Arts & EventsBenjamin Britten’s Britain Presented by Ottawa Symphony Orchestra

Benjamin Britten’s Britain Presented by Ottawa Symphony Orchestra

Benjamin Britten’s Britain Presented by Ottawa Symphony Orchestra

The centennial of Benjamin Britten’s birth is the perfect reason to celebrate the music of 20th-century Britain, so for the second concert of its 2013-2014 season, Maestro Jean-Philippe Tremblay will lead the Ottawa Symphony Orchestra (OSO) in performances of Britten’s Sinfonia da Requiem and Variations on a Theme of Purcell, as well as William Walton’s Varii Capricci and Edward Elgar’s Sea Pictures.

Guest conductor Tremblay will conduct the 100-member OSO in a concert on November 25 (starting at 8:00pm) in Southam Hall at the National Arts Centre.

“The Sinfonia di Requiem and the Purcell Variations are truly the best Britten has to offer," says Maestro Tremblay.  "One shows off his wonderful passionate and violent writing, the other his mastery of orchestration and variation.  I look forward very much to make music with the OSO and Julie Nesrallah and to present these amazing compositions.”

In late 1939, Benjamin Britten was given an unusual commission – to write a work for a special festivity by an unspecified government. After accepting, Britten learned that the country in question was Japan, whose government had requested works by composers from several countries to celebrate the 2,600th anniversary of the ruling dynasty. Having recently lost both his parents, Britten was at the time working on the Sinfonia da Requiem, and it was this “symphony in disguise” that he submitted. However, the Japanese government rejected the work, considering its use of titles from Christian liturgy insulting. Audiences have had no such problem with a work that so abounds in energy and clashing tensions of mood, and critics have been just as positive – musicologist Peter Evans claims that the Sinfonia da Requiem represents the peak of Britten's early orchestral writing.

The soloist in Elgar's Sea Pictures, mezzo-soprano Julie Nesrallah, is probably best known as the host of Tempo, CBC Radio 2’s flagship national classical music program. She is, in fact, an extremely versatile singer, at ease in all styles, regularly cast in principal roles by leading opera companies across North America and abroad.

To close the concert, the orchestra performs Britten's famous Variations on a Theme of Purcell. In 1945, Britten was commissioned to compose the score for a film designed to introduce children to the orchestra. Britten decided to write the piece in the form of a theme and variations, and chose as the theme the Rondeau from the incidental music for the play Abdelazar, or The Moor’s Revenge, by the 17th-century English composer Henry Purcell.  The theme itself is stated in full, first by the whole orchestra, then in turn by the woodwinds, brass, strings and harp, and finally the percussion. Then come 13 variations, in which the individual instruments are highlighted.  Each of the variations reflects a different character—some tender, some slightly sardonic, some mysterious, some straightforwardly humorous, all charged with great originality and wit.

Tickets are available from the NAC Box Office and through Ticketmaster. Prices range from $30 to $80 for regular tickets, from $26 to $70 for seniors, and from $18 to $35 for students.

For more information, and for further details about ticket purchases, visit

Comments (0)

*Please take note that upon submitting your comment the team at OLM will need to verify it before it shows up below.