An American Tune At The Fox, El Greco & PurismTuesday, April 14, 2015
|Add Top, Tom Berghan, right glasses John Reischman, with cap Brandon Vance, Stephen Stubbs & Catherine Webster|
|Catherine Webster & Stephen Stubbs at the Fox Cabaret Photomat April 14 2015|
On April 14 I attended a performance of An American Tune at the Fox Cabaret. It was a co-production between Music on Main and Early MusicVancouver.
The concert in the revamped and cleaned up former porno film theatre (it is still a happily but lurid red) was not your ordinary concert.
We live in a city that specializes in purism. I thought the word did not exist but I looked it up. My Wikipedia informed me as follows:
Purism, referring to the arts, was a movement that took place between 1918–1925 that influenced French painting and architecture. Purism was led by Amédée Ozenfant and Charles Edouard Jeanneret (Le Corbusier).
The Wikipedia citing warns you that it contains only one source and it lists some interesting rules put forward by Ozenfant and Le Corbusier:
Purism does not intend to be a scientific art, which it is in no sense.
Cubism has become a decorative art of romantic ornamentism.
There is a hierarchy in the arts: decorative art is at the base, the human figure at the summit.
Painting is as good as the intrinsic qualities of its plastic elements, not their representative or narrative possibilities.
Purism wants to conceive clearly, execute loyally, exactly without deceits; it abandons troubled conceptions, summary or bristling executions. A serious art must banish all techniques not faithful to the real value of the conception.
Art consists in the conception before anything else.
Technique is only a tool, humbly at the service of the conception.
Purism fears the bizarre and the original. It seeks the pure element in order to reconstruct organized paintings that seem to be facts from nature herself.
The method must be sure enough not to hinder the conception.
Purism does not believe that returning to nature signifies the copying of nature.
It admits all deformation is justified by the search for the invariant.
All liberties are accepted in art except those that are unclear.
As I read these rules and particularly the last one I wondered if these rules were that serious or if there was some tongue in cheek element. The reason for my surmise is that Vancouver is not really a city of purists. To be a purist, within limits, is a good thing. But to be a purist who loves ballet and will not attend a performance of Contact Improvisational Dance to me smacks of Purism.
For a long time those in the early music movements have been ruled (so some think) by a cadre of inflexible arbiters who state that cellos should have no endpins and violins no chin rests. The musicians sometimes play standing up and they disdain the violin solos of the 19th century mainstream (in our city) repertoire. I may be overstating this but who would not listen to Lalo’s Symphonie espagnole Op 21 or Sarasate’s Zigeunerweisen played with a modern violin?
A man, a Vancouver man, violinist Marc Destrubé has never had a conflict with playing and enjoying any good music for the violin. He is just as happy playing Buxtehude as he is playing Bartók. As he is a purist, he plays the former with a Baroque violin and the latter with a modern violin.
I distinctly remember going to a concert of the PacificBaroque Orchestra (it was held, I believe in a church on 33d Avenue near Granville) that featured some of Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos. One of them was Number 3. For this concert Destrubé had commissioned a then sort of unknown contemporary composer, Bradshshaw Pack who had previously excelled in the playing of the electric guitar. His composition Arioso Distante had the same instrumentation as the Brandenburg 3 (3 violins, 3 violas, 3 cellos and one bass). You can find it here in the album Alogos http://www.spoolmusic.com/spp201info.html. It was played with baroque instruments and the piece was dissonant. I remember that Pack told me after the concert, “I am pretty happy only a couple of people walked out.”
Matthew White, Artistic Director of Early Music Vancouver has teamed up with Music on Main to bring concerts that are not for your typical Vancouver purist but for real purists who disdain putting music in inflexible categories.
A concert that featured Josh Reischman on an assortment of mandolins, Stephen Stubbs (a baroque specialist and lutenist) playing a normal modern guitar, Tom Berghan on several kinds of banjos, Brandon Vance, listed as an Irish Fiddler, Tekla Cunningham, a Seattle baroque violinist playing a Baroque Sanctus Seraphim, Venice 1746 instrument. (Cunningham told me, “ We used the baroque instruments because in the 19th century they would have used something transitional most likely and certainly with gut strings.”) We had a singer, too, soprano Catherine Webster who does specialize in the Baroque. She seemed to fit in quite well with the eclectic orchestra wearing a dress and cowboy boots, Texan style. Unlike many of the Texan women I have known she was not chewing gum.
The concert featured principally music by American composer Stephen Foster and composers like Richard Milburn, Daniel Emmett, Henry C. Work, George Frederick Root.
Most haunting were the Murder Ballads with lyrics about women being murdered by jealous sisters of for no reason at all by a man.
|Close-up of Dead Woman with Blood - Anonymous Dagureotype circa 1843 from Sleeping Beauty -Memorial Photography in America|
The tone of the concert set in the 19th century had a feel of the Old South, of Lincoln at war (the concert was held on the anniversary of his assassination) and for me the atmoshpere of Stephen Crane’s novel The Red Badge of Courage and the gothic stories of my fave Ambrose Bierce.
Had I previously known about the flavour of the concert I might have brought books featuring soldiers of the American Civil War or that lovely but troubling Sleeping Beauty – Memorial Photography in America by Stanley B. Burns, M.D.
Before the concert I asked Stephen Stubbs if they were playing the Battle Hymn of the Republic seeing that they had Daniel Emmett’s I wish I was in Dixie. His answer was confusing as he told me, “We are playing a sombre version of George Frederick Root’s Battle Cry of Freedom. The Battle Cry and the Battle Hymn are not the same at all.
In the notes I read that New Orleans composer and virtuoso pianist Louis Moreau Gottshalk would have preferred it to be the American National Anthem.
The concert was delightful and more so because fiddler Brandon Vance added lots of percussion with his spirited foot stomping. I asked him about the “is it a fiddle or a violin?” controversy. Vance was diplomatic and did not tell me what I have always thought and that is that violinists can call their instruments fiddles but we the unwashed masses cannot and must always say, “violin”. He drew the line in calling a bow a stick, “It is a bow and never a stick.” There were other strange percussion instruments, including a washboard and what looked like a bunch of bamboo skewers.
Coming up in the Fox Cabaret series is J.S. Bachwards -Early Music From the Future For Solo Violin with Jaron Freeman-Fox and Marc Destrubé on violins on May 5th at 8PM. The previous Fox Cabaret concert was this one. with Alexander Weimann and tenor Charles Daniels.
This sort of programming will perhaps help us all Vancouverites to be less practitioners of purism.
During the whole concert I thought mandolin player John Reischman was channeling any one of the dour subjects of El Greco.I wondered if Catherine Webster was wearing bobby socks in thoese cowboy boots.