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Photos by Ming Wu/Apt613.

From expectation to satisfaction: Ideas of North Festival at the National Arts Centre

By Colin Noden on October 5, 2017





The National Arts Centre wants you to come on in and look around! The street level doors are open and waiting for you to discover a building in transformation. And as a special treat, if you wander in this week you are going to find things going on from noon to night.

It’s Ideas of the North Festival, the co-celebration of Canada’s 150th and Finland’s 100th birthday. Come for free noon performances, pre-show events, and a free dance party with DJ del Pilar to close things off on October 14.

The main events cover a wide range of expression. Word has spread about the quality of the performances. Some are already sold out, so check out the event schedule using this link and book as soon as you can.

Opening day was fun and informative. New Executive Chef Kenton Leier designed Finnish influenced appetizers, and a cocktail as a teaser of what is available in Le Café’s Nordic Menu. If you try it out, make sure to have that cocktail. Make reservations though, as it was packed when we tried to walk in.

Inuit throat-singers and dancers gave a preview of their October 7-8 Family Days activities. There were speeches, including one by Alexander Shelley, Musical Director and Conductor of the NAC Orchestra, who had the ladies fanning themselves. Let’s just say the guy’s got charisma.

I stole the title of this article from composer Alexina Louie’s interview at the Musically Speaking event (which was free… next one October 5). “The expectations were high for this commissioned piece.” So too are the expectations on the NAC renovation, and NAC’s programming has upped its game to match the building.

The NAC Symphony is spearheading the Ideas of North Festival with a program pairing the famous Finnish composer Jean Sibelius with modern Canadian works. No wonder Alexina was nervous. She spent quite a bit of time in her interview trying to set our minds up for a modern composition. Asking us to focus on the emotion, rather than finding a story.

In typical Canadian fashion, we may instinctively be asking, “So who is this Canadian? Modern music? And why match her up with this Great?” The short answer is that Alexina is also great. She understands that new sounds may take some acclimatization time in our minds. We can trust her to deliver something meaningful to us.

Nervousness turned to excitement when three race-horse stallion violinists performed her concerto. The concert masters from the three sponsoring symphonies (Ottawa, Montreal, and Toronto) gave a blazing, bow shredding performance. There was no problem with connecting to the emotion, other than to keep from jumping up at the end and giving a victory shout.

Conductor Alexander Shelley maintained this strong emotional delivery with the Sibelius pieces. Taking us along dark mysterious paths, pulling us back and forth, and digging emotions out of the musicians. Hair flying, baton jabbing, and palms hauling in the energy from an orchestra going full out. It was quite the experience.

Sibelius is a satisfying composer. He takes you to the edge of anticipation, and delivers. Again, and again. His music is approachable. Anyone can sit down and be taken on a musical journey. The same proved to be true with Alexina Louie’s modern music. Wild and satisfying.

Expectation met Satisfaction on Day One of the Ideas of North Festival.

But wait! There was more!

You missed the opening night dance with DJ Queen Aga, so mark your calendar for October 14 and DJ del Pilar. The City Room atrium was transformed into a dance floor. Concert goers could get that pent-up energy out. And people started arriving off the street as word got out. Just come in those main doors and follow the sound. Your body will thank you. Did I mention the free part?

The Ideas of North Festival runs at the National Arts Centre from October 3-14, 2017.