Guy and I flew to Kelowna on Friday morning and had an unforgettable 2 days in the western Canadian paradise of the Okanagan Valley.
We were met by cellist, Audrey King Wilson and taken to lunch at the Quail’s Nest restaurant overlooking Lake Okanagan. Scott Wilson, the General Manager of the Okanagan Symphony, joined us after his morning of meetings and it was wonderful to visit. I know Scott and Audrey from their many years with the Toronto Symphony, but this was my first opportunity to sit and visit with them. They have made a huge life change in leaving the metropolis after 40 years with the TSO to pursue their wine business and to help run the Okanagan Symphony. Audrey has surprised herself by returning to orchestral playing as principal cello with the OSO starting in the 2012-13 season; Scott has sold his horn to protect himself from the temptation to do the enormous work of getting back into shape. It was fascinating to me to hear about the pivotal moments that have led to this change, to hear about their vivid experiences earlier in their lives that led to a fascination with fine food and viniculture… their culinary knowledge is extreme (to me) yet it is woven into an aesthetic of simplicity and pleasure in the moment. This takes skill and concentration to maintain! Or maybe just a certainty about values. Either way, the two days were incredible for me because we were being looked after by two first-rate musicians who understood our needs… a real luxury.
The afternoon passed quickly… I made a reed for the following day’s concert and Guy and I both practised a bit before dinner. Scott and Audrey prepared fresh things from their terraced garden at the back of the house…. multi-hued heirloom tomatoes, skins removed and chopped finely, buffalo mozzarella finely cubed, basil made into a chiffonade (I think), then the whole sauce blended with olive oil and left to sit while we ate vibrant green salsa made with lime juice and something else, so sweet, but made without any sweetener.
Rosemary Thomson arrived with her husband Dan and two bright children, Molly and Sam. Audrey cooked the pasta and Scott tossed the fresh sauce in with the hot noodles and we devoured it along with a fresh salad. Guy and I don’t drink, but everyone else had fragrant wines. It was wonderful to have time to get to know each other a bit before the big fundraiser event the next day. We said goodnight at 10 pm and Rosemary still had to put the commemorative slide show together after her kids were in bed…. it is challenging to be a conductor (she leads the Okanagan Symphony and the Youth Orchestra and other groups) and have young children but she is juggling it all.
The next day, we were up early and my first band teacher arrived on the dot of 9:00 a.m. as we had arranged, whisking me and Guy to their downtown condo overlooking the lakes and hills. We had a magnificent breakfast made by Debbie Hartely…rosemary/goat cheese bread pudding… also beautiful fruit from the area and turkey bacon… it was so good! I feel so fortunate when I see Gary Hartley… he was the one that sent the eternal bell of inspiration vibrating when I was a youngster… he made us feel how vast and inviting the world of music could be. I don’t really know how he did it, but forever etched in my mind is a vision of him standing sideways, trumpet lifted, playing for us. I have to confess, I’ve ALWAYS had a thing for trumpeters… Anyway, both he and Debbie welcome us with all their hearts and I feel fueled to face the world again after being with them.
We had time to walk downtown and visit the lakeside and go to the excellent coffee shop and stores and see the unforgettable sight of a small dashund named Thomas chasing (herding) a soccer ball that was three times bigger than him, then meet local bassoonist Darren Williams. He had just finished a bassoon quartet rehearsal!! I had hoped to have time to give him a lesson, but the time was gone, so he drove us back to fetch our instruments… later, I wished that I had used the time to make an even better reed, but that is always the dilemma of touring… do I soak up the once-in-a-lifetime beauty of the moment or do I scrape a reed? There is no right answer.
Gary and Debbie jumped into their car to drive us into the country to the huge white winery overlooking the grand valley… blue skies, grape vines quivering in the sun, the huge Lake Okanagan shimmering below. Yeah.
A Yamaha piano was set up on stage and we were banked on either side by immense stainless steel wine vats and oaken barrels… huge industrial garage windows at either end. I loved the sound but a sweetly persistent sound man bristled our tiny stage with microphone stands… we felt a bit oppressed but whatever… maybe it would bring extra clarity. The volunteer staff was setting up round tables and long tables with all of the silent auction items. Scott Wilson, the general manager, was also acting as computer tech master, coördinating two huge television screens to show a slide show at the evening fundraiser. Though he found the task stressful, he was able to navigate the techno-maze to create a smoothly functioning system in time for the event to start.
And to his credit, he had to drive me and Guy around the lake to get dressed for the show before he had finished getting the videos working and he muttered only a little bit.
When we got home, Audrey was back from her gig in the mountains (a wedding on an airstrip… you’ll have to ask her) and dressed for the evening. She whipped up perfect scrambled eggs for me and Guy, then I started my elaborate preparations. Sometimes Guy wishes I had simpler dresses that did not involve such a production to get into, but that isn’t going to happen soon. We drove back to the winery in the afternoon glow and mingled with the patrons in the beautiful upper wine bar while twin violinists from the youth symphony gamely played for the happy noisy convivial crowd. Then Guy played a fanfare from Vaughan Williams’ Pilgrims Progress and everyone went down to dinner. The sun was setting and the room was softly lit by candles and tiny white lights strung amidst the gleaming vats. I suddenly wished that I had memorized all of my music but the playing went well and the audience was deeply attentive… we played two sets, and in between, sat down to a gourmet meal prepared by chef Roger Planiden and paired with Tantalus wines chosen by winemaker David Paterson… again, Guy and I only inhaled the wafting perfumes of the wines but we happily ate the exquisite food with our new patron friends.
Rosemary Thomson (conductor) was the cheerful mc with animated help from Kevin Lim of Astral Media’s Morning Show in Kelowna. We had an incredible response from the people and I always feel that I am so stinking lucky to have these opportunities. And so glad that we will be returning to play with the Okanagan Symphony in March 2014.
We talked with many people and got home late but happy. Shoved everything into suitcases and fell into bed.
Sunday morning, I was up at a reasonably early hour. Audrey made me lovely scrambled eggs and Scott drove me to the airport for my flight to Vancouver. I was met at the airport by George Zukerman, the Order of Canada bassoonist who has travelled the world giving concerts and helping hundreds of communities to establish viable concert societies. We were meeting to discuss his show, the Great Mozart Hunt which I might be taking on for future performances. George ran through the whole show from memory, explaining the musical research and choices of music, then doing it all again with actor, Ron Halder. I had the presence of mind to get some video footage of George, so beautifully animated as he narrated the script and described the music.
We had lunch with George’s violinist wife, Erica and then George drove me to the bus and I got back to the airport in time for my evening flight back to Toronto.
Guy was still asleep when I left Kelowna as his flight to Toronto was not ‘til noon. After my great day in Vancouver, I too flew back to the big TO, arriving at 2 a.m., and Guy was already home, sound asleep.
It was a great two days. God, I love my job.