It was gala time at the NAC last night. Southam Hall was filled to the rafters with well-dressed ladies and gentlemen to hear Yo-Yo Ma and others perform an evening of beautiful music. And by coming, they helped raise $575,000 for the National Youth and Education Trust. The members of the orchestra made their contribution as well. They waived their fees for the evening.
Conductor Pinchas Zukerman and the NAC Orchestra opened the program with Mahler's Blumine (Flowers), a short piece that was originally intended to be part of his First Symphony. It's a nice item, but just a tad banal in direct comparison with the other four movements, so it is usually presented as a standalone piece nowadays. Innocuous as it is, it made for pleasant listening, especially with Karen Donnelly's beautiful trumpet solo.
Next up was Chopin's Andante spianato and Grand Polonaise brilliante, featuring the young Canadian pianist Avan Yu. The score is primarily for solo piano with the orchestra jumping in occasionally for emphasis. Happily, Yu was entirely up to carrying it off. His playing was clean, exciting and expressive.
Intermission had to wait just a bit longer when a rock group called Herring Bone came on stage. They were joined by Ma, who seems to be up for just about anything, and—are you ready for this?—the Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, who played the piano and sang, both unobtrusively. They all put together a spirited rendition of the Beatles' song, A Little Help from my Friends.
The second half of the program was given to the Dvorak Concerto in B minor, probably the most famous and possibly the best cello concerto in the repertoire. Ma has played it here at least twice before and has never failed to please. There were too many great things about the performance to list here, but one in particular stands out.
There's a place just past the middle of the last movement, where the cello introduces a heart-rending love song. A moment later, the concertmaster, Yosuke Kawasaki, takes it up with the cello accompanying. Those few bars were the highlights of the evening, along with Ma's encore, for which he borrowed Amanda Forsyth's cello, Two Minuets from Bach's Cello Suite no. 3.