From Ravel to Barber… to Bernstein: the full range of emotions

You may not have heard much about the composer Samuel Barber. Yet, his most frequently performed piece of music is without a doubt the most famous classical melody of the 20th century: we are referring to the Adagio for Strings, the centrepiece of the concert performed by the OSM on October 4 and 5.

Barber’s Adagio for Strings, performed for the first time in its orchestral version at a legendary concert conducted by the great Arturo Toscanini in New York in 1938, has become one of Hollywood’s most popular refrains. It was on the soundtrack of the Elephant ManPlatoon and, beyond Hollywood, in the French film Le fabuleux destin d’Amélie Poulain. It also became a staple of television series, including SeinfeldER and The Simpsons.


The music is timeless: kids have heard it in videogames and even in Dutch DJ Tiësto’s remixes, a mainstay of electronic music!


Why so popular? No doubt because over time, this 10-minute piece has become the trademark for a melancholy mood. Within the first few seconds, the slow and regular simple melody gradually carries listeners along to some heartbreaking climaxes. Then, following a long pause, the music gently fades away in mourning before returning to serenity.


Adam Johnson, the assistant conductor of the OSM, will be conducting the From Ravel to Barber concert.

As he begins his second season with the OSM, the young conductor, who won the Canada Council for the Arts’ Jean-Marie-Beaudet Award in orchestra conducting, is already one of the orchestra’s most recognizable faces. His involvement in the summer OSM in the Park series made him the classical music ambassador for the entire Greater Montreal Area. This year, he delighted residents of Blainville, Brossard, Terrebonne and the Borough of Mercier-Hochelaga-Maisonneuve by performing classical works familiar to people because of their inclusion on movie soundtracks.


Following his electrifying performances at the Half Moon Run concerts, Adam will return to the stage to conduct the From Ravel to Barber.


The concert will shine the spotlight on two of the orchestra’s excellent musicians, each of whom will perform as a soloist:

  • Paul Merkelo will perform John Estacio’s Trumpet Concerto;
  • James Box will perform Tomasi’s Concerto for Trombone and Orchestra.

After careers in several American orchestras, the two virtuosi joined the OSM over 15 years ago. In addition to their work in the orchestra, they have also contributed actively to training young musicians in their respective instruments, at McGill University and elsewhere.


The concert will also include Ravel’s Alborada del gracioso, the French composer’s second best-known work after his famous Bolero. The piece borrows the Iberian sounds of guitars and castanets, albeit with a livelier pace. And although Alborada del gracioso makes for easy listening, it is a demanding work for musicians to play.


Orchestral music from West Side Story

The concert will end in a blaze of glory – Bernstein’s Symphonic Dances from West Side Story, a 20-minute suite of nine of the best-known tunes from the famous musical.

This Broadway show, inspired by Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, was as noteworthy for its dancing as its music. The film version of the show won 10 Oscars.


The Symphonic Dances include the Cuban Mambo and Cha-Cha, as well as several other well-known tunes, including Somewhere, which made West Side Story such a hit. This dazzling, cheerful and emotional orchestral suite will delight anyone even mildly susceptible to a good love story.


From Ravel to Barber  will be presented on Wednesday October 4 at 8 pm, and again on Thursday October 5 at 10:30 am and 7 pm.