedious for those who read the program notes to have to listen to them being regurgitated in remarks from orchestra officials and conductors after the concert’s starting time. Is this filler intended to mask the fact that the two-hour-long evening consists of barely 67 minutes of music?

Stacey Brown’s website
The Orchestre Métropolitain

Earl Arthur Love



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