Transcript 03 - The Pinnock Years and a Memorable Principal Guest Conductor

From the Podcast Series: Eric Friesen Presents the NAC Orchestra

Eric Friesen: Hi, I'm Eric Friesen. Welcome to our third program on the History of the National Arts Center Orchestra. Welcome to the Pinnock Years, 1991-1998.

Music clip

Eric Friesen: You're listening to Trevor Pinnock leading the National Arts Centre Orchestra - all flags flying - opening the 94/95 season in the grand and glorious Music for the Royal Fireworks by George Frederick Handel. There is no one like Trevor Pinnock to bring life and character to this music, and he did it over many years as Artistic Director and Principal Conductor of the orchestra. This program looks at those years, as the NAC and its orchestra slowly came out of the darkest period in the life of the Centre.

Music clip

Eric Friesen: Again, as I said in the last program, listening to that brilliant, festive music, it's so hard to believe what difficult times the NAC and its orchestra were going through.

There had been the strike of 1989, talks of privatizing the orchestra and the whole of the NAC, there was the short tenure of Gabriel Chmura and the ongoing financial crisis facing the centre. It was a dark and desperate time, and a time when the very survival of the NAC was in doubt. But through it all, the orchestra played at its highest level. After the strike and the early departure of Chmura, and a brief interim period when Pinchas Zukerman stepped into the breach, Trevor Pinnock was named Artistic Director and Principal conductor in 1991.

There had been some talk of Pinchas Zukerman taking the job at that time, and in fact Pinchas had lead the Orchestra on its 1990 tour of Europe. He'd also, up to that point, had a long and warm relationship with the orchestra. But it was not quite the right time yet, either for Pinchas or for the orchestra.

Trevor Pinnock was also a musician of international reputation. His concerts and recordings of baroque and classical repertoire with his band, The English Concert, were some of the best around. And like Mario Bernardi and Franco Mannino before him, Trevor was also a virtuoso player - a harpsichord player, both as a soloist and conductor from the keyboard.

Trevor had already been a guest conductor of the National Arts Center orchestra, going back to 1985. He was well known to the players in the orchestra. And he had also endeared himself to the musicians in one particular way. Sarah Jennings, author of “Art and Politics: The History of the National Arts Centre” tells the story.

Sarah Jennings: He had a very special relationship with the orchestra because in 1989 there had been a disastrous orchestra strike here. Trevor Pinnock had a small baroque, English orchestra called The English Concert, which was booked to play here at the Arts Center. They had arrived in Ottawa and he had refused to cross the picket line. The orchestra was in the city, he was in the city, they were in the Chateau Laurier and they refused to cross the picket lines to play the concerts. And of course for a small ensemble that was a great financial blow, but Pinnock's loyalty to the musicians here and his obviously very high ideals and love of music, had created a relationship with him and the orchestra. He'd conduct here of course as well.

Eric Friesen: Trevor Pinnock, speaking to me from his home in Kent, England, remembers it this way.

Trevor Pinnock; Yes I do remember the musicians were on strike and we, out of support for them decided we couldn't cross their picket line. This was a very hurtful decision for The English Concert, for the musicians. We felt very torn cause of course we wanted to play a great deal but we made that decision, and we met with various musicians from both orchestras and talked together.

Eric Friesen: Of course the players here, the ones who were there then, certainly remember that. I have a feeling that this really helped your relationship with these players when you came back here in an official capacity.

Trevor Pinnock: I think it must have done. I would have to say that the times were very difficult, the whole Arts Center during the whole period I would say, was in a state of considerable flux as people will remember. So relations between management and players, and other staff in the building was not always very good. In fact sometimes it was very bad. There was a general feeling of insecurity. We had to work through this, and do our job producing the music nevertheless.

Eric Friesen: So, with it being such a dark time, I asked Trevor Pinnock why he would have taken the job?

Trevor Pinnock: Well as I said, I liked the sound of the orchestra, I wanted to explore some music making with them. I'd enjoyed the music making process. When I got into it I found that it was very tough indeed. The morale of the place was bad, so the spirit of the musicians wasn't always immediately on, even with the music. But we worked through it, and I think this is a very important thing. We got some wonderful results, and sometimes not very good results. That's part of the game, rather like a sports team I suppose. You know you do have the times when you lose your match.

Eric Friesen: Yeah, but you just have to keep going.

Trevor Pinnock: You do keep going. And you've got to keep a sort of an inner strength of what you're going for.

Eric Friesen: Not just the players were attracted to Trevor's taking the job. Management must have sensed he was the right man for the time. A superb musician, but also a man of great personal character, and a man with the grit and grace to face the huge challenges of that time. And a healing presence. That's how principal trumpet of the time, Pace Sturdevant remembers Trevor.

Pace Sturdevant: Trevor's great legacy was that he wanted to heal, and that's what he did.

Eric Friesen: You think that was his role, I mean he had to conduct concerts, do all of that?

Pace Sturdevant: I think that's the role he took upon himself. He wanted to turn the negative into the positive, he wanted to heal things. I think he accomplished a lot, I think he was the right person at the right time.

Eric Friesen: Now he came in as a baroque specialist, cause he created The English Concert. He came from this period performance tradition. What did that mean to you guys who were a modern orchestra?

Pace Sturdevant: I remember a couple of things. Trevor came and played a harpsichord recital and it was unbelievable, I have never heard anything like that, the magnitude of the musicianship. And then as a conductor he never once ever mentioned performance practice to us. It was always the music that drove him. I think for me that's what sets him apart from a lot of the other baroque specialists, is that it's the music that drives him. You don't have to play in a certain way, but you have to play in rhythm and you have to play musically. There has to be this spirit. It's what… You listen to the radio and you hear something and you say, Oh, that's The English Concert with Trevor Pinnock, it's unmistakable. I think he brought that to us. What was interesting was Brahm's First Symphony for the first time, or any of the Brahm symphonies, or the concerto, Dvorak concerto. These were all firsts from him.

Eric Friesen: You mean he was conducting them for the first time?

Pace Sturdevant: For the first time, and it was interesting. He would try things out, but you always had the sense that he knew where he was going with the music and that he thought he had the best intentions of the composer at heart. Sometimes it was refreshing to learn. It's like with Franco, we learnt new ways of playing, of playing and thinking about music. It was the same with Trevor. I would never say he brought a baroque sensibility to it. Not at all, it was always from the music. In fact, there was a piece that we did, the Poulenc Sinfonietta, which I guess couldn't be farther from the extreme of baroque repertoire. It was wonderful. The Dolly Suite -quite a few pieces that were outside his familiar that he did really well, with great honesty and integrity.

Eric Friesen: Pace Sturdevant - on Trevor Pinnock's time with the National Arts Center Orchestra. Let's listen to just an impression of Trevor's Schubert. This is the opening to Franz Schubert's Symphony No.3 in D Major.

Music clip

Eric Friesen: And they're off! Trevor Pinnock leading the National Arts Centre Orchestra in the opening of Franz Schubert's Symphony No. 3 in D Major, from February, 1995. If you want to hear more - hear the whole performance of it – the whole symphony, you can listen to it by going to the NAC website, artsalive.ca, then to the NACmusicbox and there you'll find nearly 150 live recorded performances by the National Arts Center Orchestra, and you can access all of them.

Trevor's coming to Ottawa was a great opening for him as a conductor, as an artist. Here he was, a specialist in baroque and early classical repertoire, but now he was expanding into the romantic era.

Trevor Pinnock: Yes, and that was a great voyage of discovery. And of course, it's something that I've continued to do. Later this year I'll be conducting Mendelssohn's Celebrations with the Gewandhaus Orchestra Leipzig. Which is of course, Mendelssohn's Orchestra. In years to come, I will go back and do Mendelssohn's birthday concerts for them with special programs. So he has become a tremendous love of mine. This is only in the last year that I've been conducting that and Brahms as well. This has become central repertoire for me.

Eric Friesen: It's interesting to hear from Trevor that he's now conducting Mendelssohn with Mendelssohn's old orchestra, the Leipzig Gewandhaus. The Mendelssohn part of Trevor Pinnock's repertoire began here in Ottawa. From the early 1990's he was conducting Mendelssohn with the National Arts Center Orchestra. Listen for just a minute to the brilliant opening of the scherzo from the Scottish Symphony. I think listening to this music is like waking up on a fresh spring morning in the Highlands.

Music clip

Eric Friesen: Trevor Pinnock conducting Mendelssohn from the 1992-93 season. Two leading virtuoso pianists were guests during Trevor's time. First, Jon Kimura Parker remembers playing the Schumann Concerto with Trevor, and I asked him how it went.

Jon Kimura Parker: Trevor Pinnock, of course brought something else to the National Arts Center Orchestra, which I would call a certain sense of lightness. And that very much goes with his musical personality and the fact that he's a brilliant harpsichordist, and it's a style of music that he's very comfortable with. It was fascinating to see… I mean I have actually worked with enough music directors of NACO to see how flexible they have really been over the years. I think that's also a great characteristic of a smaller orchestra. Some conductors refer to it, it's like driving a sports car, I mean you can negotiate any curve at any speed, you know (laughs). They sounded like a different orchestra under Trevor Pinnock.

Eric Friesen: How different?

Jon Kimura Parker: Certainly different in the sense of some faster tempos, some lightness of character, lightness of sound, I mean a very different kind of sound. They are of course now, an utterly different sound. At the time it was very interesting I think to hear what they were doing. We were playing Schumann Concerto on that tour, which is a work like the Mozart concertos, the Schumann Concerto works best with a smaller orchestra. I think it gets a little overbearing with a very large, heavy orchestra. So I enjoyed that, and I felt that, from the standpoint of freedom of phrasing, I actually felt very good about those performances because we could really move with the music, we could do spontaneous things in a tour. In a touring situation, after about three or four concerts you start to look at your interpretation of a piece of music and start to wonder what you can change.

Eric Friesen: Just because you don't want to play it the same way?

Jon Kimura Parker: Yeah. You just want to have a sense of variety. You know, keep it fresh without being artificial about it. I felt that we were able to keep it fresh and do very different things.

Eric Friesen: Pianist Jon Kimura Parker. Another pianist, Garrick Ohlsson, was also a frequent visitor to the National Arts Center Orchestra over the years. In early 1994 Trevor was on the podium, and Garrick was in Ottawa to play the Grieg Concerto. Garrick has good memories of that occasion.

Garrick Ohlsson: It was fine. I don't recall exactly, now I'm not in a court of law, but it is my impression that he had never done it before.

Eric Friesen: I think that's possible.

Garrick Ohlsson: Very possible.

Eric Friesen: Cause he was learning the repertoire.

Garrick Ohlsson: Yeah, given his field of expertise. But no, he had studied it very carefully, he loved it, and I thought it went awfully well. I mean the Grieg Concerto, more than some of the repertories, is a piece that the soloist can dominate. And I'm not saying that I needed to necessarily, but dominate in the sense that it was, it may not have been his fach18:56 exactly, but it certainly was mine. And you can sort of… the virtuoso piano can carry all before him in a Grieg Concerto. I mean you can set the tone and the tempos, the general mood, the pacing, the feeling. Whereas, for example, in the piece I made a debut in the Chopin 2nd, the problem with the Chopin concertos is that you can have the greatest orchestra in the world and the greatest conductor, but if the pianist doesn't do it, it's a lost cause. Conversely, you know in the Brahms piano concertos you can have the greatest pianist in the world, but if the orchestra and conductor are not splendid it's also just not happening. The Grieg is one that is a slightly symphonic concerto but the soloist really takes the heroic lead and shapes the performance. I'm kind of remembering that Trevor was enjoying that too. He certainly prepared it beautifully. I remember enjoying it very much.

Eric Friesen: Pianist Garrick Ohlsson. So our image of Trevor has had to change over the years. So many of us have grown up knowing Trevor Pinnock through his recordings with the English Concert and his still brilliant way with the baroque repertoire. But that brings up the question of period instruments versus modern instruments. When Trevor is working with the English Concert or any number of other baroque bands, they're using original instruments, the violins and other string instruments are strung with catgut instead of steel, for one thing. Coming to the National Arts Center Orchestra, Trevor was conducting Bach and Handel and Vivaldi with players on modern instruments. The transition is no problem for him.

Trevor Pinnock: Well I've always worked with modern instruments of course. And years ago I played harpsichord with the Academy of St Martin in the Fields on some tours and that was the world that I grew up in. Of course, I choose to explore some of the original instruments and that's been another separate journey. But I've never lost my feeling of being in touch with modern instruments. And that's how I feel today. I am happy to work with both sorts of instruments. One has to remember that the instrument is a tool of the trade for producing music, and that it's the music which actually matters more than the instruments.

Eric Friesen: And that's such an important point that Trevor makes, isn't it? - The instrument is a tool for making music, it's the music that counts more than the instrument. Amen, Trevor, Amen.

Violinist Elaine Klimasko, one of the founding players of the National Arts Center Orchestra who's still here 40 years later. Elaine remembers the thrill of playing baroque music with Trevor, but she tells us there were adjustments to be made on both sides.

Elaine Klimasko: To play anything baroque with him was just so memorable because there was so much to learn. I had never worked with a master of baroque music like that before. He was really terrific.

Eric Friesen: So it wasn't a problem to have someone come in from the period performance background and, you know, because he had created The English Concert, and so here he is and you've been developing along lines, you are a classical size orchestra and you've played a lot of baroque music. But were there difficulties there or not?

Elaine Klimasko: Well sometimes we just didn't listen to him. I mean you can't tell me to stop vibrating, because my hand doesn't know how to do that (laughs). I mean I can minimize it, but it's very hard. I think sometimes he just gave up a little bit because that's not how we played.

Eric Friesen: Elaine Klimasko with a view from the orchestra. Another view from the orchestra comes from Karoly Sziladi, who's been with NACO from the beginning. Sziladi says they really respected Trevor's views on baroque music, but they couldn't replicate the English Concert, period instrument sound.

Karoly Sziladi: Well you know, now and again, because of the baroque style, here comes this string problem, you know. How do you hold the bow, how much bow pressure... When you're always told to have warm sound, this means that the left hand has to have the finger vibrato wrist vibrato, arm vibrato, whatever is needed. This was something that we just had to work for to try and please him. I'm not always really sure that we pleased him all the time. I had this feeling that it's never going to sound like his group, which is a small group, easier to handle, they specialize in that type of baroque style of music. I mean what is really authentic, I mean who really knows? Who was around 200 years ago I always say. But it is true, that yeah, the romantic music, when you play Brahms and so on, you do need a big left hand vibrato. Ask Pinchas or anybody. With this type of music you just had to tell your left hand to cool it, just cool it, because the maestro isn't going to like it (laughs).

Eric Friesen: National Arts Center Orchestra Violininst Karoly Sziladi. Trevor will be back in later programs, talking about Canadian music and touring. But for now I'll give him the last word. I asked him to think back to his time here in Ottawa, and how his time here was for him personally.

Trevor Pinnock: If I am absolutely honest, I would have to say that I found them some of the most difficult of my life. But, there were moments of great joy and richness. I learnt so much, partly from the difficulties and the challenges I had to deal with.

Eric Friesen: What did you learn?

Trevor Pinnock: Well it just enriched my capability of understanding things about the world outside me. I couldn't be immune to what was going around. I had to learn to deal with these things. I think now if I were there, and at the same time, I would be able to do so much more comfortably for myself. So that's what I've learnt within. But of course life's not like that, you have to take things as they are, when they are. So it was a rich experience, but a very tough one.

Eric Friesen: Well after you finished in your official capacities you came back several times and then there was a hiatus of maybe about nine years. Then in December 07, you came back for that wonderful period when you conducted both the Christmas Oratorio and the Messiah. I was here and I remember that. That must have been an almost redemptive experience.

Trevor Pinnock: Oh it was, absolutely. I was so happy to see my friends of the orchestra alive and well. I was so happy to be able to walk into an Arts Center where I could immediately feel in the air that things are alright. It may have difficulties, but I could feel that the whole spirit of the place was all together healthy, and I could feel that yes, this place is playing its part in the community and is in a healthy condition. I thought that was thrilling actually. Then, in the music making, of course I found people very very responsive. There had been changes of course, some wonderful new people. I mean there were changes from when I had started; you know I had appointed some new wind players who were coming in, now they're the most senior members of the orchestra. So that was really important. Now of course, times have changed more, Prystawski left, his fantastic life's work, of making that orchestra his life, and you have a wonderful new leader, who was a joy to work with in the Christmas Oratorio.

Eric Friesen: You've known this orchestra over so many years. You talked about the sound, you talked about your experience of working with them in the beginning, how do you find the orchestra now? Has the sound changed? How do you find it now?

Trevor Pinnock: Well the last time I worked with them I found them very flexible to my ideas of sound. Of course, an orchestra will adjust its sound to different conductors to some extent. It does have its own house sort of style and that comes from the music director and the players themselves. It's a mixture, difficult to say who's completely responsible for the sound. But every conductor will make a different sound with an orchestra. What's important about an orchestra is that it should have the quality and flexibility to be able to adjust its sound. It does that by having a lot of technical discipline and by having a lot of generosity of spirit. It needs both things.

Eric Friesen: Trevor Pinnock, saluting the orchestra as he thinks back on his time here as Artistic Director and Principal Conductor, and also on his more recent returns to guest conduct. Trevor's time with NACO was, as he has so honestly said, very challenging. But he must be given some of the credit for the survival of the orchestra through this difficult time. He did help heal the place, he kept the orchestra playing at its best, he left us with memories of wonderful concerts, and he set the stage for the glories of the last decade, which I'll get to in the next program of this series.

Music clip

Eric Friesen: Trevor Pinnock leading members of the National Arts Center Orchestra from the harpsichord in some of Bach's Brandenburg Concerto No. 5. I'm Eric Friesen and you're listening to the third program in our series on the forty year history of the National Arts Center Orchestra. These are the Pinnock years. But there's another dimension to the 90s with the National Arts Center Orchestra. While at the same time that they were playing baroque music and the classical repertoire, and early romantic rep with Trevor, the orchestra was also playing music like this.

Music clip

Eric Friesen: You're listening to the National Arts Center Orchestra play the brash opening bars of the Symphonic Metamorphoses on Themes of Carl Maria von Weber - by the composer Paul Hindemith. And on the podium, an extraordinary German conductor who has made his home in Canada for many years - Franz Paul Decker.

There have been many wonderful guest conductors of the NACO over the years, but I want to focus on one who was very important in the 1990's. Franz Paul Decker, who was the Principal Guest Conductor here from 1991-1999. He had been Music Director of the Montreal Symphony from 1967-1975, and some of you may have seen his Christmas Special from Notre Dame Basilica in Montreal with tenor Luciano Pavarotti. It still makes the rounds on TV at Christmas.

Franz Paul is very much bred and steeped in the German tradition. His Strauss and Wagner and Mahler is legendary, as is his Spanish repertoire. He looks the part too with his long mane of silver hair. But there is a roguish streak to Decker which makes him more than the typical German Kapellmeister. I've interviewed him a number of times, and watched him in rehearsal, and he's to say the least - a character.

Critic Jean-Jacques Van Vlasselaer remembers Decker very fondly, and tells us what Decker meant to the era of 90's with the National Arts Center Orchestra.

Jean-Jacques Van Vlasselaer: He meant a different way of rehearsing. An extraordinary will power of knowing which sounds he wants and at what moment, what is behind the sounds, or beyond the sounds, the physical and metaphysical meaning of that sound. There you have a Kapellmeister who has learned his job in the trenches. Who has known, and he loves to say that, and he only met him once, but that he has met Richard Strauss.

Eric Friesen: He played cards with him I think.

Jean-Jacques Van Vlasselaer: No, he saw him play cards with his friends. I agree with you, a remarkably gifted conductor, who had worked a long period with the Montreal Symphony Orchestra. Each time he came in, the musicians sat down and said, ok we'll go through a great learning period. He is going to go after us like anything but something will happen. And it is worth it. He has given concerts with Bandoneon and Tango music as well as Richard Strauss, Wagner, or some British music. Unforgettable, unforgettable.

Eric Friesen: Unforgettable Decker is as a great music maker and as a pixie, mischievous, Puck-like character, both on and off the stage. I've been very fond of him when I've met him as I interviewed him a number of times, and also as a music-maker over the years. And I confessed this to violinist Elaine Klimasko, wondering how she felt about Decker.

Elaine Klimasko: Well you are in great company Eric, because I love Franz Paul Decker. I was fortunate that I had the chance to meet him when I was with the National Youth Orchestra in, maybe it was 1966 and he conducted. And once again, I had nothing to compare him to, but I knew…

Eric Friesen: You were a kid.

Elaine Klimasko: I was a kid, I was very young. But I knew that something amazing was happening in front of me. And when he came back to conduct this orchestra for me it was just… I couldn't wait for his return. And to be honest, I still feel that way.

Eric Friesen: So what is it about him, what makes him so good?

Elaine Klimasko: Well he's just… he has these remarkable hands that when he stretches those hands out to the orchestra, it's like they were way longer than anyone else's hands. You just feel that he's inviting that last stand in to make music. He'll stop the rehearsal and say something to us, make a suggestion, and then the way he says the word “come”. Just inviting you to all come play together, and sometimes he'll look up at the ceiling and that phrase will go on for 32 measures. I have had the opportunity now to work with many great conductors over the last 40 years, and he's at the top of the list for me. Unfortunately he's as crazy as a bedbug (laughs). He does all his own bookings, from what I understand he doesn't even have an agent or anything. He's really one of a kind human being. This is great conducting, this is the real thing. To even find someone who even looks remotely as good as he does as a conductor. And he, I mean the grace of a man who's now 80 or more. The way he walks out on stage and sort of jumps up on to the podium and begins, the circular motions on how he picks up his stick to begin a concert, it's just all else is forgotten.

Eric Friesen: And what Elaine Klimasko says is echoed by all the musicians I talked to - his demanding, driving, disciplinary style, and his often zany character. But above all - the memory of his music-making with NACO, which is what counts after all. Karoly Sziladi remembers the human side of Franz Paul Decker as well as the great musician.

Karoly Sziladi: Well he loves to eat. I know because every time he came my wife cooked for him. Chicken, bean soup with smoked pork in it and maestro Decker just loves that kind of food. He was always at our house, he loves to eat. We never talked about music or anything. We leave that to him on the stage. He liked to have his way. There was a man that I knew from day one, when he came to the National Youth Orchestra, cause I happen to play in the early 60s, the first year it was of course Walter Susskind conducting, then the second year we did an east coast tour with Victor Feldbrill and Jon Everson, and the third year in the 60s was Franz Paul Decker came with the National Youth Orchestra. A number of my friends remember him in the NYO. He was a strict disciplinarian. But in those days we could see that he got tremendous results. Later on, yes too, I mean he was disciplinarian with us too, especially when it came to unusual music we got to play with him with Wagner or Strauss and things like that, which we hardly ever played. So we trusted the man. I remember when we were on tour, we were in Winnipeg and we had a day off, I'm not sure after or before our concert, and he did a Pops concert, now there is a man who knows not only Strauss etc… but everything, as we say in Hungary, it is in his fingertips. As soon as he walks out, he looks like a maestro, he doesn't have to conduct. And he came out, no music or nothing, it's in his fingertips.

Eric Friesen: I've seen him do Spanish repertoire with these Canadian orchestras, and the rhythms, the vitality… unbelievable.

Karoly Sziladi: He's dynamic definitely.

Eric Friesen: Karoly Sziladi. When I asked pianist Garrick Ohlsson about Franz Paul Decker he had a very definite one word answer.

Garrick Ohlsson: Fabulous, and I knew it would be and I was anticipating it. Decker's one of the conductors that I've felt that I wished I'd worked with more because I enjoyed it so much. I only played with him once in Montreal, and a couple decades later in Ottawa. This was a guy who had that repertory and that kind of repertory style right in his bones. I really felt that we both understood the deep structure of the work together, he really had the flow and the understanding of intricate counter point and the drama of the piece. As I say, in his bones. It was wonderful. I do find him a vivid personality. I don't know him so terribly well, but I enjoyed the experience. It was just great to do it. Actually, this is another interesting thing about the NAC Orchestra is the fact that though it's a classical size orchestra, it has always loved to venture into the bigger territory. And of course with the Brahms 2nd Concerto we know, and have known historically that this is a piece which might not have been played in Brahms' time with a sort of modern size full symphony, I don't think it was necessarily the norm to have 100 people on stage. And the quantity we had in Ottawa was absolutely fine, but given the superlative quality of the whole orchestra, specifically the strings, I mean it's far better to have a small number of violins playing superbly.

Eric Friesen: (Laughs) Right.

Garrick Ohlsson: So I mean it felt great, obviously. And this is a discussion you have in Ottawa a lot. You know, there are some massive works which don't go, but this was fantastic.

Eric Friesen: Garrick Ohlsson. Now professional musicians like Garrick don't use words like fabulous and fantastic lightly. So I want you to listen to some of the Brahms 2nd Concerto which Decker and Ohlsson made with the National Arts Center Orchestra over two nights, February 26 and 27, 1997. This is the muscular but also magical second movement, and it really shows that occasional wonderful harmony between soloist, conductor, and orchestra that you dream of when you come to a concert.

Music clip

Eric Friesen: Pianist Garrick Ohlsson with Principal Guest conductor Franz Paul Decker leading the National Arts Center Orchestra. That was the second movement from Brahms Piano Concerto No. 2 in B flat major. I know that many of you listening will want to hear the whole thing after hearing that.

Walter Prystawski was Concertmaster then, as he was for most of the Orchestra's 40 years. He was there that Brahms night. He also remembers Decker fondly.

Walter Prystawski: I respected him and admired him. I loved making music with him. For some reason he and I got along very well. We met while I was still in Europe, and we once had a coffee in Cologne, he's still got a house in Cologne. We talked about a possible… conceivable that maybe I might be interested in something in Montreal at the time, which didn't work out. He is, for me, the prototypical German conductor in the best possible sense of that term. He has done things with the orchestra here that I thought were just amazing. And of course, there were times of great hilarity. And him being the volatile personality, there were times of quite the opposite too (laughs).

Eric Friesen: Yeah. I've certainly seen that in rehearsals.

Walter Prystawski: Right, exactly.

Eric Friesen: Walter Prystawski. Now Trevor Pinnock told us earlier what an incredibly flexible orchestra NACO is. One moment they're playing Bach, and the next minute Brahms, Hindemith or Sibelius. And with Franz-Paul Decker, they entered that other country, and brilliantly so.

Music clip

Eric Friesen: The extraordinary, almost shocking ending of Jean Sibelius Symphony No.5. The National Arts Center Orchestra led by its Principal Guest Conductor Franz Paul Decker, January 1992.

And so ends this 3rd chapter in the history of the National Arts Center Orchestra, an era of challenges gradually overcome, and some brilliant music-making which is still there to listen to. If you want to hear more, you can listen by going to the NAC's website, artsalive.ca and you can register to the NACO Musicbox, and there you'll find nearly 150 live recorded performances by the National Arts Center Orchestra and you can access all of them. On the next program - the Pinchas years. I'm Eric Friesen, thanks for listening... stay in touch and let me know your thoughts and memories.