A Phenomenal Four Seasonal Fenómeno
Thursday, April 23, 2015
|Monica Huggett - Portland March 29 2015|
When it comes to violinists, virtuosity is not entirely
the result of mechanical finger velocity and sheer technique, as it is with
pianists. The violin is an instrument which has almost human whims—it is
attuned to the mood of the player in a sympathetic rapport: a minute
discomfort, the tiniest inner imbalance, a whiff of sentiment elicits an
immediate resonance . . . probably because the violin, pressed against the
chest, can percieve our heart’s beat. But this happens only with artists who
truly have a heart that beats, who have a soul. The more sober, the more
heartless a violinist is, the more uniform will be his performance, and he can
count on the obedience of his fiddle, any time, any place. But this
much-vaunted assurance is only the result of a spiritual limitation, and some
of the greatest masters were often dependent on influences from within and
Thoughts on the Violin and on Violinists
Heinrich Heine (1843)
I began this blog in January 2006. Since then I have
written 3404 blogs. Some of them are pretty good and some are perfunctory or
simply written to fill in the week.
As far as I can tell I have never had such a big hole of
missing blogs to which I must inevitably catch up to.
One of the reasons for the blog block could be that I am
in the throws of taking portraits of women who specialize in the playing of
instruments that were in use in the 17th and 18th
century. I could have saved myself some unneeded worries if I had approached
this project (which has taken me to Portland, Seattle, Victoria and locally to
places like Ladner) with my Fuji X-E1 digital camera. Somehow I thought that
these women deserved my best and my best could only be delivered in b+w film
exposed with my medium format Mamiya RB-67 Pro-SD. With that camera in my hand
(but on a tripod as it is very heavy) I feel the same certitude of success as
King Arthur must have had while wielding Sword Excalibur.
I have at this point photographed 23 women who play
instruments not all currently seen is a conventional symphony orchestra. I have
had to process rolls of 120 film (ten exposures) in my darkroom which has been
truly dark for some time but not of late! Knowing I could not return to
re-shoot any of these women I had to make sure those 10 exposures (that was my
self-imposed limit, one roll per musician) were processed correctly and that I
did not precipitate the many possible mishaps that might have resulted in the
ruination of my efforts.
Happily I can report that the 23 women (so far) are all
Here is a preview (I must not let the cat out of the bag)
of one of the women. She is violinist Monica Huggett who is a solo/virtuoso
violinist of note around the world who happens to be the Artistic Director of
the Portland Baroque Orchestra
She and her beloved and most artistically efficient
orchestra will be in Vancouver on Friday, May 1 at the Chan and will perform
Antonio Vivaldi’s Four Seasons
which are part of his Opus 8
, entitled Il
cimento dell'armonia e dell'inventione
. I will write a preview, at length, about this Early Music Vancouver
concert in a
later blog in a couple of days.
For now I want to explain something about the colour
version of my portraits of Monica Huggett. Those who have commissioned me for
this project will select the final images. But not this one in colour! There
are four other exposures, and in one of them Huggett closed her eyes. There is
one where she shows a fine smile. But I like the no-nonsense look of this one.
I own an extended collection of Huggett’s works (all
baroque) and I have seen her live a few times. When not playing she could be
one of your British aunts or the cat lady around the corner. She is a serious
gardener and has one by the sea (and mostly difficult chalky soil, I would
guess) in England but lives in Portland.
When she plays she is transformed into another person.
She plays with fuerza
(I like that Spanish word) and a passion second to none.
She can be delicate in quiet passages but note her formidable forearms. With
them she executes music (in both senses of that verb) with no comparison in
anybody else that I have ever been lucky to listen to.
And she does not forget to smile and thus display the fun
she is having.
Many years ago Saturday Night Magazine
hired me to
photograph violin prodigy Corey Cerovsek
when he was 14. They wanted me to
convey in my photograph that somehow Cerovsek had talent that came from some
connection with the devil. Such a connection was also attributed to Niccolò Paganini.
I was able to convey the diabolical connection with lighting and a raised
eyebrow but I felt happier with my image of the young boy (and a young boy he
was) wearing my striped T-shirt and a bike behind him.
There is no possible way that anybody who has met Monica
Huggett could ever think of such ungodly links as an explanation for her virtuosic
I have a far simpler explanation courtesy of my Spanish
grandmother who once saw Manolete in a bullfight. She said he was a fenómeno
There is no rational explanation for that kind of talent while the assertion
that its rarity is a given. I have met one person who was a fenómeno. That was
and is Canadian dancer Evelyn Hart
A Surprise - A Commonplace Book At My Vancouver Public Library
Monday, April 20, 2015
My 17-year-old female cat Plata
has become needy and possessive.
She always wants to be on my lap or on Rosemary’s. She is hungry all the time
and because of her age the cause is hyperthyroidism. She mews loudly when she
wants her food. She drives me crazy but at the same time I see this in this
“Alex I am going to die soon. I will be out of your hair
but until that time comes I want to share as much of what is left of my time
As I watch Rachel Maddow
on TV with Rosemary and with
Plata on my lap I think that this cat amply proves how we humans need human
warmth and contact. Social networks will never provide any of us with that real
warmth that transfers from my old Plata’s body onto mine.
All the above was reinforced by a recent trip to my
Oakridge Branch of the Vancouver Public Library. For $6.00 I purchased in their
reject bin (people also donate to this) a pristine set of film DVDs (7 of them) entitled the Stanley Kubrick Collection.
In the staff picks I found the Alex Guinness A Commonplace
Book. In it was this poem by John Updike:
Another Dog’s Death
For days the good old bitch had been dying, her back
pinched down to the spine and arched to ease the pain,
her kidneys dry, her muzzle white. At last
I took a shovel into the woods and dug her grave
in preparation for the certain. She came along,
which I had not expected. Still, the children gone,
such expeditions were rare, and the dog,
spayed early, knew no nonhuman word for love.
She made her stiff legs trot and let her bent tail wag.
We found a spot we liked, where the pines met the field.
The sun warmed her fur as she dozed and I dug;
I carved her a safe place while she protected me.
I measured her length with the shovel’s long handle;
she perked in amusement, and sniffed the heaped-up earth.
Back down at the house, she seemed friskier,
but gagged, eating. We called the vet a few days later.
They were old friends. She held up a paw, and he
injected a violet fluid. She swooned on the lawn;
we watched her breathing quickly slow and cease.
In a wheelbarrow up to the hole, her warm fur shone.
Music For The Best Of All Possible Worlds
Sunday, April 19, 2015
|Owen Underhill (with Lauri Stallings) Alexander Weimann, Bramwell Tovey|
"It is demonstrable," said he, "that
things cannot be otherwise than they are; for as all things have been created
for some end, they must necessarily be created for the best end. Observe, for
instance, the nose is formed for spectacles; therefore we wear spectacles. The
legs are visibly designed for stockings; accordingly we wear stockings. Stones
were made to be hewn and to construct castles; therefore my lord has a
magnificent castle; for the greatest baron in the province ought to be the best
lodged. Swine were intended to be eaten; therefore we eat pork all year round.
And they who assert that everything is right, do not express themselves
correctly; they should say that everything is best."
Master Pangloss – Candide – Votaire
One could on the same vein remark that nothing beats
listening to the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra playing Mozart’s Symphony #40 K.
550 in G minor directed by Bramwell Tovey at the Orpheum.
Others would assert that the upcoming Portland Baroque
Orchestra, with Monica Huggett
on solo violin and directing, concert at the
Chan on May 1st
featuring Antonio Vivaldi’s Opus 8 Four Seasons
would be better with no comparison needed.
And a smaller group, Vancouver’s Petit Avant-garde
have coined this expression!) would state simply that nothing beats brand new compositions
of this century as performed by the Turning Point Ensemble under the artistic
direction of Owen Underhill.
Of late Early Music Vancouver
ensembles (some quite
small), the Vancouver Symphony
Turning Point Ensemble have been playing I smaller venues such as Pyatt Hall,
the Telus Theatre at the Chan or the black box (where you are safe from atomic
holocaust but your cell phone will not work) at SFU Woodwards.
If you noticed carefully you might find musicians, the
same ones playing in all three orchestras plus others such as Colin MacDonald’s
or the Microcosmos Quartet
(which specializes, so far, in
Bártok, Britten and brand new composers, some in their early 20s).
If you happen to like jazz you may have not known or
missed Turning Point Ensemble’s 2012 concert featuring the music of DukeEllington
On my best of all possible worlds wish list would be a
concert in which a group of musicians directed by Bramwell Tovey, the Pacific
Baroque Orchestra’s Alexander Weimann
and Owen Underhill would each play the
music of those groups in one evening here in Vancouver.
The concert could have the VSO (a smaller group) playing a
Bach Brandenburg Concerto. If it were the fifth Alexander Weimann could play the harpsichord. The Pacific Baroque Orchestra might play music by a
composer preceding Bach such as Heinrich Ignaz von Bieber
. Turning Point
Ensemble might play the Bachianas Brasileiras (any of them) by Heitor
I know that I would enjoy all three performances. In the
best of all possible worlds surely there are more people like me out there?
A Pocket Version of Handel & Telemann's Wassermusik
Thursday, April 16, 2015
|Alexander Weimann - April 15 2015|
I have a vivid memory of listening for the first time a cassette
tape of Pablo Casals conducting the Marlboro Festival Orchestra of Bach’s
Brandenburg Concertos. The second concerto featuring the trumpet was played so fast
I thought my tape player had broken. To this day this super-fast version (was
Casals on amphetamines?) is my favourite and all others seem now as if they
were recorded in slow motion. Could more surprises be in store? Perhaps.
I can no longer abide
any version of Bach’s Concerto for 2 Violins in D minor, BWV 1043
. The same
goes for Vivaldi’s Four Seasons
. I have heard them too many times. This is why I
look forward to the Portland Baroque Orchestra with Monica Huggett tackling the
Four Seasons at the Chan Centre
on May 1st
courtesy of Early Music
Vancouver. A woman with fearsome forearms and a passion to match will enliven the work.
You might think that the same (concerto ennui) might apply to the
sometimes bombastic-sounding (as lovely as it is) Water Music
by Handel. ThePacific Baroque Orchestra
under the direction of Alexander Weimann is performing it this
Friday and Saturday. So what may be new? Plenty!
Below is the citation from Wikipedia:
The Water Music is
a collection of orchestral movements, often published as three suites, composed
by George Frideric Handel. It premiered on 17 July 1717 after King George I had
requested a concert on the River Thames.
The Water Music is
scored for a relatively large orchestra, making it suitable for outdoor
performance. Some of the music is also preserved in arrangement for a smaller
orchestra; this version is not suitable for outdoor performance, as the sound
of stringed instruments does not carry well in the open air.
|Georg Frideric Handel (left) and King George I on the
Thames River, 17 July 1717. Painting by Edouard Hamman (1819–88).|
When I read the above I became curious as all the versions
of Handel’s Water Music I have ever heard featured a large orchestra with lots
of pomp and circumstance provided by horns, trumpets and 18th
century kitchen sinks. It seems that there is a smaller version.
This is what I found:
It’s easy to
imagine the well-documented first performance of Handel’s Water Music, played
by at least 50 musicians on a barge floating down the Thames for a royal
procession. But what was the score’s first incarnation? After all, Baroque
composers would shamelessly beg, borrow and steal from their own music,
whatever it took to make a few extra bob.
Enter the Brook
Street Band, a young baroque chamber ensemble whose core make-up is two
violins, harpsichord and cello. Upon learning of a chamber version of the Water
Music in an Oxford University library, apparently penned by Handel himself, the
group applied 18th century practices and adapted the music for their own
forces, adding an oboe doubling on recorder. The resulting world premier
recording recreates how Handel’s popular music may have been enjoyed by 18th
century folk in the privacy of their own home.
From the above web site I found out that the Brook Street
Band is called that because they took their name from the London street where
Handel lived for most of his life in London.
Is there any chance we might ever hear something like the
above in an intimate location (Pyatt Hall on Seymour Street for example)?
You might never know by the following information on the
concert on the Pacific Baroque Orchestra web site:
A lavish collection
of orchestral suites for woodwinds and strings by Handel (Watermusic) and
Telemann (A lavish collection of orchestral suites for woodwinds and strings by
Handel (Watermusic) and Telemann (Hamburger Ebb' und Fluth, La Bourse)
celebrating the water and its powerful tides, both literally and as a metaphor
for change. Majestic music at the end of our season for a city that lives from
and with water.) celebrating the water and its powerful tides, both literally
and as a metaphor for change. Majestic music at the end of our season for a
city that lives from and with water.
I am happy to report that something like that Oxford
version is in the works for Friday and Saturday.
I know this because yesterday Wednesday I attended a
rehearsal of the Pacific Baroque Orchestra.
The orchestra featured (all period
instruments) one harpsichord (Weimann) two violins, Chloe Myers and Linda
Melsted, one viola, Paul Luchkow, one bassoonist, Katrina Russell, two oboes,
and Curtis Forster, that
doubled on recorders, one violone player Natalie Mackie, and
Nathan Whittaker on cello.
It was most interesting to watch and listen to Weimann
make some of the musicians go silent or to listen to violinists who were a bit
confused as to what part they might play as they (one violinist, the second
violinist ) was replacing two. Weimann informed that oboe players that he would
bring the horn parts for Thursday. In many instances some of the players did
have confusing moments when they were unsure which part of the two parts they
had to play. At all times I was under the impression that the 9 musicians were all collaborating, on the spot on a work that will be brand new. Weimman, and the 8 were putting
together a Vancouver Version (not the Oxford!) of Handel’s Water Music.
As the only spectator I felt very much like George I in
his palace listening to an intimate chamber orchestra play beautiful music. It
seemed they were playing just for me.
It was wonderful, refreshing, to hear every individual instrument play
and not a full orchestra with the instruments blending in. If anything there
were times when Weimann seemed to be going for clashes and he often said these
two parts sound the same and so would change the mix. To me I was listening to something being re-born.
As for Telemann’s Hamburger
Ebb' und Fluth, La Bourse
in honour of the German port of Hamburg I know a lot
less and my only reference is my CD by Musica Antiqu Köln
. In the last few
years Georg Philipp Telemann seems to have been all but ignored by orchestras in our city, a city which lies
by the water. I even wonder if any contemporary (this century) or last century
composers of Vancouver city have ever composed anything about our water and our
|Alexander Weimann & Chloe Myers|
Thanks to the Pacific Baroque Orchestra I can celebrate
water if for a few hours in the dry and intimate surrounding of Pyatt Hall
Saturday. Those living near or in Langley can take their dose of intimacy on
As I left the rehearsal hall I thought of Weimann the
German who smiles (even if a tad efficiently but I must add so naturally) and that
his nation has an excellent track record of making powerful and compact
statements. They have done it with their formidable (but smallish) pocket
battleships of WWII, their Leicas and now Weimann is doing it with a pocket version of Handel’s
Water Music. The same will apply to Telemann’s work. In my Musica Antiqua Köln I counted 23 musicians. Imagine 9.