Friday, 21 August 2015

Play on! Week Two of the Tuckamore Chamber Music Festival

I don't think there was single person in the audience last night, at the Brilliance of Beethoven, that wasn't blown away by the powerhouse playing of the Ariel Quartet.  Some were in tears.  Others were sighing words like "exquisite".  The least enthusiastic comment I overheard was "It was like listening to one instrument!"  Everyone it seemed was grateful for the opportunity to crawl up inside those long serene passages, especially those more accustomed to the tempestuous Beethoven favourites. 

As impressive as the playing was of the Ariel Quartet and Duo Concertante, it did not blot out the sparkle of the young artists earlier in the day.  Through out the Tuckamore Festival we have been treated to the offerings of the young artists.  It has been engaging to see them in various roles: working with a mentor in masterclasses, accompanying their colleagues, as soloists and in ensemble arrangements.  And let's not forget the young composers, who added invention to our existing menu of interpretation.  It makes for a multi-dimensional experience for both them and us–the audience.

We can look forward to both a masterclass and
grand performance by pianist Janina Fialkowska.

It is evident that the young artists are a bright, hard working and capable bunch that could well go on to do many things in life.  But it is also clear that some are simply meant to play music or as one appreciative member of the audience commented to me with gusto, "they play music like it matters!"  With twenty-two young artists participating this year it is impossible to mention them all; so here are a few standouts.  On violin Nic Carlucci from Ontario fills the impressive category while Amelie Roberts from Winnipeg fills the expressive category and importantly she does so without much fuss.  It intrigued me that Amanda Manmohan, violin, from Westmoorings, Trinidad and Tabago, followed her degree in Psychology with a BFA in music rather than the more customary other way round.  On cello it was gratifying to watch a pixie-like Conor Britt from New Brunswick produce a surprisingly mature and somber Fauré elegy meanwhile Peter Ko from Carlsbad, CA consistently immersed himself in whatever he was playing and swept audiences away in the process.  On piano Demetry Prezelj from Nova Scotia succeeded in communicating his deep love for romantic and classical music persuading us to watch for him in the future.

All of this feeds our anticipation for the concluding days of the Tuckamore Festival.  We still have the beatific Janina Fialkowska to look forward to and a resounding Festival Finale with the Young Artists.  Play on!

Saturday, 15 August 2015

From Inspiration to Perspiration: Week One of the Tuckamore Festival

Surely the Festival faithful are by now staggering under the weight of extraordinary music.  "Week one" is nearly over.  We've gone from the Duke Trio to Duke Ellington– à la Late Night Jazz and have ascended to the Gods of Music last night with a star-studded cast that is rarely assembled.  Today we get to Meet the Composers quite literally.

One of the rewarding things about the Tuckamore Festival is how it offers such an expanded and diverse world of music to the general public.  From inspiration to perspiration– and with a grand romp across musical idioms– we get entrée to the real world of musicians in so many various ways.

Nothing can replace the experience of hearing superb jazz in downtown St. John's - complete with the unscripted sounds of motorcycles on Water St. and the sweet smells of baking at the Rocket Room.  There were collective sighs of anticipation as Mark Fewer introduced the familiar jazz standards and alternatively chuckles as he scolded us for not recognizing others.  But we'll remember some of those names after watching the smoke almost come off his fiddle with Fewer's ferocious playing.  And Bill Brennan charmed us as always with his smooth, apparently effortless, piano playing.  They are a fitting counterpoint to each other as a duo.

The Gods of Music program took us from Schubert to Dohnanyi to Ravel.  The Schubert was an impressive four-hands by Timothy Steeves and Peter Longworth flying along the keyboards; the Dohnanyi was a memorable interpretation of all five movements of the Serenade in C major Op. 10 by Nancy Dahn (violin), Thomas Wiebe (cello) and David Samuel (viola); and the popular String Quartet in F Major by Ravel was played with aplomb by Fewer, Dahn, Samuel and Vernor Regehr on cello. 

Wiebe gave an excellent intro to Dohnanyi's family.
The audience left happily humming the beloved Ravel melody into a thankfully cooling night.  I gave silent thanks that Ravel had heeded Claude Debussy's advice in 1905: "In the name of the gods of music and in my own, do not touch a single note you have written in your Quartet."

Thursday, 13 August 2015

Duke Trio hits a KO

At a loss for words last night, I was left gasping with my fellow members of the audience.  We shook our heads and simply said, "Wow".  That's how high the quality of the performance of the Duke Trio was.  Mark Fewer certainly has his fans and I am among them.  I have always enjoyed and admired the energy and precision with which he plays - and he plays such an amazing range of music.

I made an effort to sample the range of opinion in the audience before the concert, during intermission, and afterwards.  The most consistent response I got was "world class".  People were very impressed with the integrity of sound and how well the instruments married.  A lot of folks also commented on the program and how they had never heard these selections before. 

After that the opinions started to diverge.  I asked people what their favourite piece was in the performance and that's when taste kicks in.  I like dissonance so I voted for the Copland.  Others voted for the Shostakovich, which was played with a delicious lushness.  And still others voted for the Tchaikovsky, which was downright voluptuous.  Now back to a majority vote:  everybody agreed that they enjoyed the stage manner and presence of the Trio and that broke down to the engaging commentary before the pieces, how the pieces fit together texturally and even the cat-like manner of the cellist, Thomas Wiebe.  Few people agreed on who their favourite musician was among the Trio although I did overhear more people say, "whose that pianist?"  (Short answer: Peter Longworth.)  I can't say I had a favourite because what struck me most was cohesively they played as a unit.  I found myself thinking that if Duo Concertante's trademark is how the two instruments support each other this is what the Duo would sound like if it were a trio.

Wednesday, 12 August 2015

Festival Fever Erupts with February

Evelyn Hart gave a riveting performance in St. John's.

Masterful is the single word that keeps coming to my mind after the Tuckamore Festival opening night performance.  It was a privilege to attend an evening where there was so much talent all on one stage.  My evening started with the preconcert talk conducted by CBC's Ramona Dearing.  Her questions to Lisa Moore and Andrew Staniland were very insightful and both Lisa and Andrew were refreshingly frank about their creative process.  There wasn't a single canned (as in processed food) question or answer.  Both Lisa and Andrew shared their triumphs and woes and the amount of respect for each other's artistic gifts was palpable.  We all sat on the edges of our chairs leaning forward with interest. My only regret was that I wished more people had attended because the interview did an incredible job of contextualizing the performance that would follow it. 

I had read February before, which weighs in with more than 700 pages, and I knew that it would be a difficult job to make excerpts for the performance.  Claire Wilkshire chose the sections that Evelyn Hart would read.  I use "read" loosely because Hart is a consummate performer.  She dominated the stage as soon as she made her opening entrance.  I was surprised that Nancy Dahn and Timothy Steeves could hold their own, as musicians, against a talking role.  Our society is biased towards the spoken word.  Afterall, talking is something that most Newfoundland and Labradoreans excel at.  By contrast, classical music and especially contemporary composition has a much smaller appreciative audience.  To make matters even more complicated there was also a video that was projected; I imagine that was to contribute to visual interest.  Frankly, there were times I didn't know where to look.  There was a lot to compete for our interest.  And it was just all so good that you didn't want to miss anything.  You could say it was the entertainment equivalent of an all you can eat buffet stuffed to overflowing with appetizing dishes.
Andrew Staniland, let's hope this province
 hangs on to him.

To their credit, Duo Concertante did an excellent job of putting together the musical selections for the first half of the evening.  It was light and different to audiences here and it balanced the sobriety and tragedy that the second half of the evening would feature.  I think that presenting audiences with difficult material is a very hard thing to do.  It is like reconciling opposites. How do you get an audience to follow you through the depths of despair?  How do you get them to willingly suffer pain?  The short answer is that you seduce them with excellent music played excellently. Well, Duo Concertante with the help of Andrew Staniland's composition and Evelyn Hart's consummate performance combined their remarkable skill set to do just that.  I tell 'ya, it made for one hell of an opening act for the Tuckamore Festival.  I don't envy anybody who will follow them during the next several days.  Let the festival fever commence!
Lisa 's book sprang into prominence by winning the Canada Reads competition.

Sunday, 9 August 2015

Affordable Luxuries - Birthday celebrating Gloria Style

I am a firm believer that imagination is worth more than cash. So often in life I have discovered that what I have is champagne taste and a beer budget.  So do many of my friends and that was the genesis for this list.  When asked this week, "what do you want for your birthday?" I responded with this wish list.

•Shakespeare by the Sea has a downtown walking production where they present scenes from different plays at stops during the walk.  They have various days.  The one that leaves from Harbourside Park on Water Street is on Monday evenings.  $10 No advance purchases.

•Newfoundland Chocolate has opened up a cafe on Signal Hill that I have yet to explore, hours are 8am to 9 pm

•MUN Botanical Gardens $8, I have not been in years and would love a wander around.  

•August will be a good month for free afternoon concerts that are a half hour or an hour both at the Anglican Cathedral and the Kirk.  
The Anglican plays host to the organ recital series on Wednesdays and they operate a tea room in the crypt, we might even take in the architectural tour 

and the Tuckamore Chamber Music Festival is at the Kirk, 

•I want to try the lobster sandwich at Subway. 

•Buskers downtown, their festival is August 7 to 9 12 to 10 pm.  This turned out to be really impressive in past years.

So, that's how to have a grand time for under $15!

Sunday, 2 August 2015

There were a lot more hugs than tears

Kelly with a beloved cat that we are now trying to find a home for.

I don't usually go to memorial services for friends who have passed unless I know their families and I feel I can support them.  Perhaps it is because I find no comfort in formal, conventional services and I believe they are intended for the living not the loved ones we have lost.  

I remember when my mother suddenly died thirteen years ago a group of her friends had gathered around me in her apartment in Montreal.  We had eaten a meal that had been prepared and stored away in the deep freezer by my mother.  Peasant soup, cabbage rolls and plum streudel and then we cried.  One of them observed with a sniff, "you know we are crying for ourselves".  The implication was we were not crying for her.

Today I went to a gathering at the family of a friend and co-worker who passed away suddenly at the age of 51.  Kelly Mollins was a woman who loved abundantly and she will live on in our hearts because of that.  It was less than two weeks ago that I stood with her in Fred's Records.  To my surprise, I am very glad that I attended the sun filled event today. 

I sat in the grass and played with her one and half year old niece Nellie.  I marvelled over the progress of the garden during this cold bitten summer.  I discovered that a young man with whom I have discussed literature, music and tattoos at my local convenience store was in fact her nephew.  There were a lot more hugs than tears.  Kelly's mother and other members of her immediate family met her co-workers they had only heard about.  Memories were shared spontaneously as opposed to formal comments or eulogies.  Friends gathered to play music.  Together we all put together our piece of the puzzle and came out with a multi dimensional portrait of the woman we had lost.  Somehow, today felt more about beginnings than endings.

Born In: Hodges Cove, Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada
Born: August 4th, 1964
Passed in: Paradise, Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada
Passed on: July 28th, 2015
Kelly Arlene (Smith) Mollins
August 4, 1964 – July 28, 2015
Predeceased by her father, Lindo Smith and infant brother Gregory. Leaving to mourn, husband Gary, mother Kathleen Spurrell (King) and stepfather Jake. Sisters Dallas (Bryce) Dixon, Rosanne (Calvin) Churchill, Patricia (Roland) Spurrell, and brother Ron (Judy Jackson) Drover. Nieces and nephews James, Jesse and Dawson, Philip (Renee), Allison (Michael) and Josh, Julie and Nancy (Gareth), Blaine (Katrina) and Devin (Marichel). Great-nieces and nephews Lucas, Kenzie, Nellie Rose, and Brianna. Kelly also shared a vey special bond with her large group of cousins. Aunts and Uncles Florence (Hubert), Sylvia, Max (Doris), Janet, Philomena and Ramon (Esther).
Kelly was a passionate, unique person who cultivated a large number of friends the way she tenderly cultivated her amazing garden. From hosting “The Atlantic Ceilidh” radio music show in Toronto on CITU, to volunteering at The Ship and the Folk Festival, she shared her extensive knowledge of Newfoundland Folk and Irish music. Her interest in where we came from led her into genealogy and preserving our authentic local culture. Her inquiring mind filled her bookshelves with many books such as SciFi, poetry, and pottery. When she loved, she really loved - her many cats, cooking amazing meals for her friends, and the love of her life, Gary. Her departure has left a large void in all those she touched, but we know the memories of her beautiful soul will fill that void and we will be the better for knowing her. She taught us a lot about what a true, authentic person is.

A celebration of Kelly’s life will take place at 30 Janals Road, Paradise from 2:00 – 5:00 PM, on Sunday, August 2nd. Donations in her memory may be made to the SPCA or MUN Botanical Garden.