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WENDY ROSE REVIEW: NSO splits in half, goes virtual … is still astounding

To present programming while also abiding by social distancing protocols, conductor Marc David divided the NSO into two "bubbles" of 30 musicians. At the Masterworks show on Oct. 2, the first half of the show featured the string sections, with wind and percussion performing in the second half. Submitted photo
To present programming while also abiding by social distancing protocols, conductor Marc David divided the NSO into two "bubbles" of 30 musicians. At the Masterworks show on Oct. 2, the first half of the show featured the string sections, with wind and percussion performing in the second half. SUBMITTED PHOTO

The Newfoundland Symphony Orchestra’s (NSO) 2020 season is underway, having kicked off at the beginning of October with Masterworks One, “Fireworks,” featuring Duo Concertante.

The Oct. 2 event was presented virtually, starting with a pre-show behind-the-scenes interview, and with a separate performance instead of an intermission. It’s different, but it works.

“As you can imagine, this is very, very different from any other season we’ve had,” conductor Marc David told Dale Jarvis during the pre-show talk.

“The first thing was to make sure we were providing a safe work environment for our musicians, so to determine this, we had to see how many people we could fit on the Arts and Culture Centre stage, respecting social-distancing measures,” he explained.

The final number was 30 — about half of the NSO’s usual roster for a Masterworks concert. David divided the orchestra into two “bubbles.” For the Masterworks show, the first half features the string sections, with wind and percussion in the second half.

“Fireworks” began with Peter Warlock’s “Capriol Suite,” with featured artists Nancy Dahn and Timothy Steeves of Juno and ECMA award-winning group Duo Concertante joining the orchestra for a "Double Concerto for Violin and Piano" by Felix Mendelssohn.

Frank Fusari was the featured artist at "Stringin' It," Sinfonia Series One. Fusari has been the NSO's principal bassist since 1994. Fun fact – he's also an accomplished accordion player. SUBMITTED PHOTO

By employing local artists as featured guests, the NSO is able to circumvent isolation requirements while simultaneously highlighting the immense local talent, like the NSO Brass Quintet, who performed two pieces within the Anglican Cathedral during the intermission.

The show finished off with George Frideric Handel “Royal Fireworks,” the Masterworks One’s namesake.

With such a fantastic season opener, the Oct. 17 Sinfonia One show had much to live up to. As the NSO continuously proves however, these well-trained musicians do not disappoint.

The Sinfonia began with a nod to the Black Lives Matter movement, presenting a piece from Chevalier de Saint-Georges, “the illegitimate son of a married French plantation owner and a teenage slave originally from Africa,” the programme explained.

This selection is part of an effort to diversify the NSO’s performance catelogue by highlighting Black artists.

Featured artist Frank Fusari joined for Giambattista Cimador’s “Concerto for Contrabass.”

The NSO’s principal bassist since 1994, Fusari is a well-known name in the local music scene, lending his talents to various groups from all genres, on more than one instrument — I once saw the man play a theremin with the NSO, and he played it well.

During the intermission, the NSO Brass Quintet performed George Frideric Handel’s “Water Music Suite,” before returning to the ACC stage for the final piece of the Sinfonia, “Serenade for Strings, Op. 48” by Peter Tchaikovsky.

For those reading this review with a tinge of regret, there’s no need to feel left out.

The NSO has a lot to offer in the upcoming weeks – the Atlantic String Quartet performs on Oct. 25, the annual Spooktacular Halloween show takes place Oct. 30, Ofra Harnoy’s “Mellow Cello” is on Nov. 20, and the Atlantic String Quartet returns on Nov. 29.

Though it may be “very, very different from any other season we’ve had,” like Marc David said, it’s still just as good. Just clap hard enough that the NSO can hear you from wherever you are.

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