Two With Poise & Elegance
Wednesday, August 16, 2017
|Katarina Nesic & Zander Constant|
In December 1995 I photographed Evelyn Hart and dance was
never the same for me. Before that I was ignorant of the art form. Since then
my ignorance has dissipated a tad. I have also seen lots of dance since then.
While I may not be a dance critic or have proper training I have seen enough
dancers to know really good ones when I see them.
My appreciation for dance had an early beginning in a way in
something not quite related to dance. When I was in my late teens in Mexico
City I enjoyed going to watch frontón (jai-alai) at the Frontón México. There
were some players of this ultra fast game who the fans called fenómenos. In
Spanish it sort of means someone who has a talent that is beyond what we know
of talent. Could it be the devil himself who is involved?
The same word was shouted in the bullring of Plaza México. I
was a fan of good bullfighting. Any Spaniard or Mexican interested in el “arte
taurino” will tell you (in spite of the fact that North Americans consider it a
sport, a terribly cruel sport) that the exceptional bullfighter dances with
grace while faced with danger.
Bullfighters such as Malonete were called fenómenos.
What do bullfighters and jai-alai players have to do with
dancers, be they ballet, modern or other types of dancing?
I believe that you can find easily good dancers who have
precise skills. But this is not enough. You have to have something that I call
presence. As an example Marlon Brando in a tight T-shirt was an actor with
When I watch dancers in Vancouver I look for this
skill/presence. I like to look for it among the young dancers of the Arts
Umbrella Dance Company. Every couple of years I take note of one or two that
makes my grade (even though it is my amateur grade!).
The two you see here, Zander Constant and Katarina Nesic are
dancers I have watched grow up through the years as my granddaughter Lauren, 16, has been dancing at Arts Umbrella for 8 years.
Of Nesic I can only say that she dances exquisitely with a
grace that stands out above her peers. Part of her presence is the fact that she
is blonde but has what must be almost jet-black eyes. If she happens to look at you it
is Superman using X-rays.
Zander normally wears glasses. If you notice him in a line-up
outside the Vancouver Playhouse you might suspect he is an ungainly teenager at
loss. But if you see him dance, as I have through the years, and without
glasses he is a Clark Kent suddenly becoming a Superman to match his friend Nesic!
Nesic still has a year to go at Arts Umbrella. Constant
has graduated from the program and the smart powers-that-be at Ballet BC have
selected him to be in the company as an apprentice.
The two showed up at my house on Wednesday and we sat for a
bit to eat. Talking to these two (she is 18, he is 19) is very much like
talking to polite, informed, enthusiastic adults.
It was not too long ago that Arts Umbrella Artistic Director,
Artemis Gordon told me that the dance program of her school (that in my opinion
is a dance company) cleared (some) of the streets of would be delinquents! I
By the time dance students reach that age of about 16 they
have a schedule of dance that is so long and busy that they must attend one of two schools that offer a special program that clears the afternoon for
dance rehearsals. One is Magee Secondary and the other is King Edward
Secondary. They begin early in the morning and skip physical education. A bus
takes them to Granville Island or the other location on 7th Avenue
at Quebec for the remainder of the day.
The result of this intense program is an individual with
poise, grace, manners and a self-assuredness that is almost scary. And these individuals when they graduate go to dance in the best dance companies in Europe and beyond.
Constant and Nesic posed for me together. Then I asked Nesic
(who does not need to wear any makeup) to apply makeup to Constant and
particularly under the eyes.
It was so much fun to watch this and taking their
photographs was easy. Why?
Because they are dancers. And they are fenómenos.
Guillermina Santa Bárbara Cheers Me Up
Monday, August 14, 2017
On December 24, 1964 my ship the Argentine Merchant Marine Río
Aguapey docked in New Orleans. I was the only passenger and I was being sent
back home to Veracruz after two years of service in the Argentine Navy.
With no family or friends (my shipboard young officer
friends were all quite drunk by the evening) I decided I was going to explore
Bourbon Street. I passed several noisy jazz bars playing Dixieland (not one of
my favourite moments of jazz) and headed to a strip bar. I had never seen a
stripper or a burlesque dancer take her clothes off.
Since I was an unoriginal idiot I purchased a bourbon
(what else?) and sat down to watch. The first dancer showed up on stage and
connected a jukebox. Then she made the motions much like a robot of taking her
clothes off with no expression on her face. Perhaps the only good thing going
for her was that she was not chewing gum.
As the evening progressed (I nursed
the one drink) I became more and more melancholy. A young woman approached me and sat down. She
told me her name was Guillermina Santa
Bárbara. She said she was from Puerto Rico. She had noticed my sad face and
wanted to cheer me up. We talked in Spanish (natch!) and I felt better. Perhaps my Nochebuena was not completely ruined. I have to this day no
idea if she simply was a good soul or was after my money. I was penniless. But
she gave me a 8x10 glossy.
I went back to the Río Aguapey. It was dark and silent. I
went to the bridge to find Captain Guillermo Migliorini drinking coffee. He was
a kind man and asked me how my venture to the city had been. I told him that I
had met a woman who was his namesake. We both smiled at the coincidence.
And I went to bed.
Mona Lisa - Overdrive
Sunday, August 13, 2017
|Bronwen - Mona Lisa|
She was waiting in
the car and she didn’t like it. She didn’t like waiting anyway, but the wiz she’d
done made it really hard. She had to remind herself not to grit her teeth,
because whatever Gerald had done to them, they were still sore. She was sore
all over, now she thought about it. Probably the wiz hadn’t been such a great
Mona Lisa Overdrive – William Gibson
The name of the
dense lump of cybernetic hardware that Bobby Newmark's consciousness is jacked
into is a direct reference to the short story "The Aleph" by
Argentinian author Jorge Luis Borges. The titular Aleph is a point in space
which contains all other points, and if one were to gaze into the Aleph one
would be able to see or experience the entirety of existence.
Mona Lisa Overdrive – Wikipedia
With no work and more time, there is ample opportunity to
be a thinking human. And because I am a thinking human I tend to associate one
thing with another that not might have any obvious connection. For more of that,
look up who Bunny Watson is. Bunny Watson has been my inspiration since I began
this blog back in January 2006.
The scanned Fuji FP-3000B Instant Film peel (what you get
when you peel the print off) and now sadly discontinued I put away in my memory
after I filed it.
Today I thought about it. I looked for it and then I made
the connection of what in the picture was familiar to me. I would call this
some sort of contemporary Mona Lisa. I photographed Bronwen (my Mona Lisa) in
my former Chevrolet Malibu which was in our garage.
She is in a car which immediately in my imagination took
me to William Gibson’s final novel of the cyberpunk sprawl trilogy
(Neuromancer, Count Zero) Mona Lisa Overdrive.
It didn’t take long to find a paragraph of one of Gibson’s
protagonists named Mona in a car. A further connection is that Gibson's novel is somewhat influenced by Jorge Luís Borges' El Aleph who is my favourite Argentine author.
Two Evangelists & That Important Severed Right Ear
Saturday, August 12, 2017
|Tenors Clinton Stoffberg and Thomas Hobbs, August 11, 2017|
To anybody who may be tempted to read on I must warn them
that this is going to be long and convoluted.
To begin with I have to point out that my judgment as an
amateur music critic is clouded by the fact that I was born and baptized as a
Roman Catholic. I attended a Catholic boarding high school in Austin, Texas
where I had a particular mentor, Brother Edwin Reggio, C.S.C.
Holy Cross) who taught me to read music, play the alto saxophone and
importantly his religion class was less that and more a class of theology laced
Furthermore what I will reveal some perhaps not too well
known info (gleaned from baroque bassist Curtis Daily) about the bass section of the Pacific Baroque Orchestra, that played
last night: (Nathan Whitttaker and Beiliang Zhu, cellos, Nate Helgeson bassoon,
Curtis Daily, bass, Natalie Mackie, violone and Christina Hutten, organ) iIs
entirely my opinion but laced heavily by an explanation by that Portland Baroque Orchestra
(and from Portland) bassist Curtis Daily
who happens to be my friend and was in town this last week. He was one of two
musicians who had the capability to play down to 16ft. More on that later but
this is my disclaimer.
Because of my Roman Catholic upbringing it is entirely
difficult for me to experience any sacred Bach work without connecting it with my
past. Throughout the performance I was enjoying a more than average knowledge
of what was going on because of that mentor that Brother Edwin Reggio, C.S.C,
It was he who dedicated one day in our religion class to the four gospels when
I was 16. He wrote an innocuous sentence on the board as we entered the class.
He made the roll call and then erased the sentence. Then he asked us to write
down what we thought we had read. Our witnessing statements were all very
different. Then he just read the part from all four gospels.that in the St.
John Passion is called Betrayal and Capture. It was startling for me to see
that in Bach’s version it features not only St. John but also St Matthew! St.
Luke and St. John both point out that St. Peter lops off the righ ear of a man.
Now Simon Peter had
a sword and drew it forth and struck the chief priest’s slave and cut off his right ear. The Slave’s
name was Malchus. Then said Jesus to Peter, “Put back thy sword in its
scabbard! Shall I the cup not drink which my father gave me?”
That’s St. John’s version.
Interestingly neither Mathew nor Mark go to that detail
but St. Luke who was a physician writes:
When the companions
of Jesus saw what was going to happen, they said, “Lord, shall we use the
sword?” One of them went so far as to strike the high priest’s servant and cut
off his right ear. Jesus said in an
answer to their question, “Enough!” Then (!!!) he touched the ear and healed
Brother Edwin went further with this startling
From St. Mark:
There was a young man following him who was covered by nothing but a linen
cloth. As they seized him he left the cloth behind and ran off naked.
It was Brother Edwin who informed us that scholars could
not be certain that St. John Apostle was also St. John the Evangelist. He then told us that he suspected that they
were the same because of the conclusion in St. John’s gospel which states:
It is this same
disciple who is the witness to these things; it is he who wrote them down and
his testimony we know is true.
Brother Edwin said, “That
right ear is important. St Luke was not an apostle and wrote it after the fact.
He (St.Luke) must have wanted to be precise about the ear and got it from St.
John.that it was the right ear and St. John knew it was the right ear because
he was there.”
|The four evangelists in Dublin's Book of Kells. All are winged animals.
Brother Edwin told us St. John was an Eagle becuse his writing soared. St.John bottom right|
So back to the music. After the concert having watched my
friend (he is tall) play his 6ft bass I concluded that the base was the unseen
foundation of a large building (the hole in the ground and all that reinforced
concrete). I was not too far from wrong.
Daily explained that he and Natalie Mackie’s violone play
the lowest note at 16ft. I asked him what that meant. He said that a 16ft organ
pipe (some organs have a 32ft one) plays a very low note. I further enquired as
to what was the bass section of the Pacific Baroque Orchestra on Friday. This
was his response:
It would be called the continuo/bass group. And to elaborate
on the tone colours available to the bass section; these instruments are
playing off pretty much the same part in the St. John: bassoon, cello, organ,
violone, harpsichord and the double bass.
All that about the bass section brought me to a succinct explanation
by Daily on the idea that if he or the bass group do not play the right note
(in tune) the rest of the orchestra has no foundation to depend on. He
explained that when there is no vibrato in the bass section of a period orchestra but allowed for the fact that the upper instruments use it more sparingly than do modern string players. The no-vibrato with the bass section makes it easier to find the right note for the upper strings to use as a foundation. When I remarked that sometimes I cannot hear the string bass being played he said,
"In the right hall it can be heard. It's just that the 8ft [the low note] instruments provide the articulation at the beginning of the notes that my instrument can't produce very well in a large hall. The bassoon is particularly good for that.".
Now I believe I will never ever listen to the Pacific
Baroque Orchestra without knowing of the importance of that bass ensemble.
My two favourite parts of the St. John Passion involved
two Arias. Both happen in the second half (Parte Secunda).
The first Aria, It
is fulfilled! is with alto
(countertenor) singer Alex Potter accompanied by the bass viola da gamba (Beiliang Zhu),
organ (Christina Hutten), and bass (Curtis Daily).
This was quiet and exquisite.
To that Curtis added:
"Bach specified the bass viola da gamba because of its tone quality. Nathan Whittaker and I were playing the accompaniment in unison, but separated by an octave. Alex Weimann asked me to play a bit louder than Whittaker to add gravity to the musical situation. Christina Hutten was playing the same bass line as Whittaker and I, in the cello register, while also adding harmonies."
And it brought me the memory of another St. John Passion
in 2011 featuring EMV’s artistic director Matthew White. I wrote about it here.
Aria, O melt now, my bosom, in rivers of weeping
soprano Aleksandra Lewandowska singing to the accompaniment of Matthew
Jennejohn on a big curved horned oboe de caccia (a hunting oboe!) and Janet See
on flute. It was so pleasant to listen to something quiet in the middle of a
large orchestra directed by Alexander Weimann) accompanied by the Vancouver Cantata Singers
VCS Artistic Director Paula Kramer) with the soloists Thomas Hobbs, tenor as
the Evangelist, and the Gli Angeli Genève singers Jenny Höogström, soprano,
Aleksandra Lewandowska, soprano, Alex Potter, countertenor, Robert Getchell,
tenor, Summner Thompson, baritone and Stephan MacLeon, bass.
I believe that the St. John Passion makes or breaks with
the performance of the evangelist. Thomas Hobbs had what it takes to make me
want to stare into his face when he sang (only Recitativos). He was firmly in
control of the situation as the narrator. My previous experience with an
Evangelist was in that 2011 one with Charles Daniels who is the consummate singer
and (very important that and) actor. But Thomas Hobbs was less so the actor and
more the Walter Cronkite figure reading the news which fit with:
It is this same disciple who is the witness to
these things; it is he who wrote them down and his testimony we know is true.
In my traditional now photographs taken in venue dressing
rooms you might wonder who Clinton Stoffberg is posing with Thomas Hobbs.
Stoffberg was one of the tenors in the Vancouver Cantata Singers. And he sang
the Evangelist in another St. John Passion I attended in a recent past. Since
that ensemble had little money, Stoffberg sang the Evangelist and all the other
tenor parts. Here
is my blog on that performance. Note the presence of Pacific
Baroque violinist Paul Luchkow and violone player Natalie Mackie who were
present also on Friday at the Chan.
Thus this St. John Passion featured not one but two
Matthew White and Alexander Weimann gave a heated and
moved pre-concert talk. White witnessed dark clouds swirling around the cross
on a Montreal hils when he first heard (on a CD) the St. John Passion. Weimann,
the happier man had his moment when he first heard Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto
I coincided with Weimann’s moment as I remember listening
to Pablo Casals directing the Marlboro Festival Orchestra (on my car’s tape
cassette player) and thinking there was something broken. Casals version is super
fast and when I told Daily he said something, “It must have killed the trumpet
is that recording.
|Illustration by Graham Walker|
Graham Walker is a graphic designer and friend of mine who happened to have designed the sineage for the Chan Centre. He likes to take his sketch book along . Of the image above he wrote when I asked him about it:
It was really a bit of 'automatic writing'. Listening to
the music in part 2, I was taken away to the Calvary scene with the 3 crosses
and Christ. The counter tenor aria: Es ist vollbracht, all is fulfilled
Struck me to make this sketch.
Besides the super exotic oboe da caccia that Matthew Jennejohn played there were two also exotic instruments, Violinists Chloe Meyers and Linda Melsted played violas d'amore in arioso 19 and in aria 20. Both instruments came from the collection of our local expert on everything musical Hans Karl Piltz. Melsted showed me her viola and pointed out that it had 6 strings but an additional 7 more. It seems that the extra 7 are not played but vibrate in sympathy to add complexity to the sound of the instrument. Sort of like striking a tuning fork and getting another one just like it close to it.
A suo piacere
Friday, August 11, 2017
|Top - Stephen Stubbs (holding a vihuela), Tekla Cunningham & Maxine Eilander. Bottom Tess Altiveros|
|From left Adam LaMotte, Peter Maund, Henry Lebedinsky & Danielle Sampson|
Salas : Compositor a caballo entre el barroco tardío y el clasicismo, con un
lenguaje que conjuga elementos estilísticos del barroco español y rasgos
italianizantes, su catálogo comprende más de centenar y medio de obras
religiosas entre misas, oficios, lamentaciones, lecciones, pasionarios,
motetes, salmos, pastorelas, cantadas y villancicos (de los que, por cierto,
era también autor del texto).
Alejo Carpentier - Wikipedia
Esteban Salas: A composer on horseback between the late
baroque and classism, used a language that combined the stylistic elements of
the Spanish baroque with bits of the Italian who composed masses, lamentations,
musical tragedies, motets, psalms, pastorals, cantatas, Christmas carols (of
which he wrote the lyrics)
I was on the first row at Christ Church Cathedral last night
listening to Music of Missions and Mysteries: Latin American Baroque
a concert part of Early Music Vancouver’s Summer Bach Festival
tonight with Bach’s St. John Passion
at the Chan Centre.
In short the concert was a delight which featured composers
I had never heard of. It was sort of new music of the 17th and 18th
century. Chances are that I will probably never hear any of this music live
Coincidentally people have disdain for the cultural life of
our city and foreigners or enlightened Vancouverites who travel complain about
it. An Argentine woman ( I guessed she was an Argy by her accent in speaking
English) who somehow ended at the cathedral by accident (and was purchasing a
ticket for herself and Peruvian friend) asked me about the concert. She knew
nothing of what baroque music is.
Buenos Aires has a monumental opera house, Teatro Colón
that constantly has concerts of 19th
century masterworks. The chance
that she would have ever heard any of the works performed last night,
were next to none. I felt smug! Yes, Vancouver is not a cultural wasteland!
The concert took me back to many memories. One of them
involved lute, baroque guitar and vihuela (Spanish baroque guitar) player and
leader of Pacific Music Works group playing last night and his American fellow
lutenist Paul O’Dette who some years ago
in an intimate concert on 6th Avenue (near Granville) told us how
they had traveled to Latin America to find out how the technique of playing
plucked string instruments brought by the Spaniards after Columbus could be
studied as to find out how to play the plucked music of the baroque in Europe.
This was in complete evidence during the evening particularly
when the music included the fine percussionist Peter Maund who wielded only a tambourine
and Maxine Eilander with her baroque harp (much wider at the base and with
crossed strings instead of the parallel ones of modern harps).
The sound ( luckily this harp does not sound angelic) was strikingly
reminiscent of the harp music of Paraguay which is similar to the music of the
States of Veracruz and Chiapas in Mexico. This was completely proven in
Colorado a harp solo on a Paraguayan folk tune. With Maund and Eilander it
seemed we should have all gotten up to dance a rhumba or salsa or whatever with
perhaps a few bananas and pineapples on our head.
But the night for me was taking me back (as I wrote above)
to memories of my past in living in Latin America.
As Emily Dickinson wrote:
There is no Frigate
like a Book (1286)
There is no Frigate
like a Book
To take us Lands away
Nor any Coursers like
Of prancing Poetry –
This Traverse may the
Without oppress of
How frugal is the
That bears the Human
In this case the frigate was taking me on board a ship going
from France to the New World at the end of the 18th century with a
guillotine on board. The novel El Siglo
de las Luces (would correctly translate to the Age of Enlightenment but
became in English The Explosion in the Cathedral).
The novel was written by French-born author Alejo Carpentier (1904 – 1980) who
lived most of his life in Cuba. Carpentier coined the term “realismo mágico”. Besides
being a novelist and essayist he was a music critic. His curiosity led him to
discover the music of the virtually unknown late baroque Cuban composer Esteban
Salas in a cabinet in the cathedral of Santiago, Cuba.
Because of Carpentier and other punctilious scholars and
archivists who discovered long lost musical manuscripts in places like the Mexico
City Cathedral of the Guatemala City Cathedral, last night’s concert was made
possible. Some of these manuscripts have deteriorated so Pacific Music
Works organist and harpsichordist, Henry Lebedinsky (also a scholar) painstakingly
put together (with tremendous effort) the concert with the help of that other enlightened scholar and
musician Stephen Stubbs.
I was particularly moved by the slow movementa of Domenico
Zipoli’s (sólo en su casa lo conocen),
Sonata in A: Largo performed by violinist Tekla Cunningham and that of violinist
Adam LaMotte (who was wearing shoes purchased in Leon, Guanajuato, Mexico which
had decidedly pointed tips at extreme angle from the floor) playing the Anonymous (18th Century –Mexico
City Cathedral Archive) Largo.
Of the two singers Tess Altiveros and Danielle Sampson (of
the latter I would rest on my piano room psychiatric couch and tell her my
innermost secrets) I can only state that they had lovely voices and that their
diction was almost (as in almost) perfect from this Spanish speaking would-be
From my vantage point on that first row I was able to hear
Stubb’s playing with clarity.
All in all a concert to keep in my memory and time to
perhaps read again Alejo Carpentier’s
short story El Acoso (The Chase)
in which all
events happen during the 46 minute performance of Beethoven’s Symphony # 3,
. That story has for me a startling connection with magic realism. I
wrote about it here