Review: National Ballet Orchestra 60th anniversary concert earns its long, noisy ovation

The National Ballet Orchestra and its music director David Briskin did themselves proud at their 60th anniversary concert at Koerner Hall on Tuesday night.

The evening felt like a long, warm, happy love-in between the musicians and a full house of patrons, fans, old friends and dancers past and present. Clearly, the company and its followers love the fact that Toronto is one of the world’s few cities that can boast a full-time, resident ballet orchestra.

In return, with the help of the evening’s host, Colm Feore, the orchestra presented music from a cross-section of the repertoire that has put the National Ballet on the world map.

The company came together with a mixed programme at the Eaton Auditorium (now The Carlu), on Nov. 12, 1951. From this, the orchestra played Alexander Borodin’s Polovtsian Dances.

The programme’s first half was all Russian, reflecting the huge influence of Russia on the world of ballet and its music. We heard excertps from Sleeping Beauty, Swan Lake and the Act III Pas de Deux from John Cranko’s Onegin, all by Peter Ilytch Tchaikovsky.

For a dash of the modern, the orchestra also included a powerful reading of the “Dance of the Knights” from Sergei Prokofiev’s score for Romeo and Juliet.

But I got the distinct impression that the more modern second half of the programme is where the orchestra’s current heart can be found.

The sound bloomed and Briskin loosened up for the final three pieces of the evening: 40-year-old British composer Joby Talbot’s cheeky score for Christopher Weeldon’s 2011 ballet, Alice in Wonderland; two movements from Igor Stravinsky’s Firebird and the infectiously hip-swinging “Mambo” from Leonard Bernsetin’s score to West Side Story.

It was as satisfying listening to the music as it was seeing normally reserved orchestra members like principal viola Angela Rudden and percussionist Beverley Johnston grinning wildly throughout “Mambo.”

The house responded with a loud, prolonged and well-deserved ovation.

We can only hope there are 60 more years waiting in the wings.

John Terauds


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