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Mark O’Connor and the McGill Chamber Orchestra


On September 28, the McGill Chamber Orchestra, under the direction of Boris Brott, kicks off its 74th season by delving into the different angles of contemporary America with the amazing talent of American violinist and composer Mark O’Connor, who has become a classic with our American neighbours. The musician arrives at the Maison Symphonique, bringing with him, two of his own compositions, both Canadian premieres, and two pieces from contemporary composers who left their mark in the United States: Benjamin Britten (A Simple Symphony, Op. 4) and Airat Ichmouratov (Chamber Symphony No. 2).


From aural folk tradition to his main roots in classical music, Mark O’Connor has cast a wide net and has pushed the musical boundaries in order to develop a purely personal style. His way of playing string instruments has gained quite a following. Recipient of numerous awards and critically acclaimed for his talent as a composer and performer as well as a music teacher, Mark O’Connor has been promoting the new American Classical music all around the world. This MCO concert offers some of the most beautiful samples from his repertoire.


The starting signal is given with Airat Ichmouratov‘s Chamber Symphony No. 2. It is the composer’s own arrangement of his String Quartet No. 2 Op. 5. The idiomatic language of the piece echoes that of Chostakovitch, Ichmouratov’s idol. Captivating music, upbeat rhythms, contrasting variations, including a waltz and a moderate variation made up of mysterious glissandi. The entirety of the piece flows into a dramatic and dissonant climax until the piece runs to its conclusion..


The program then follows with one of Mark O’Connnor’s own compositions. Elevations, a two movement work inspired by another of his own compositions, Vistas, O’Connor pays tribute to the magnificence of the Southern California landscape as seen from his studio balcony: the desert to the east, the distant mountains to the north and the Pacific Ocean to the west, three breathtaking views put into one cohesive and unforgettable musical panorama.


The MCO’s guest continues this American journey with a piece by the famous British composer who set foot on American soil in 1942, Benjamin Britten. Composed in 1934, the Simple Symphony was dedicated to his viola teacher, Audrey Alston. For this piece, the composer used bits of scores he had written for the piano as a teenager, between 1923 and 1926. The Symphony is comprised of eight themes from his childhood (two per movement), with the most famous being the Pizzicato


O’Connor ends the concert with his concerto for violin and chamber orchestra, American Seasons (Seasons of an American Life). Composed in 1999, the music explores the various stages of the American life at the turn of the 21st century, from birth through youth and adulthood, and into old age. These stages construct the four movements of the concerto and are expressed through diverse states of mind, until the very last breath.


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