St. Joan of Arc, Big Macs & Meg Roe
Wednesday, November 19, 2014
St. Joan of Arc: Shall
I arise from the dead and come back to you, a living woman?
made you a saint, we had no hand in the business. Let Rome decide.
Cauchon: Stay where
you are, woman. A dead saint is always safer for the Church than a living one...
There are some people
who go to Macdonald’s and yet cannot abide the Big Macs. They might tell you
that they go for the fries. And I cannot fault them.
In the same way you
may not want to spend the money to go to the theatre. You might be persuaded to
do so only if the play is an experimental one or at the opposite extreme one
that is tried and true. You might then want to go to see It’s a Wonderful Life
this season. As far as I know if that is your decision you will be out of luck.
On the other hand you
might want to go to see a play that is rarely performed. Such a play is George
Bernard Shaw’s St. Joan. and Arts Club Theatre Company presentation at the Stanley. Should you want to see the 1957 film version
directed by Otto Preminger, starring Jean Seberg your only game in town is a
VHS recording at Limelight Video on Broadway and Alma. Not even the Vancouver
Public Library has it.
St. Joan, starring Meg
Roe and a long cast of who’s who Vancouver
thespians is having a few more performances until this Sunday, November 23. There
is a matinee this Saturday at 2 plus an evening performance and a matinee on
Why am I telling you
For many years writer
Les Wiseman and I would go to rock concerts at the Commodore (Wiseman had a
Vancouver Magazine column called In One Ear to which I contributed as a
photographer). Because we were snobs we would sometimes go to see the excellent
warm-up act and then skip (over a beer) the headliners.
You might not be
religious and not interested in plays with a religious content. You might have
all kinds of other excuses not to see St. Joan but as Wiseman always told me,
paraphrasing Hunter S. Thompson, “As your attorney I strongly suggest you see
this.” Wiseman was always right.
My reason for suggesting
St. Joan is simply that you want to watch a
virtuoso acting performance which will be remembered for many years.
PBO, Curtis Daily, Patricia Hutter & Two Basses On A Date
Tuesday, November 18, 2014
The Pacific Baroque
Orchestra is presenting this program on Friday November 28 and on Sunday
|Curtis Daily in my garden|
A curious fact is that
perhaps because the program includes two composers (besides that of 17th
century Heinrich Ignaz Franz Biber von Bibern) of the late 18th century,
Luigi Boccherini and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart a rare instrument and its owner
are traveling from Portland to play in it. Curtis Daily and his baroque bass
are both participants and members of the Portland Baroque Orchestra. Those who
know will tell you that since the orchestra is headed by violinist Monica
Huggett, the standards of the orchestra are as high as they come. If anything
that also tells you that the demands of Pacific Baroque Orchestra Musical
Director and virtuoso harpshichordist, Alexander Weimann are as high. Daily is also a member of the Seattle Baroque Orchestra
|Patricia Hutter & Nicolo|
Interesting too is
that Daily and his bass have a date on Athlone Street, Saturday November 29 at
12:30 PM with my near neighbour Patricia Hutter (formerly a bass player for the
Vancouver Symphony Orchestra) and her Italian bass called Nicolo.
Of his bass Daily
wrote me this:
Just a thought for
Alex, I would really like to take some photos of both of the old Italian basses
when we visit Patricia.
My bass was made in Venice, Italy,
circa 1770, so it's pretty old now, but probably not as old as Patricia's. My
bass was most likely commissioned from the shop whose name is associated with
it, Ignacio Ongaro (one of the big violin shops in Venice at the time), by a school or church.
Its dimensions were probably roughed out by a boy, then finished up by somebody
that knew what they were doing. I can show you the tool marks where the
apprentice went too far.
The bass was still in Venice in 1906, which I
know because of a repair label inside it from a well known Venetian maker,
dated 1906 for repairs that he had made to it. At some point after that it made
it's way to Oakland California in the Italian 20th century Italian migration;
likely in pieces because that would be simpler given the horrible conditions
that many of them travelled to the US in. The person I bought it from found it
in a violin shop in Oakland
in the early 60s in pieces. He bought it and eventually had it restored. He was
the principal bassist in the San Francisco Symphony for many years, and has
just in the last decade retired.
I am looking forward to perhaps finding ou, when Daily, Hutter and the two basses meet, if Daily has a name for his Venetian instrument. And perhaps, too, he might explain to me the difference (if there is one) between a baroque bass and a violone.
Microcosmos Quartet, Béla Bartók & Tom Cone's Laughing Ghost
Sunday, November 16, 2014
|Tom Cone - 1947 - 2012|
Béla Bartók wrote six
string quartets. His fifth he composed in 1934. Eighty years later I heard it
for the first time with a laughing ghost over my shoulder.
Thanks to (because might
be a better choice of word) the Microcosmos String Quartet headed by Marc
Destrubé on violin, Andrea Siradze, violin, Rebecca Windham, cello and Tawnya
Popoff on viola, I found this work uncommonly lyrical. How is this possible?
Perhaps it has to do
with the fact that for the last year I have heard Bartók’s first four quartets,
more than once in concerts held in pleasant surroundings, homes of music lovers,
all performed by the Microcosmos Quartet. With those Bartok compositions I have
also listened to all (three) of Benjamin Britten’s string quartets.
With the 20th
century over ever so most definitely it was about time I was exposed to this
kind of music. It is the purpose and goal of Microcosmos (info on the reason
for this name here) to promote this kind of music that is so underplayed which
has been at the same time so influential. I sometimes think that Bartók is in
the same camp of notoriety/fame as Noam Chomsky. People know who he is but you
can never pin them down in being able to explain them.
Destrubé has helped us
the frequent concert goers to his quartet Bartók concerts to humanize and
soften the man. One story is that Bartók’s son Peter watched his father go into
his study, where he worked on his compositions, and close the door. Minutes later
he heard his father repeatedly laughing.
Sitting barely five
feet away from the quartet in this last nicely sunny afternoon I knew that the
surroundings of the house were familiar. Indeed I was in the house of Karen
Matthews, who was the partner of Vancouver
playwright and librettist Tom Cone. Everything in the house nicely smacked of
an interest in good books, design and art. In fact we were informed that many concerts
of new music have been played there.
Behind me there was a
nice young man with a smile on his face. The nice young man, Thomas Weideman,
born in 1992, was there to listen with us to the premiere (East
Vancouver premiere, that is) of his 2014 work changing at the same
Between R. Murray Schafer’s
1970 String Quartet No. 1 and Bartók’s lyrical (at times!) String Quartet No. 5
we heard the quartet play, purely on their instrument’s harmonics, Weideman’s
soft and pleasing (a palate cleanser, Destrubé called it) piece.
Interesting to us,
since Destrubé always explains the facts and the story behind the works his
quartet plays, was learning that while most composers’ quartets put an effort to
bring together those two violins, viola and cello, Schafer had done the
opposite! The musicians all tried to escape one of a time from the constraints
of the composition.
If you add to the warm
surroundings with pleasant people the idea that a laughing ghost was present it
all added to a fine musical Sunday in which I can now attest that should I hear
any of those first five Bartók quartets in a recording or on the radio I just
might be able to identify that so serious Hungarian.
Early Music Vancouver's Monteverdi & Stile Moderno
Friday, November 14, 2014
What is new music?
Tarquinio Merula's Ciaccona played by Il Giardino Armonico
The month of November
has included for me two concerts that featured Western music of the 17th Century.
This is music of the early baroque. Until most recently this kind of repertoire
was only the expertise of a small minority of connoisseurs. Just like the Colt
revolver (the Peacemaker) made easy killing readily available and it sort of
evened the playing field, now YouTube has given us at least 30 versions of Antonio
Bertali, Claudio Monteverdi, Tarquinio Merula, Francesca Caccini, Giovani
Girolamo Kapsperger, Andrea Falconieri, Arcangelo Corelli,Johann Heinrich Schmelzer, etc of a chiacona (chaconne and many
other spellings) which filled the no-radio airways of the 17th century.
If you have never heard this 17th century chiacona before you will find it surprising
that most of them induce you to want to dance and clap and if you are not
careful you just might spend a whole night looking for them on YouTube as I did
It all began for me
when I heard Arcangelo Corelli’s Opus 5 Folia played by Monica Huggett on
violin. Mitzi Meyerson on harpsichord, Sarah Cunningham, cello and Nigel North
on archlute, theorbo and guitar. I discovered a tune, perhaps rampant in the 16th
century that was “covered” by all sorts of composers in Europe
including Folias collected by an Englishman called John Playford. I heard this
Folia or ground (and we shall soon find out that a ground is simply the English
word for chiacona, chaconne, etc). This ground I heard in a delightful CD
Apollo’s Banquet with David Douglas on violin, Paul O’Dette, theorbo and Andrew
I will write about two
concerts. One was Early Music Vancouver’s Sunday (November 9) concert
Monteverdi’s Songs of Love and War at the Orpheum Annex, Seymour and Robson, and the other Stile
Moderno’s Friday concert Light and Dark held at the lovely chapel of St. Andrew
Wesley’s Church on Burrard and Nelson.
|Reginald L. Mobley|
In the former, not too
well hidden I heard two grounds or chacones and in the latter the concert ended
with Antonio Bertali’s Chiacona.
Some nights ago I
thought of that Penthouse Magazine short story that I read in the late 80s
about a group of LA music promoters who came up with the idea of bringing in
something new from the past to inject with a jolt the music scene of the city.
They hopped on a time machine and brought back baroque composer and harpsichord
virtuoso Domenico Scarlatti (1685-1757). Their plan did not go as planned.
Scarlatti discovered the Moog synthesizer and dropped out. He was last seen
playing with a rock band.
|Tekla Cunningham, Catherine Webster, Elizabeth Reed, Stephen Stubbs|
I thought about going
to the 50s and bringing back Gerry Mulligan and his pianoless quartet. By
eliminating the piano from the standard jazz quartet, piano, a sax, a bass and
drums and adding a trumpet it imposed an uncommon stress and obligation on the
sax and the trumpet (later the trombone). This idea shook up the jazz world.
I don’t know how fresh
Mulligan’s quartet would sound in comparison to what is now considered to be
jazz. Perhaps Mulligan would find YouTube’s samples of 17 century baroque music
tempting and he and his baritone sax would drop out and join Stile Moderno’s
trio of lute, violin and viola da gamba.
As far-fetched as that
might sound I discovered that in that 17th century in which baroque
music seemed to follow a formula, a priest, Claudio Monteverdi decided to shake
it up a bit. This is better explained below. It also clues me in as to why Dutch-born
Arthur Neele, violin, Natalie Mackie, viola da gamba and Konstantin Bozhinov,
archlute call their trio Stile Moderno.
|Tuning the baroque harp|
literally "second practice", is the counterpart to prima pratica and
is more commonly referred to as Stile moderno. The term "Seconda
prattica" was coined by Claudio Monteverdi to distance his music from that
of e.g. Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina and Gioseffo Zarlino and describes
early music of the Baroque period which encouraged more freedom from the
rigorous limitations of dissonances and counterpoint characteristic of the
Stile moderno was
coined as an expression by Giulio Caccini in his 1602 work Le nuove musiche
which contained numerous monodies. New for Caccini's songs were that the
accompaniment was completely submissive in contrast to the lyric; hence, more
precisely, Caccini's Stile moderno-monodies have ornamentations spelled out in
the score, which earlier had been up to the performer to supply. Also this
marks the starting point of basso continuo which also was a feature in
In the preface of his
5th Book of Madrigals (1605) Monteverdi announced a book of his own: Seconda
pratica, overo perfettione della moderna musica. Such a book is not extant. But
the preface of his 8th Book of Madrigals (1638) seems to be virtually a
fragment of it. Therein Monteverdi claims to have invented a new “agitated”
style (Genere concitato, later called Stile concitato) to make the music
‘‘Monteverdis Kontrastprinzip, die Vorrede zu seinem 8. Madrigalbuch und das
Genere concitato‘‘, in: Musiktheorie, Jg. 6, 1991, p. 29-42.
So in the Early Music
Vancouver concert Pacific Music Works (Seattle) Tekla Cunningham and Linda
Melsted, violins, Elizabeth Reed, viola da gamba, Maxine Eilander, harp and
harpsichord, Stephen Stubbs, lute and Direction, Catherine Webster and Danielle
Reutter-Harrah, sopranos, Reginald Mobley, countertenor, Ross Hauck and Aaron
Sheehan, tenors and Douglas Williams, bass I found out how Monteverdi shook up
the establishment. The lyrics to his pieces brought and almost hyper reality to
the idea of war and love and in one piece Chiomo d’oro, sopranos Catherine
Webster and Danielle Reutter-Harrah performed a rousing chaconne-like work that
thinly disguised that the words were about a most pleasant sexual orgasm! This
work would have perhaps caused Monteverdi’s bête-noir Luigi Palestrina to
inform friend Pope Julius III to intercede and excommunicate Monteverdi who
happened to be a priest.
|Stephen Stubbs and Maxine Eilander|
Of Monteverdi soprano Catherine
Webster (who sang solo in a beautiful rendition of Monteverdi’s Et e pur dunque
vero) conveyed this to me via e-mail:
I'm quite sure I owe my interest in early music
to Monteverdi's "Lamento della Ninfa" . It was played in my college music history
course and I couldn't believe what I was hearing. The passacaglia is such a powerful yet simple
device, and I don't think I'd heard true dissonance or language expressed that
way - and there were instruments I didn't recognize! A few years later I saw my first live
performance of the Vespers (it was an EMV production!) and could hardly sit in
my seat. I love seeing the music on the
page; much of it is quite easy to hear even in the layout: the "battle" music actually looks
like it sounds, with its generally triple time and declamatory style. Then there are these rich extended cadences
in a more renaissance style that seem to be from outer space: the last section of "Hor che'l
ciel" is breath-taking and actually an extremely sophisticated example of
modernized madrigal word- features a solo singer with solo violin (most have
two treble instruments). I think Monteverdi
really intended the violin to reflect - and guide - the psychological state of
the singer. painting. Monteverdi was convinced that his new style
could truly depict the words and emotions of the poetry so that the listener
felt physically moved - and if the performance is great you'll hear a visceral
reaction from the audience! In the solo
piece "Ed e pur dunque vero" I did with Tekla on violin, there were
moments I found difficult not to gasp, move somehow or melt into oblivion - the
musical motives seem to mirror the effect of emotion on the physical self. It's quite a progressive piece, and the only
17th-century one I know of that
Besides the wonderful
ground (chaconne-like performance of Chiomo d’oro) I particularly enjoyed Ego
flos campi which featured the fabulous Boston-based countertenor Reginald
Mobley. Even when all singers were in unison in some of the other works I could
hear his voice separately. Mobley besides being a countertenor of note, likes
to shock the establishment with his own personal stile moderno involving always
wearing spats and in this later occasion
a most startling facial hair arrangement. Via e-mail Mobley sent me the
You asked me to say a little something about
|Reginald L. Mobley|
Frankly, there's not much to it. I've always
had an interest in sculpting facial hair. It's been my most frequent form of
self expression. From lightning bolts, to tiger stripes, to even a spiral, my
face has served as a mobile canvas with my own hair as its medium. It just so
happened that I've gone through a Wonder Woman Renaissance recently. It all
culminated with me dressing as a sort of WW inspired "Wonder Boy" for
Halloween. The beard reflects the Eagle that adorns her breastplate. Since I
haven't had time to hide and let my beard grow out, I've chosen to keep it for
I must point out that Early Music
Vancouver's Musical Director Matthew White (a fine countertenor) new bearded look reminded me of that other Monteverdi opera that
was once performed in Vancouver at Christ Church Cathedral. This was his Il
ritorno d'Ulisse in patria. White's new swarthy look would make him a splendid choice to play the lead role. I wanted to photograph viola de gambist Elizabeth Reed's beautiful black slippers that had a sparkling band go up the middle of the foot but she was fast out of the building as she had an airplane to catch. All I could do was hum in my mind an Allman Brothers Band song I first heard in 1971, In Memory of Elizabeth Reed.
Early Music Vancouver’s
Songs of Love and War was performed in the intimate and brand new Orpheum
Annex, around the corner from the Orpheum. The space with its raised seating
and smallish room affords a good view, wonderful acoustics and an intimate
place for music that might have at one time have been performed to a select
audience of potentates. That we are now able to listen to this exciting music
(new to me and new to just about anybody else) in Vancouver
says something about that axis of goodness that is Portland,
Seattle and our
fair city. All three cities have virtuoso performers that specialize in the
baroque period. The three have joined forces to bring us as of now music that
aches to be listened to by anybody who might be tired of the conventional
repertoire, heretofore offered.
Next Early Music Vancouver Concert December 21
A case in point is
Stile Moderno. In Friday’s performance at St Wesley’s most of the composers
featured were new to me. My 12 year-old granddaughter Lauren who has been
playing the violin (by her own choice to my amazement) for four years was all
ears as she sketched on her sketch book. I had prepared her for the last piece,
Antonio Bertali’s Chiacona by telling her that she would want to stand up to
dance. What really helped her appreciate it was lutenist Konstantin Bozhinov’s
approach which was much like a rock guitarist’s. Somehow the startling new
music of the 17th century (with some of those odd right wrong notes)
was made more relevant by the smiles of the performers who were having with us
a splendid time.
I cannot stop here
without pointing out that I absolutely hate the accordion. It seems that some
years ago accordion player Bozhinov, had his own road to Damascus moment and suddenly became
interested in the lute, archlute and theorbo. These three instruments, depending on whom you
talk to are all the one and the same or not. Ray Nurse, who makes these
instruments was Bozhinov’s mentor and we can only thank him from saving us from
the bellows. I happen to know that a virtuoso violinist in the audience also
had his moment on the road to Damascus
and he/she, too abandoned the accordion for the better instrument.
|Stile Moderno - Arthur Neele, Natalie Mackie, Konstantin Ruslanov Bozhinov|
At the end of the concert Lauren wanted to see the sheet music. She looked at the above by Antonio Bertali and told me, "I can read this but if I read it as fast as I can I would not be able to play any of it." Time will tell if Lauren will pursue the violin but I know that just by being able to read music she has added a new dimension to her ability to think. She also told me she was looking forward to the next Stile Moderno concert.
Christina Hutten the multi instrumentalist ( harpsichord, piano and organ) who is helping out at Early Music Vancouver (she is an able harpsichord tuner) and who is getting her doctorate at UBC School of music sat down to play the beautiful not so little organ of the St. Andrew Wesley's chapel. We were all impressed and only wonder if Stile Moderno might not just fit in that instrument in a future concert.
La Mujer De Verde
Thursday, November 13, 2014
|Bronwen Marsden - November 2014|
La Mujer de
Verde - Izal
respuesta siempre será así
hubiera no me gustaría.
ciudad por la ventana
y me dice
Sé que ella
La mujer de
vuelto a poner el traje
sucederá cuando las balas no reboten
y los malos
sean más fuertes
y volar no
sea tan fácil
algo en el desván
La mujer de
vuelto a poner el traje
sucederá cuando las balas no reboten
y los malos
sean más fuertes
y volar no
sea tan fácil
algo en el desván
Tú dame una
algo en el desván
Tú dame una
algo en el desván
Tú dame una
yo buscaré un disfraz...
Meg Roe - Joan of Arc
Wednesday, November 12, 2014
Yes: they told me you
were fools, and that I was not to listen to your fine words nor trust your
charity. You promised me my life; but you lied. You think that life is nothing
but not being stone dead. It is not the bread and water I fear: I can live on
bread: when have I asked for more? It is not hardship to drink water if the
water be clean. Bread has no sorrow for me, and water no affliction. But to
shut me from the light of the sky and the sight of the fields and flowers; to
chain my feet so that I can never again ride with the soldiers nor climb the
hills; to make me breathe foul damp darkness, to keep me from everything that
brings me back to the love of God when your wickedness and foolishness tempt me
to hate Him: all this is worse than the furnace in the Bible that was heated
seven times. I could do without my warhorse; I could drag about in a skirt; I
could let the banners and the trumpets and the knights and the soldiers pass me
and leave me behind as they leave the other women, if only I could still hear
the wind in the trees, the larks in the sunshine, the young lambs crying
through the healthy frost, and the blessed blessed church bells that send my angel
voices floating to me on the wind. But without these things I cannot live; and
by your waiting to take them away from me, or from any human creature, I know
that your counsel is of the devil, and that mine is of God.
Saint Joan - George Bernard Shaw
Saint Joan by George Bernard Shaw at the Arts Club Theatre Company's Stanley Industrial Alliance Stage is on until November 23.
Scriabin & John Cage's 4'33"
Tuesday, November 11, 2014
It is paradoxical that
American Composer John Cage’s most famous work is probably his shortest. I was
exposed to it on a summer day in 1995 on Avenue of the Americas (6th Avenue) in New York City. I was
walking with my friend David Morton when we noticed a congregation of people
surrounding a very large grand piano. We stopped to observe. A man sat down and
opened the piano lid. Then after some flourishes involving the cracking of his
knuckles, etc he did nothing. I was too ignorant to think of timing the interval.
I shortly after found out that he had performed Cage’s famous 4’33”.
|Nicole Scriabin at my Chickering|
My next exposure to
the work was near the year 2000 when CBC Radio had the guts to put 4’33” in a
program. What followed was a four minute thirty three second moment of terrible radio silence.
Randy Raine-Reusch a
multiple exotic instrument player and composer is egging on his facebook
friends to perform in as many ways as they can 4’33” at noon this Remembrance
Day ( November 11). It is easy to perform this work if one aims, like Schenkman (read below)
to not have cricket sounds. It is also easy as it can be played in one’s head
with nothing but a good stop-watch or an iPhone. What is most interesting is
that if you go to John Cage’s website here you can download an app with this
Marc Destrubé, our very own Vancouver
virtuoso violinist/director (The Axelrod Quartet, etc) has a keyboard
artist friend, Byron Schenkman who has managed to transpose John Cage’s
complex 3-part 4'33"
to the harpsichord. Early on in this complex transposition, Schenkman, not
always an inveterate purist, decided to omit the bird and cricket sounds when
he played this work live (on his harpsichord) some years ago.
While I have never been able to listen to Schenkman play the Cage work I have heard him play the harpsichord many times.
Thanks to Raine-Reusch
facebook posting I have given much thought today as to
why I have never been tempted to purchase a good set of Koss headpones. I had
that ambition in the early 70s in Mexico
City. I had purchased as state of the art (then!) Acoustic
Research transistor amplifier and I had no money to buy a pair of good
speakers. I did without the good speakers (eventually purchasing with saved
money a pair of Acoustic Research AR-3A units) and never fell to the temptation
of the relatively cheaper but very good Koss headphones.
Like John Cage I like my music with ambient
sound (except of course with those clicks that come from some of my older LP records).
I cannot understand how technology (the portable kind) has made us (the older
ones) forget and the younger ones not understand what they are missing in
listening to good music traversing the length of a living room or even a
The beauty of Cage’s 4’33” is that I can
play it or listen to it anywhere and anytime. For Randy Reine-Reusch I send one
today in which I imagine Alexander Scriabin’s grand-niece sitting at my
Chickering baby grand while her famous great-uncle performs 4’33”.
I must point out as I write this that the
ambient sound in my living room comes from the hum of the cooling fans of my
nearby computer and the clicking of the keys on this keyboard. It is a
marvelous experience, indeed.
Addendum: For any sharpness fanatic noticing the decided unsharpness of the photograph herein let it be known that I took it with a 50s vintage 6x9 inch format Geman box camera, a Gevabox with next to no focusing capability. The film used was the long departed and extremely sharp Kodak Technical Pan film in the 120 format. Because of the very low ISO rating of the film (25) I was able to use the bulb setting of the shutter and fire my sofbox flash during the exposure.