Sequentia - Doom & Gloom With Glee
Saturday, August 02, 2014
The year 1000 of the
Incarnation of the Lord was dawning when my brothers set out on the roads of
this world. The nocturnal shadows had not yet withdrawn from the ground, and
they were already descending the promontory where the monastery was situated. With
their mules laden with crucifixes, statues of enthroned Virgins, loaves of
bread, cheeses, honey and water for the journey, they forded the swollen stream
and took the first path they came upon on their left, eager to publish the signs
of the Last Judgment throughout the villages of the kingdom.
Vision 1 The Lord of
the Last Days – Visions of the Year 1000 by Homero Aridjis
On Friday night
Benjamin Bagby and Norbert Rodenkirchen of the now Paris-based Sequentia, armed
with ancient instruments (replicas) new to me performed Fragments for the End
of Time. The program at UBC School of Music’s intimate Roy Barnett Recital Hall, presented by Early Music Vancouver was all about doom, gloom and corpses burning for eternity in hell. There was
no element of hope except that if you were one of those lucky ones to be born a
saint then you could skip it all and not
worry about it. In that first millennium after the birth of Christ many thought that ending of the world was close at hand. Sequentia explored that preoccupation in both pagan and Christian cultures of the western world.
|Before the Apocalypse - Benjamin Bagby, Matthew White & Norbert Rodenkirchen|
paradoxically fortunately, too) we are not saints and some of us (me) who were
raised as Roman Catholics are attracted like lemmings to anything related to
Watching this duo,
Bagby reminded me of actor Robert Duval playing a funeral director, and
Rodenkirchen was a Teddy Bear version of the Pied Piper of Hamelin luring
children to their deaths, I was transfixed by their performance. Bagby sang,
acted and performed with great drama, while Rodenkirchen played on his swan-ulna-bone flute with a smile on his face. I could have easily been lured
to jump over the cliff with glee!
The 75 minute
performance, with no interval, ended in applause. I was sitting next to EMV
Board President Sharon Kahn. I whispered to her, “Do we want more doom and
gloom?” Thankfully Bagby and Sequentia (which Bagby founded in Basle
with Barbara Thornton in 1977) knew when to quit. And they did.
At this point you
might suspect that I was not too happy with the performance.
You would be
This kind of stuff
clears the air of that sometimes unwanted sweetness and the banality of social
networks and life in the 21st century.
In fact I am now going
to re read (inspired by Sequentia), The Lord of the Last Days – Visions of the
Year 1000 by Homero Aridjis, my Mexican poet/novelist friend. As a Mexican (and
I lived in Mexico
for 18 years) he and I are obsessed (the right word) with death, destruction,
gloom and doom. It is all natural and inevitable. No amount of Air Miles points
will change that.
Aridjis was a shrewd
man who opted to publish the edition in English in 1995 (originally published
in 1994 as El señor de los últimos días, visions del año dos mil) knowing there
would be an interest in such a novel as the 20th century came to a
Today, Monday, could
be the last day of the world. Perhaps tomorrow, Tuesday, the Virgin without sin
would appear in the firmament. And perhaps the day after tomorrow, the radiant
dawn of the new millennium would shine over the world. Each day the miracle we
had never seen could happen, the miracle we hope for would happen on earth each
day during the last thousand years. …García Cabezón ordered the ram’s horn to
be blown so that the knights, clerics, cotters and all others who wanted to do
battle with the emissary of the Evil One might come to join us.
The Lord of the Last Days - Homero Aridjis
It was difficult for me
to pin down exactly Bagby’s performance. Is he a singer, an actor, a slam poet,
a troubadour of old, or what? I could not even secure his voice. I had to ask
Liz Hamel, recorder musician, a soprano or mezzo (she is one or the other
depending on the day) and now a deacon of the Anglican Church. She told me,
Bagby is a baritone.
The name of the
musical group, Sequentia and the calling of their pieces sequences had me in
total ignorance. They seemed to be some version of early Gregorian Chant (but
definitely not quite). They seemed to be religious and in Latin. They seemed to
expand or transfer from purely religious to mythical lore and thus into other
languages, languages not of the church.
I had to look it up in
my musical reference book for dummies, The Oxford Junior Companion to Music,
Second Edition 1979 and upon reading the definition I was not much the wiser:
repetition of a short passage of music at another pitch. In the following hymn,
the soprano and the bass parts are repeated three times – ‘sequentially’.
The short definition
then added that there are two kinds of sequences, real and tonal. The example
given below is a tonal sequence, because the repetitions are not absolutely
exact, semitone for semitone.
Flummoxed I decided to scrap
further investigation as to what is a sequence and I state here that Sequentia’s
Fragments for the End of Time was a riveting performance in which the two
players in some moments took me to a medieval plaza Sunday fair where I was an
unwashed commoner rapt to listen to a story perhaps after a passion play. And
at other times, in the smallish Roy Barnett Recital Hall I was Charlemagne
himself, surrounded by my courts listening to Alcuin tell me that like Michael
the Archangel I was singly responsible for defeating the dragon ( an a myriad of
snakes) for the redemption of mankind.
The last sequence of
the evening was A felir austan um eitrdala or the ‘Prophecy of the Völva, from
the Old Icelandic Edda (Iceland
At one point after all
the doom, gloom and destruction of all singers of the previous sequences I
thought this one was going to end on a positive note:
She sees com up earth
out of ocean once again green. The waterfalls flow, an eagle flies over, in the
hills hunting fish.
Sér hon upp
jörð ór œgi
sá er á
But it was not to be:
Then comes the shadowy
dragon flying, glittering serpent, up from Dark-of-the Moon hills.
As she flies over the
fields he carried in his claws: corpses.
Þar kemr inn dimmi
naðr fránn neðan
berr sér í fjöðrum
— flýgr völl yfir —
Nú man hon sökkvask.
I left the hall
entertained but sober and making the resolution to myself of perhaps at this later
date of my life that I must become a kinder person. I felt sort of like leaving the
confessional purified (if only temporarily).
Dear Mr. Waterhouse-Hayward,
Thanks very much for your mail and for the
interesting blog entry about our concert. We always enjoy performing in Vancouver. The festival
had asked specifically for a programme about the Apocalypse.
In your blog there seems to be some
question about the definition of 'sequence'. If you consult a good music
dictionary (such as the Harvard Dictionary of Music) you will see that the word
'sequence' has two definitions. One, which has nothing to do with medieval
music, involves a technique of melodic repetition at different pitch levels.
The more significant definition, from the medieval term 'sequentia', refers to
a musical and poetic form which was extremely important at all levels of
musical practice between the 9th and 13th centuries. It is this second definition
which relates to both my ensemble's name and the vocal/instrumental pieces
designated as 'sequentia' which we performed on our programme.
Thanks again for your kind words.
The Most Transitory Of Things
Friday, August 01, 2014
|Rosa 'Paul Ricault'Add caption|
Perhaps this holiday
Monday, August 4 some of you Wreck Beachers might cut your al fresco tanning
and mosey over to the UBC School of Music, room 116, not far from the
You would help to put some bodies on what might well be an empty room. I
will project some of my rose scans, and explain the process. I will find some way of linking the rose images to the
2014 Vancouver Early Music Festival. I will be expounding on the theme from
5:30 to 6:30. For more info there is this
Nitobe Memorial Garden.
The Sick Rose
Thursday, July 31, 2014
|Botrytis affecting Rosa 'Reine des Violettes' (purple) & Rosa 'Maiden's Blush', pink|
The Sick Rose
By William Blake (after 1789)
O Rose thou art sick.
The invisible worm,
That flies in the night
In the howling storm:
Has found out thy bed
Of crimson joy:
And his dark secret love
Does thy life destroy.
Hand-coloured print, issued c.1826. A copy
held by the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge
Botrytis cinerea is a necrotrophic fungus
that affects many plant species and in my garden it attacks some of my old
albas (Maiden's Blush and Könegin von Dänemark) and hybrid perpetual ( Reine
des Violette). There is not much I can do as all effective fungicides have been
banned. I alternate between sulphur and copper sulphate in spring to some
effect but at almost the end of the season (they flower only once) the buds get
yellow and fall off. I found out about
Blake's poem from my friend, poet George Bowering.
Rosa 'Könegin von Dänemark'
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
Addendum: Re lutenist
Walter Gerwig. Gerwig taught Eugen Müller-Dombois who in turn taught Ray Nurse.
|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 them 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 Menard. 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. Menard reminded me
of a sophisticated version of Susan Sarandon. Menard’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 Menard’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.