Music: It’s like Bluesfest but with batons

A few blocks west of Parliament Hill in the nation’s capital is a mysterious site called LeBreton Flats, which Ottawa’s city fathers somehow forgot to develop. It is now nearly the last pristine piece of grassland in central Ottawa. Well, “pristine.” “Trampled” is more like it. Ottawa’s Bluesfest just wrapped up, with 350,000 people enjoying such much-loved blues bands as the Arcade Fire, Flaming Lips, Santana, Metric and Stars.

Now comes the quieter component of the summer’s activity. The National Arts Centre used to play host to a summertime Great Composers Festival inside Southam Hall at cut-rate prices, but even then ticket sales were soft. So in recent years they’ve preferred to put on free concerts at LeBreton Flats. Repertoire is resolutely crowd-pleasing, the evening sky is clear (knock on wood) and the price is right: all four concerts are free.

The NAC Orchestra carries the bulk of the workload, with concerts on Friday, Saturday and Sunday under guest conductor Edwin Outwater (his NAC debut; I wrote about him here). Friday they’ll play opera highlights, Saturday they’ll welcome tiny perfect singer Nikki Yanofsky, and on Sunday they’ll play Gershwin.

I’ll catch at least one of Outwater’s concerts, but I’ll also definitely be on hand Thursday when the Orchestre de la Francophonie canadienne performs under its founding music director, young conductor Jean-Philippe Tremblay.

Tremblay likes to work this summertime young-professional orchestra hard, simulating the pace of a real professional career for his young charges, and at the end of short, bustling summer tours he sets ambitious recording projects for them. Really ambitious. Last year’s orchestra recorded all nine Beethoven symphonies, to respectful reviews. Later this summer they’ll record Schumann’s four symphonies in concert. At LeBreton Flats they’ll play one of the Schumanns, plus a Beethoven piano concerto and a newly-commissioned piece from composer Andrew Staniland. It would be one of the concert highlights of the summer even if it happened under a roof.

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