Weimann, Harris, Weiss, Bach, A Ghost & Forty Deuce Street
Wednesday, July 30, 2014
Last night’s concert
at UBC School of Music’s Roy Barnett Recital Hall with performers Alexander Weimann
on the harpsichord and Lucas Harris on the lute was beautifully spooky for
several reasons. The concert was the third in the series of the 2014 Vancouver
Early Music Festival produced by Early Music Vancouver.
|Wendelin Tieffenbrucker theorbo rose 16th cent. & Rosa 'Charles de Mills'|
Around 1968 I
purchased a Nonesuch Recording of Walter Gerwig playing some of J.S. Bach’s lute
music. Immediately it became obvious to me that the lute had a sound that a
guitar lacked. It was a sound that made my spine tingle. I have never known (at
least until last night) why it is that the bass
notes of any lute somehow are unique to the point that my only basis for
comparison were some bass notes that jazz trombonist J.J. Johnson played on his
instrument at the Vancouver Playhouse many years ago. For me the individual
notes of a violin, a flute, the oboe (and until last night) of a harpsichord
have no emotional penetration except when combined in a chord. Only that
individual sound of one (or perhaps two as lutes have double strings called
courses) affects me emotionally. I did not know why but then I asked lutenist,
lute maker, baritone, etc Ray Nurse at the concert last night. This is his
The lowest notes on
the theorbo or archlute have a remarkably profound and projecting sound. This is partly due to the lowness of the
notes (below the low C of the cello), but especially because the colour of these
notes is very rich in overtones and high partials; the length of the bass
string (often over 5 feet) means the strings can be relatively thin, making
them bright and penetrating, despite the low pitch. A short, thick string, by comparison, would
sound dark, dull and lacking in overtones.
If you are as confused
as I am as to the differences among lutes, theorbos and archlutes look here and
you will still be as confused as I still am!
|Stephen Stubbs - chitarrone - copy mid 17th century Italian model by the English Luthier Stephen
Barber in 1995. |
Suffice to know that
this instrument has a sound that is rarely heard in an ensemble. I cannot
compete with string instruments. It shares some ignominy with its continuo
partner the harpsichord. In many baroque performances I have attended in the
past I can see it but rarely hear it. And until I went to performances by
Richard Eggar and of Alexander Weimann (who has just moved to Vancouver) I did not appreciate the pleasant
capabilities of the instrument. In fact my memories of the instrument have been
haunted by having seen Vincent Price in Roger Corman's House of Usher (based on Poe’s The
Fall of the House of Usher) playing a harpsichord while Technicolor blood oozed
from surrounding walls with the sounds of a woman (not quite dead?) moaning.
It was Weimann who
once told me that a lot of the music that he plays on the harpsichord as
continuo accompaniment (sometimes the instruments can also be, the viola da
gamba, the cello, the bass, the organ
and, yes, the lute) was not written so he had to improvise. Since I love jazz,
that opened my eyes to the instrument. Some of have been lucky enough to listen
to Weimann play jazz on the harpsichord.
In the pre-concert
talk with EMV Artistic Director Matthew White and the two performers I found
out that as the quantity of courses went up as the lute players attempted to
compete with the harpsichord, the complexity of playing the instrument finally
set it on a decline. Interesting to me is that Vancouver keyboardist extraordinaire Michael Jarvis
once played for me his antique pre US Civil War square Chickering piano that had a
lever that could give the instrument a waterfall sound. And that waterfall
sound mimicked the sound of a harpsichord! It would seem that the lute tried to
imitate the harpsichord and when the harpsichord went in decline the interloper,
the piano could in some instances mimic it.
|Alexander Weimann, Matthew White & Lucas Harris|
Last night’s concert
featured these composers. Since little music seems to have been composed for
the lute and the harpsichord as solo instruments in tandem the performance began
with only one of two where Weimann and Harris played together. This was Gregorio
Strozzi’s (1615-1687) Sonata a basso solo. Weimann played it on José Verstappen’s
(former EMV Artistic Director) harpsichord which he made in the Italian style. Weimann
gave us the opportunity to listen to it and Craig Tomlinson’s ( West Vancouver) French
style instrument. The former was precise, sharp with a short decay of sound.
The French-style instrument’s sound lingered and seemed to me more subtle.
The other piece played
by both was Sylvius Leopold Weiss’ Adagio & Allegro in which the second
instrument part ( a lute) was reconstructed by Karl –Ernst Schröder and adapted
|Lucas Harris playing Ray Nurse's 10-course lute & Weimann at Verstappen's Italian harpsichord|
The other pieces were
all played with great virtuosity including Bach’s Fantasia cromatica & Fuga
in d minor BWV 903 which was so taxing for
Weimann’s fingers that after a wonderful long flourish of notes and when Harris
began that other virtuoso piece for lute, Bach’s Prélude & Fugue in E flat major BWV 998
I could see Weimann frantically extending and contracting his fingers.
Since the harpsichord
has no pedals like a piano, Weimann who is the Artistic Director of the Pacific
Baroque Orchestra or has been leader for many EMV concerts, sometimes has the
task of having to direct while playing the harpsichord or organ. He likes to do
this standing up. It was interesting to see how Weimann when playing the Bach
fugue, and in some places only used his right hand, he would close his left
hand in a point and direct himself! I found this charming.
As for Harris’s Bach
fugue performance, a most complex and difficult piece that had stumped him for
years, a tragic event made it possible for him to play it. The death of his
mentor and teacher, American lutenist Patrick O’Brien two weeks ago saddened
him but as Harris explained, O’Brien was somehow a third man on stage last
night. So we had two men, very close, playing with a degree of intimacy that
was frightening and that may have been haunted by a ghost.
I should end here and
against the advice of my wife Rosemary who was shocked when I told her of the
plan I shall soldier one with my conclusion.
In 1985 I went to New York City with a male
writer friend. One evening, I was comfortably reading in bed he told me, “I am
going to 42nd Street
(William Gibson called it Forty
Deuce Street) want to come along?” I declined as I
was not interested in watching a live sex show which was what the street was
Somehow last night
there was a level of mutual communication between two men who have known each
other for 15 years that approached an instance that for me almost uncomfortable. I felt that
I, and the people around me were superfluous to the performance. At the same
time I knew we were lucky to be there even if we didn’t belong. It wasn’t sex,
but close enough.
Next this Friday
|Harris playingStephen Stubbs' 13-course lute by Michael Lowe, Oxford|
Almost as close as the
sound of that bass note of the lute or the final note of Weimann’s harpsichord
in that Weiss Allegro. The bass note sounded suspiciously like (but not quite)
that of the lute!
|From David Macaulay - Cathedral -The Story of its Construction|
Clyde Umney's Snaps
Tuesday, July 29, 2014
|Betty Mayfield - Photographs Clyde Umney|
Not too long ago when
the Drake Hotel closed, one of its former owners, Jack Cooney called me up and
told me, “There are some pictures here. We found in the dancers’ dressing room, in one of the drawers. They look like yours. Do you want them?”
I went but they were
not mine. The folder, with pictures, almost all in colour were faded and the
colours were all off. The folder had the name Betty Mayfield. One of the
contact sheets had a stamped name, Clyde Umney. I told Jack that I had never
heard of the photographer. If Umney, was indeed the photographer. We looked at
the pictures and we identified Betty Mayfield as a young woman both of us had
known as Cheri Partridge. The only other clue was an address 757 Willington Ave in East Vancouver.
Jack told me that he
was prepared to throw the folder away so I told him I would take it. Just a
couple of days ago I found the folder and decided to scan some of the faded
pictures as they are rather good. They seem to convey a look of the time.
Google searches for Clyde
Umney only had info on a Stephen King short story called Umney’s Last Case that
was first published on line in 1993. Further investigation led me to Raymond
Chandler’s Playback in which Clyde Umney is a lawyer.
Emotion & Warmth In The Age Of Enlightenment
Monday, July 28, 2014
In 1962 when I was 20, I listened to the music of an Italian composer called Frescobaldi in a baroque
church in Mexico City.
The music was unlike the music my mother, a pianist, loved, Grieg, Chopin,
Beethoven and Rachmaninoff. To this day baroque
music sounds as inventive, fresh, and as new as if I were listening to it for
the first time. Baroque music is New Music of the past.
With the likes of our
very own Early Music Vancouver in the swing of their annual Summer Festival
(2014 Vancouver Early Music Festival) chances are that, indeed, what you will
witness in performance will be brand new. Brand new in the sense that you will
probably have never ever heard it live. And more so now that Early Music
Vancouver is putting emphasis in the baroque music of the 17th century.
|Ellen Hargis & Matthew White|
The baroque period
that spans the 17th and the 18th century paralleled the
Age of Enlightenment. This age was ushered in by scientists like Newton and Leibnitz and by
explorers that embarked on their wooden ships to find new worlds. Galileo and Copernicus took found new worlds elsewhere.
In this age of
precision where man could do anything imaginable by reason there would seem to
be no room for emotion. This, to me is the lovely paradox of baroque music. It seems metered,
precise and yet if you happen to look at the faces of our performers you will
note their smiles of pleasure.This can be contagious.
This was not more
evident than on Sunday night at the Roy Barnett Recital Hall at the UBC School
I will be blunt in
stating here that although I am crazy about baroque music I usually pass on the
French variety. Worse still is French Baroque for the harpsichord (and yes that's Couperin). In a recent past I could not abide by the harpsichord so I was happy
that most of the time it was inaudible, usually drowned out by the louder instruments
that I could appreciate.
|Natalie Mackie, Christopher Bagan, Marc Destrubé & Ellen Hargis|
Tonight the little trio
of Marc Destrubé, violin, Natalie Mackie, viola da gamba and Christopher Bagan,
harpsichord, took care of that second prejudice with more Rameau than I have ever
heard before in one sitting.
The trio played two Jean-Philippe
Rameau (1683-1764) Cantatas (Ellen Hargis, soprano and Sylvia Szadovszki,
mezzo-soprano) and two Pièces de Clavecin, the Deuzième concert (Second Concert
in G major) and the Cinquième concert (Fifth Concert in D minor).
I approached Marc
Destrubé after the night’s performance and asked him, “Why was that Second
Concert so complex, elaborate, interesting and wonderful?” He answered, “Because
Rameau was complex, elaborate, interesting and wonderful.” I then asked him, “Why
was the Fifth Concert so charming?” His answer was short (I would believe that
Destrubé must have had ancestors who were scientists in the French
Enlightenment), “Because Rameau was charming and perhaps because his fifth was
The harpsichordist Christopher
Bagan (if you have never seen him before) has a penchant for wearing very slim
black pants and with his short hair and youth you might suspect that he is the
page turner. This is not the case as he has a doctorate and is a professor.
Natalie Mackie our
expert (and passionate, too) viola da gambist (or is that violist da gamba?) chose
to sit stage right. I had to ask as the continuo section of any baroque
orchestra is always on stage left. She was there so she could connect with
Bagan, while Destrubé took care of everything centre stage.
Since I am no music
critic I can only attest to the fact that the instrumental music of the evening
was excellent and that I will now appreciate those Frenchie composers much more.
It was the cantata
section of the concert that was the most interesting, thanks to the pre-concert
chat between Ellen Hargis and Early Music Vancouver Artistic Director Matthew
White know his singers
as until he went on a sabbatical he was one of the best countertenors in our
nation and good enough to have sung in Versailles even though the Sun King was
not in attendance.
It seems that White
last year spotted mezzo-soprano Szadovszki (who has been banned from inserting
her name in Scrabble) performing at the opera. He approached her and asked her
if she had ever sung French Baroque. Her negative was countered by an offer that
we the audience are extremely glad she accepted. It seems that opera
singing and singing a baroque cantata are not quite the same thing. There might
be a parallel here similar to the subtlety of a baroque violin and the power
and loudness of a modern violin.
fast and learned from the best. The best is Ellen Hargis who has been coming to
perform (Early Music Vancouver Summer concerts) and teach baroque singing performance at UBC also in the summer for many
years. I have been told that she is an excellent teacher and Szadovszki’s
stellar performance attests to it. But I must add that of all the sopranos that
I have heard and hear, my all-time favourite is Hargis.
I asked baritone and
lutenist Ray Nurse tonight why this is the case that Hargis is so good. His
answer floored me as it was an unexpected one. It was particularly unexpected
in that I love Hargis because her singing is full of emotion and sweetness. Nurse
said, “It is because of her phenomenal intelligence.”
Again that is another
indication that the Age of Enlightenment, the Age of Reason could and did accommodate
Hargis sang Rameau’s Orphée (ever so sweetly)
and Szadovszki his Diane et Actéon.
This coming Tuesday,
July 29, also at the Roy Barnett Hall, Alexander Weimann and Lucas Harris will
play a bit less French baroque music (alas!) but some Strozzi, Rossi, Bach,
Couperin, Piccinini, Robert de Visée and
if some of these are not known to you, surely you will have heard of Sylvius
Leopold Weiss. He and Bach were up to something. What you ask? Find out on
Addendum: You might note the beautiful harpsichord in my photographs. It was built by West Vancouver's Craig Tomlinson for Bruce Wright. The painting on the harpsichord cover is by Colombian painter (lives in Vancouver) Marco Tulio.
Limoges China - The Essence Of Woman
Sunday, July 27, 2014
My Argentine painter friend Juan Manuel
Sanchez, well into his late 70s could make any woman he met; divest herself of
all her clothes within minutes of having met them when he told him he was a
I thought I was very good at this until one
day when both of us where in my studio and we had requested the presence of a
beautiful Latin American woman. She entered my studio. I checked my watch and
two minutes later she cast off everything she had been wearing.
Perhaps it was Juan’s face. He had Spanish
blood from Galicia.
In Buenos Aires
you might have easily seen him as a waiter. But this he was not. He had one
obsession (I would like to qualify that as huge, but then when is an obsession
not that?) and that was to render the woman, a woman, the essence of woman on
Unlike this photographer who needs a woman
of flesh and blood to face my camera, Juan can conjure woman with his
imagination. One day as I noticed the simplicity of his paintings I asked him
what was going on. He explained that the concept of woman was a problem that
needed a resolution. One, day, perhaps close to his death he would paint a line
on a white canvas and the white line would be a platonic woman, the perfect
woman resolved with nothing missing and nothing to be added.
|Juan Manuel Sánchez - Sept 2013|
When I last saw him in his studio in Buenos Aires last
September his drawings were as clean and as perfect as I could have imagined.
It would seem that by now at age 84 his talents were super attuned to the
problem of hand. How can one convey the universal woman?
On August 31 I will be 72 and I find that
there is no way I can compete with Juan to convince women to face my camera
undraped. I don’t have a Galician face or perhaps I am seen as a viejo verde (a
green old man is Spanish for a dirty old man). Whatever it is my output is
definitely in decline.
What comes to mind these days is the
wonderful but sad scene in The Magnificent Seven when Robert Vaughn (Lee) as a
former quick-draw gunfighter now with a streak of cowardice spots three flies.
He swoops at them with his hand and catches two. He says, “At one time I would
have caught all three…”
It was perhaps some 25 years ago that at
the Railway Club (I met with friends on Thursdays for lunch) I had noticed a
beautiful woman (a bleached blonde) who always showed up at around noon. One
day I simply got up and said to her, “My name is Alex and I would very much
like to take you photographs without anything on.” She looked at me and quickly
said, “Fine, this is my phone number.” And that was that. Now the flies buzz
around but I am not catching any of them.
may have been around 1982 when I first met Julie Mennard. I called her the
watch lady. In her profession she divested herself of everything within minutes
of her performance. But she always kept her Cartier watch. Mennard reminded me
of a sophisticated version of Susan Sarandon. Mennard’s skin looked like the
coating on white Limoges
china. She had a liking for red lipstick that set off her unsaturated skin.
There was a streak of existentialist sadness
in her demeanor. But I was told she was tough. She had a little daughter and
she did her best for her. One day I asked if she would pose for me. I remember
that she lived right next to Grandview
Park on Commercial Drive
not far from where I was to photograph Dave Barrett by his Volvo a few years
later. I picked her up in my yellow Fiat X 1/9 and we drove to Lighthouse Park
in West Vancouver.
We walked to the cliffs where I took the pictures on a hot sunny afternoon in
I note that I used four film stocks. With
my Pentaxes I loaded one with Kodak b+w infrared and the other with Kodak
Technical Pan. With my Mamiya RB-67 I used Kodacolor in 120 and a Fuji HR- 100.
The latter really shows off Mennard’s white skin but unfortunately the negative
has stained in places and you might note that there is some yellow in her white
Shortly after I took the pictures she told
me she was going back to Montreal
and I never saw her again.
Fuji X-E1 - An Elegant Non Klunker's Shortcomings
Saturday, July 26, 2014
Many years ago in the dawn of electronic
cameras I used to have students who were extremely proud of their A-1 Canons. These
were a marvel of the age.
In a fairly quiet tone I voice I would
instruct these proud owners to remove the single, fairly large battery. Some of
them did not know how to do this. Once this was done I would declare, to their
shock, “You now have in possession a very expensive door stop.”
In my last years of teaching at Focal Point
I used to ask my students, “Is there some way that you can take pictures with
your digital cameras in this studio and then go home and have nothing?” The
answer was, "Yes," and the most often one was, “Sometimes the storage cards become
I found out that if the scary mantra of the
turn of the last century into this one was, “The computers are down.” (and this
century, too if you think Translink). This was and is not as scary as, “Your
storage card is corrupted.” “Your hard drive is corrupted.”
Before we photographers depended on those
electronic door stops we would go with two cameras if we needed one. We had
four rolls if we though we would shoot one. We'd have several flash chords, and
two light/flashmeters. When my prime Mamiya portrait lens, a 140mm floating
element macro lens failed, on a job (Raymond Burr) because the shutter main
spring gave out I never ever went to another job without two 140 lenses.
So we photographers have always been
paranoid about photographic failure and we respected Patterson’s Law which
stipulated the Murphy (of Murphy’s Law) was an out-and-out optimist.
And when we have been faced with failure in
a job we have found roundabout methods of overcoming it. Once when I was sent
to Calgary to
photograph a CBC announcer my Mamiya RB suffered a broken mirror (it would not
go down. My solution was to find a used Mamiya at a pawnshop (I gave him a credit card number) and have it
delivered to the CBC by taxi. The chap of the pawnshop was happy to get money
and still keep the camera!
At the persistent urging of my wife
Rosemary I finally purchased a digital camera last year. I did not want to buy
those expensive clunker Canons or Nikons. I chose a rather sophisticated
mirrorless Fuji X-E1. I bought it at Leo’s Camera knowing that Jeff Gin would
help me every step of the way into the 21st century kind of camera. And
so he has.
Meanwhile I have been overtly making fun of
my friend Paul Leisz’s Canon klunker. He has been fairly subdued in countering
my rude aggression. I believe he might have, in the end had the last laugh.
|Jeff Gin at Leo's Cameras|
You see this Fuji X-E1 can do just about everything.
It will shoot panoramics (left to right, right to left, up to down, down to up,
long or extra long) without need of Photoshop stitching (like Leisz’s Canon). The
X-E1 is light and compact. It is elegant and the zoom lens that I purchased
with it (my first ever zoom lens) gives me just about every focal length I
want. And if that was not enough with an adaptor (which I have) I can use every
old manual Nikon lens I own.
While teaching at Focal Point I used to
tell my students that digital cameras like the ones they had were much better
than film cameras in rendering the true colour of human flesh. Even some of the
cheaper DSLRs could do this very nicely.
My Fuji X-E1 has one design flaw that most
people would not note. You see few photographers these days that fire studio
flashes with their cameras. I do.
I have been unable to get a correct flesh
tone when mating my Fuji
to my studio flash. In fact the pictures are incredibly tinted red/yellow. I
have to work extra time to get my colour pictures of people taken in my small
home studio to almost (never quite) accurate.
Leisz’s Canon has like most decent DSLRs
something called Custom White Balance.
has Custom White Balance but unlike Leisz’s klunker it does not allow for
balancing flash (intermittent light) but only continuous light sources.
So I went to Leo’s with my camera, a
portable studio flash and a small softbox and went at it with Jeff Gin as my
This was our conclusion.
1. The camera does not have a separate
flash setting. It has a flash setting for the little on-camera retractable
2. The camera will give an almost correct
flesh tone with a studio flash if the camera is set for the sun symbol
3. At 5800 degrees Kelvin (a Kodak
definition of daylight and a well corrected studio flash) the Fuji will give you very warm pictures as the
camera simply adjusts to the light in a studio, and ignores that it is tethered
to a studio flash.
4. Going against the grain of logic (it
does make sense but it is much too complicated for me to explain here) if we
set the camera to a warmer 4800 degrees Kelvin the camera will attempt to
correct and with a studio flash you will get similar results at with the
In short we photographers have always found
a way of circumventing those systems designed to thwart us!
The device you see sitting on the camera is a safe sync. It is the only way I can connect the camera to my studio flash.
Friday, July 25, 2014
In my library I have a pretty good
collection of airplane books. One of them Dogfight – Air Combat Adversaries –
Head to Head by Robert Jackson with illustrations by Jim Winchester is not among
them. This one is in my guest bathroom. In that place where the king is always
alone I like to glance at it.
Of late two planes in the book have been in
the news. The Fairchild A-10 Thunderbolt II commonly, almost affectionately
called the Warthog for its ungainly ugliness has an uncertain future. US
Congress is attempting to save money and an airplane that was supposed to bust
tanks of a Soviet invasion into Western Europe
perhaps has no future in an era of drone warfare.
Had that Soviet invasion happened the
Warthog would have faced its Soviet counterpart the Sukhoi Su-25 ‘Frogfoot’
(the name given it by NATO).
Although this blog will be up for another
day, I am writing this today Wednesday, July 23, it just so happens that the
Frogfoot is in the news. Two of them, property of the Ukrainian Air Force were
shot down by Russian surface to air missiles today. Ukrainian authorities
allege that the missiles came from inside Russia.
Whatever happens I
kind of like the fact that although the articles mention the plane here in my
blog you can have a look at what it looks like.
For those who have a
memory for the Vietnam War I might not here that a converted military version
of the Douglas DC-3, the Douglas AC-47 aka Puff the Magic Dragon was equipped
with an advanced electronic version of the 19th century Gatling Gun. These were
gunships that terrorized the Vietcong. The Warthog has such a weapon and you
can see its multiple barrel sticking out the front of the A-10 in my photograph
which took some years ago at the Abbotsford Air Show.
Both aircraft were
heavily armoured to protect its pilots who in many cases as they strafed troops
while flying low would have been subject to ground fire. There was heavy stuff under their seats, too! It is for this reason
that it seems that the pilots of both downed Frogfoots were able to bail out.
Red Zinger Reid
Thursday, July 24, 2014
I first met Virve Reid sometime in 1977
which is when I took these photographs. Sometime before these photographs she
had posed for a well known American glossy magazine. Two of her principal
features that I particularly adored were her freckles and red hair. She had a
voice that was girly yet sometimes it was throaty. Only in today, as I write
this have I identified what it was about her voice that was so charming. You
see she sounded a lot like British actress Joan Greenwood. I have been
listening with my granddaughter Lauren to Greenwood
in a tape where she plays Alice in Alice in Wonderland and
Through the Looking Glass.
I first saw Reid on Wreck Beach.
She had a body to die for. It was a healthy exuberant body like few you see
now. She was with a musician friend who was busy placing two tape recorders a
few feet apart by the water. It seemed
he wanted to record the sounds of the sea in real stereo.
I have no memory on exactly how it was that
I approached this monumento (as we say in Spanish) and enquired on the
possibility of snapping her pictures.
What you see here are my first of her. In
1977 I was still attempting to find my style and direction. I was unsure if I
wanted to be a portrait photographer or a fashion photographer. I did not have
studio lights. I took these with existing light with a Spotmatic F with I believe
a precursor of Kodak Technical Pan film. The other photos (sitting in the chair
and looking up) I used a Pentax S-3 with Kodak b+w Infrared film.
I photographed Reid many times through the
years. For a while she worked at a Video Rental place Mega Movies on 16th
and Oak which subsequently became Rogers
and then closed.
It is probably a sure thing that I was not
the only patron of the place who was so, because Reid was always a sight to
behold. And since I knew her she would talk to me with that voice. It was
The pictures reflect the almost post-hippie
era when folks like Reid would congregate on 4th Avenue and in cafés (that did not have lattes or capuchinos)
they imbibed red zinger tea. One of them was called the Soft Rock Café.