Canada's National Arts Centre Orchestra will perform at Salisbury Cathedral — the tallest spire in Britain and home to one of four original copies of the Magna Carta as well as one of the world's oldest working clocks — this fall during a special U.K. tour marking the First World War Centenary.
NACO music director Pinchas Zukerman is revealing details of the October tour in Ottawa today, joined by dignitaries including Laureen Harper, Parliamentary Secretary of Canadian Heritage Rick Dykstra and U.K. High Commissioner Howard Drake.
Prince Charles, a devoted classical music fan, will serve as royal patron for the 10-day tour, which was first announced last fall and will see the NACO give performances in cities including London, Edinburgh, Nottingham, Salisbury and Bristol.
As with its past national and international tours, the orchestra's players will also participate in dozens of educational and outreach activities — including master classes, workshops, coaching sessions and classes — with local student musicians.
“Through this tour, the NAC is delighted to be able to underscore the close ties between Canada and the U.K., and to mark the 100th anniversary of Canadians arriving on British soil in preparation for the First World War. This tour will showcase not only the brilliant work of Canadian composers and the NAC Orchestra musicians, it will also allow school children on both sides of the Atlantic to explore the themes of remembrance and healing through music,” Christopher Deacon, managing director of the NAC Orchestra, said in a statement.
One of the tour highlights will be a performance at Salisbury Cathedral, a key inspiration for Ken Follett's bestselling novel The Pillars of the Earth and an important wartime landmark for the historic city.
A century ago, the first wave of Canadian soldiers bound for war in France spent months training in the Salisbury Plain area. Canadian soldier, physician and poet John McCrae — best known for writing In Flanders Fields — trained in the fields around Salisbury from October 1914 through February 1915. Just months later, he was put in charge of a field hospital during the Second Battle of Ypres and, after the battlefield death of a friend, penned his now famed war memorial poem.
Historian and author Margaret MacMillan is also set to join the tour, to speak about the relationship between Britain and Canada in the period just before and through the First World War.
At today's announcement, a choir performed part of the late Canadian composer Malcolm Forsyth's A Ballad of Canada — a work that incorporates imagery from McCrae's iconic poem and which will be part of the orchestra's musical repertoire during this fall's tour.
The NACO is also set to team up with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra for a joint concert at London's Royal Festival Hall that will conclude with Beethoven's Ninth Symphony. Zukerman has served as music director of the National Arts Centre Orchestra since 1999 and the principal guest conductor of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra since 2009.
“I call London — Great Britain, really — my second home," he said at Tuesday's event in Ottawa.
"This [tour] in a way is a celebration, but at the same time, I feel that we need to express our condolences to the families, as well as the countries, that took part in the First World War, the Second World War and all the wars that have existed in the 20th century," he added.
"Bringing music and having music play a major role — as it has in England for many, many centuries — I think is very symbolic to [show] the good in the human soul.”
The NACO's U.K. tour takes place Oct. 22-30.