Old Music Feels Oddly New

My recording life started in Montreal with dozens of MSO recordings under Charles Dutoit and I am reminded of this every time that I return to this beautiful city.

This week, I am playing a concerto on baroque bassoon at a special benefit concert being held at the Salle Mercure of Centre Pierre-Péladeau. VIVA GRAUPNER features diverse concerti by Christoph Graupner and is the brainchild of Geneviève Soly, director of the baroque ensemble, Les Idées Heureses. This concert will showcase 9 concerti and will be recorded by CBC for future broadcast. Here is a recent article in Le Devoir about Geneviève’s decade-long labour of dedicated championing of Graupner.

Geneviève has assembled a very lively group of musicians and the atmosphere is one of discovery as each newly-edited concerto is rehearsed (I was going to say released). I am opting to sit in the continuo section when I am not playing my solo… it is always really enjoyable to play with hot basso players and it gives me time to get really comfortable with my baroque bassoon.
Though Geneviève has strong opinions and knows this composer deeply, she is also welcomes my interpretation, occasionally exclaiming, as she dutifully makes notes in her score, that she has never done it this way yet is intrigued and amused.
Unknown to myself, I was nervous for the first reading, and confounded one of the simple rhythms in the first andante and then my F key lost a screw and twanged to the floor. Things got better though and today, I somehow was able to live in the sure knowledge that this music is lightly written in ways that allow for inspiration in the moment — the music allows for as much invention as I am capable of mustering, either in tone, articulation or ornaments. The strings respond in kind and discover effects that I could never have imagined. Geneviève has boundless energy and enthusiasm, offering to repeat movements in different ways… this kind of pneumatic, terrier-like involvement is wonderful to me, and gives many opportunities to start to learn the voice of this composer.
And I am discovering a voice that is by turns tender, suave, dark, earthy, humorous in a ways both sly and candid — though written sometime around 1744, this concerto (GWV 307) feels oddly new and is a thrill.
And when we walk out on stage next Monday, the microphones will be standing like slim sentinels, my silent, all-hearing familiars in my small world of endless discovery.

My Friend Wins an Award and I Feel Very Very Happy

My friend has just won a very important award in the Canadian music scene. Guy Few has been awarded Touring Artist of the Year by CAPACOA.

It is so gratifying to see that his work has been noticed by the people behind the scenes in the world of touring musicians and so great that he was recognized amongst genres and disciplines beyond and including classical music. He certainly never expected this and in fact, when he told me two weeks ago that he had been nominated, I promptly made a bet with him that he would win. I bet $539.13 that he would get the award… he ignored me and began talking about something else.
To his credit, he offered to pay me on Sunday when the results were announced but of course I wouldn’t let him.
In the end, I feel as glad as if I had won this myself. He is the only classical artist I know who makes his living traveling around the continent and playing art music in solo settings rather than buffered by institutions of various kinds. It is a rare and remarkable life and I am so fortunate to share some of it with him.

Orchestra is an essential experience (for me, but maybe for everyone…)

Tonight, I heard an expertly performed version of the Rite of Spring, played by two pianists and a percussion section. Though it was a curiosity, at times delightful, and historically relevant (it was Stravinsky’s own version), it made me ache for the orchestral colours. Not only the frail, plangent bassoon, but the primal horns and earthy oboes, the powerful strings, the fireworks piccolo and mysterious alto flute. The piano version was like a sketch by a great master, deeply attractive, hinting a powerful shapes and colours, but never fulfilling them entirely. Lost was the fragility, the rawness, the great powerful waves of sound and rhythm.

The first record I ever owned was Rite of Spring, played by the Cleveland Orchestra. I could only play the disc at school (Prince George Senior Secondary) because we lived off-the-grid, thirty miles from the town of Prince George. We did have an electrical generator, but it provided the wrong kind of current since my Dad had salvaged it from a train… we blew up a toaster trying to use it (the generator). Anyway, when I went to university, I played the disc in the UBC library and would fall asleep listening to it on repeat. Later, I got to play the piece with Rafael Frubeck de Borgos when he conducted the Curtis Symphony Orchestra, and just a few years later, I got to tour all over Europe with the Montreal Symphony and Charles Dutoit, playing the Rite, including Paris where it all began. We recorded the work and it is written on my soul.

I love orchestral colour… to hear a great symphony from the inside is like living in a great painting… it is indescribable and unforgettable and addictive in the extreme. And it all began for me in a northern logging town that had the foresight to start a music programme and hire a superb band teacher who in turn put in a good word for me when the community orchestra started. So many good things have come to my life from that first experience. Every time that I play Mozart’s 40th, I think of the time I played it with the Prince George Symphony Orchestra — the wind section consisted of me, a flute and an oboe. On the recording, I couldn’t even hear myself! How things have changed yet none of it could have happened without the first opportunity that this community orchestra gave me.

About Time…

Time is utterly precious. Time is essential to the creation of recordings. Most musicians have very little. Time, that is.

Today, I got up at 6:30 a.m. to make breakfast for myself, my elderly Dad, my son, and Diva the Cat. I also made lunches and enough food to get me through a day of driving to compass points in the city. I drove my son to school through thick traffic, finding an unexpected shortcut and delivering him at exactly the very last possible moment. Then my Dad and I attended an hour long house inspection for my new abode and I fielded several calls from people wanting to offer me mortgages. I contacted designers, painters and movers. I cancelled my single student for the day, feeling it more important to secure financing for the new house (sorry darling!). Then I took my brave old Dad to lunch, then returned home to pick up my son’s choir music that he had forgotten in the morning. Then I checked the memos from the choir and realized that today was a photo shoot for the chorus, so I went back and got my son’s suit bag but realized that he lacked black socks and dress shoes. I raced across town to pick him up at school, then we went to his Dad’s house and hunted for socks. The we got in the truck and drove north, stopping at 4 stores looking for dress shoes, found some, and arrived exactly on the hour of the rehearsal. We learned that the photo shoot was postponed until October 23 —great, so we are ahead of the game! Then I sped back south and arrived just in time for my workout session with my trainer, then called my manager and arranged newest publicity and a programming meeting. Drove back up north in the oily dark sheeting rain and parade of red tail lights, found a parking spot and ate my supper in the truck (so much for the new truck smell!) then fetched my son. We stopped to buy beer for my Dad who needed a reward after a day of sitting in my truck (he said it was fun but he needed a beer)… the store was closing but the kind lady waved me in and locked the door behind me. I loved her for that. Then home and Dad heated his own supper while I tried to help my son screw the motherboard into the computer he is building. We failed and got a little sad. Dad took apart another server and it might work for the motherboard but my son decided to crash after a long day. Dad came downstairs to see if he could help clean up, but I was desperate to practise after a long day with not music and sent him to bed (sorry Dad!). So I will play for another hour then go to bed and get up at 6 to start all over again. Teaching from morning to evening in two cities, ear glued to the cell phone between times, fetching my son and trying to spend time with my Dad. Sometime this week, I must finish the editing for our recital CD, plan the release of my solo CD and finalize the recording sessions for the Canadian Conceri CDs… the time must be found in corners and behind other seemingly solid obstacles.

Talking about recording

I was part of a very interesting focus group discussion on the necessity and viability of recording art music of all genres.

I was very touched that this large government group asked “How important is it for you to make recordings?” and never once asked, ” How do you justify the large number of recordings that you have made and continue to make?”
I was also touched and puzzled by my invitation to this event, since I have rarely been successful in my grant applications… maybe one in 10 applications has received any funding. The big advantage is that I use the experience to focus my ideas and I have learned to keep trying and not be bitter. It is a passionate process though, and my voice shook embarrassingly as I spoke (very briefly) about my experiences in pushing through big projects.
I will tell you more (I took copious notes) about this day-long symposium though I suppose the most interesting thing was that the wide variety of musicians represented at the table (flamenco, ojibway, south indian, jazz, celtic, accordianist and, well, me) all agreed vehemently that recording was integral to our living breathing creative lives as fully functioning artistic musicians.