Recent News
October 4, 2018
Ottawa Citizen

Concert review:
Diana Ross with the NAC Orchestra
NAC Gala, Wednesday only

By: Lynn Saxburg

The Queen of Motown, Diana Ross, helped the National Arts Centre Foundation raise more than $750,000 for young musicians with a fabulous performance that spanned her career, from the Supremes to the disco era to adult-contemporary pop.

Augmenting it all was the backing of the full NAC orchestra, under the enthusiastic direction of Alexander Shelley, who’s a serious Motown fan, and the lush voices of a gospel-influenced choir.

Shelley and his musicians clearly won over the music legend, who tripped over the superlatives in her appreciation, describing the orchestra as “awesome, magnificent and amazing.”

It was Ross’ first time performing in Ottawa in almost three decades, and the occasion warranted royal treatment for both the diva and her fans. For guests, there was a red carpet to show off their gala finery, along with wine and hors d’oeuvres and a greeting from the prime minster’s wife, Sophie Gregoire-Trudeau.

Against this elegant backdrop, the orchestra unfurled a medley of Motown tunes as a musical introduction, shifting into Ross’ anthem of empowerment, I’m Coming Out, the ideal tune for a grand entrance. Her sparkling emerald-green gown was the first in a series of four glamourous looks for the 74-year-old Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Famer.

The singer’s smile lit up the room and her voice rang true, the years melting away with every hit. “If you know these songs, sing along,” Ross said, sailing into a string of Supremes favourites that included Baby Love, Stop! In the Name of Love, Come See About Me and You Can’t Hurry Love.

Ross also devoted time to hits of the ’70s and ’80s, including highlights such as Touch Me In the Morning, It’s My Turn, and the Wiz soundtrack song, Home. She also revisited her Billie Holliday role with a beautifully sultry Don’t Explain, from the soundtrack to Lady Sings The Blues, rounding out the main set with the upbeat Why Do Fools Fall in Love.

The final stretch featured even more hits, including the romantic My Endless Love, the theme from Mahogany (Do You Know Where You’re Going To), the classic Ain’t No Mountain High Enough and a soul-stirring, gospel-drenched rendition of her first solo single, 1970’s Reach Out and Touch (Somebody’s Hand).

In the newly renovated Southam Hall, the state-of-the-art orchestra shell appeared to pose some challenges in balancing the amplified vocals of a pop singer with the acoustic instruments of the orchestra. Although it wasn’t a major distraction, there were no such issues with the orchestra’s first half of the concert.

That jam-packed suite of musical riches showed off the nimble and expressive playing of the orchestra on crowd-pleasers by Glinka, Sarasate and Bizet. The familiar movements of Carmen were an early highlight.

Handling the tricky solo in Sarasate’s Gypsy Airs was Blake Pouliot, one of Canada’s most promising stars of the violin. In a sequined tux, the charismatic 24-year-old left jaws on the ground with his spotlight performance, displaying impeccable instincts and a clean, delicate touch that was showcased to perfection in the new shell

It’s safe to say we’ll be seeing a lot more of this remarkable young musician, who is, by the way, an alumnus of the NAC’s National Youth and Education Trust, the reason for Wednesday’s gala. In its 22-year history, the NAC Gala has netted more than $13 million for the Trust and its educational initiatives.

Related Link
Back to List
Back to Top