The Benign Neglect Of The Vancouver CBC OrchestraSaturday, March 29, 2008
In all the various articles in the Vancouver media of the demise of the CBC Radio Orchestra in September none mention that our nation's orchestra was never Canada's but our very own Vancouver's. When it was first founded by Ira Dilworth in 1938 it was the CBC Vancouver Chamber Orchestra. In 1980 it became the CBC Vancouver Orchestra. Toronto took possesion only in 2000 when it acquired its present name the CBC Radio Orchestra.
In the 60s I used to listen to Willis Conover's jazz program in Voice of America. From Mexico City I was able to find the station in short wave. Conover familiarized me with cool jazz, the Westcoast California brand of jazz and performers such as Gerry Mulligan, Les McCann and many others. These were unavailable in Mexico City record stores. I was not aware that I was listening to propaganda.
I now love my Canada with its billboard-free highways. But we have more to offer to the world than that. Consider just Vancouver. My daughter Ale returned from Mexico City, not too long ago with a Mexico City Sunday paper. I noted that it had two pages of dance venues, two for theater and the same for classical music. This was astounding until I noticed the music was a surefire 19th century repertoire, the plays (the best of them) were Travels With My Aunt and the worst glorified soap operas. Dance was a legion of dancing swans. There was no experimental music or theatre or modern dance. There was nothing that cannot be found on any given day in our own "struggling world-class" city with its rich modern and classical dance culture, just penned experimental plays and new music concerts or concerts of the lesser known fantastic period of the 17th century, and a new music scene that struggles but still surprises.
Last night I attended a concert of the Pacific Baroque Orchestra with my daughter Hilary and her two daughters, Rebecca and Lauren. This was a reduced orchestra (the normal one is bigger) of a violin, viola, viola da gamba (or cello), violon and fortepiano. Even the PBO knows of troubled times and often performs in a "pocket orchestra" form. Many national orchestras are beginning to do the same. They spread the work around.
In the 50 and 60s I drew enough maps of Africa using a red pencil to mark the borders of the British properties, protectorates and colonies to learn that the world was being swallowed up into empires. I thought that nationalism was dead and we would soon become one happy capitalist conglomerate nation. I was wrong and so were the experts. Nationalism is alive and well and the concept is spreading.
I was talking to a CBC producer friend. I asked him, "Why didn't the CBC Radio Orchestra travel to the north of Canada to promote its brand of music?" I was astounded when he answered, "They went in September." All the good things that this Vancouver-based orchestra has done to spread culture in Canada has been unreported. That emminent and cultured American Senator, the late Daniel Patrick Moynihan would only smile.
When I wrote about the CBC Radio Orchestra here Bernardi had not yet stepped down (to be replaced by trombonist Alain Trudel, in itself an unique Canadian concept). I did not mention that the patrician conductor, John Eliot Gardiner avoids mentioning his stay in Vancouver in his lofty curriuculum vitae. Benign neglect must have been in full force by then. I state my fears that the CBC Radio Orchestra is one of the last bastions for the performance and (very important) recording of works by Canadian contemporary composers.
All the above and specifically my mentioning Wilis Conover and the Voice of America is patent evidence that the CBC Vancouver Orchestra (as I will always remember it) was a potential Canadian cultural gift to the world that was never used to its true potential. Can you imagine the columns of copy that would have been generated by :
Canadian Cultural Icon Plays To Its Troops in Afghanistan
Canadian Orchestra Plays In The West Bank.
Our much lauded but strained concept that Canada is a peace keeping nation would be far better promoted with cultural contributions to the world with our music, theater, dance and visual arts. A cultural peace corps of sorts under the umbrella of the CBC would promote our way of life to the world. Unfortunately the concept of culture in the modern CBC is to announce and promote, ad nauseum, the name of Jian Ghomeshi. A one-man-orchestra is cheaper.
Also not generally known nor have they ever been acknowledged is how CBC producers George Laverock and Karen Wilson (in other countries they would have been a legion, not two) and the CBC Radio Orchestra put together wonderful concerts, recorded for the radio and on CDs between 1979 and 1989. I can remember the gaunt and over-worked faces of those two (Laverock and Wilson) who with the help of virtuoso recording engineers like Don Harder made music that dazzled Europe. I know that Harder was often wooed by European recording companies and we all know how happy Cecilia Bartoli is when Mario Bernardi is present in her performances.
In the pictures here that's conductor Mario Bernardi and violinist Corey Cerovsek in rehearsal in the CBC's Studio One.