NACO tour blog 8: Aim Even Higher

Thie Highest Point of our Tour?

Winnipeg, Manitoba
It is 6:03pm and I am stepping out of my 15th floor hotel room in Winnipeg to hear a most unexpected sound. It is a sound coming from the room across the hall. It is the sound of a sweet melody of Tchaikovsky’s imagining. It is the sound of a beautifully shaped phrase, articulate and warm at the same time. It is the sound of someone experimenting to make something better than before. To my amazement, it is the sound of Charles “Chip” Hamann, Principal Oboist of the National Arts Centre Orchestra, and he is practicing the oboe solo from the 2nd movement of Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1.

This is the last day of our 20-day tour. Last night we performed in Saskatoon, and today we have bussed and flown and bussed to Winnipeg. By all rights every member of the orchestra should be resting in their rooms, finding lunch, or enjoying the fresh air and the crunch of the snow. But Chip is rehearsing a solo that he has performed absolutely beautifully over and over on this tour. I’m incredibly touched and inspired to hear this.

This is an essential, and frustrating, part of a musician’s life: to never believe that your last performance was quite good enough. Being on tour only amplifies this. The procession of utterly different pianos, the occasionally unflattering acoustics, the effect of the weather on the instruments, the need for oboists and bassoonists to turn their hotel rooms into reed-making shops – we all know to expect the unexpected.

Yet the joy of being a musician, of MAKING music, of communicating what we love to all who would listen…this is the infinite blessing of being a musician. For every missed note or misshapen phrase from our demanding perspective, there is a face backstage of someone who was touched by the music. I live for that.

And now, it’s over. The last notes of Edward Elgar’s “Nimrod” have faded into the atmosphere of Winnipeg’s Centennial Concert Hall, and the tour is finished. Perhaps Pinchas Zukerman chose this encore as a way of gently drawing the curtain on the National Arts Centre Orchestra’s Western Canada tour.

After the concert, Pinchas looks radiant. “We could have recorded that concert and streamed it online without a single edit” he says with obvious pride in his players. In the meantime, composer Alexina Louie has had the rare experience of hearing her orchestral work “Infinite Sky With Birds” performed a dozen times.

I barely have time to reflect. I have a rehearsal on the Shostakovich 1 in Houston tomorrow. Maybe I’ll hit the keyboard and practice for just another 45 minutes…


"Fantasy is not just a technical showcase, but a big, clear picture window of a musician with a rich soul and great artistic depth. It is also a fantastic example of programming that entertains as well as edifies.”
-Musical Toronto

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