La Modestine Stands Up & Sits DownFriday, April 21, 2017
|Sketches by Graham Walker & Lauren Stewart|
It is impossible for me to ever go up to Deep Cove via the much newer Mt. Seymour Parkway. I prefer to go the longer and more winding root of Dollarton Highway. It passes by Cates Park. When I do I remember my friend John Lekich’s words:
Vancouver- Malcolm Lowry lived here – Errol Flynn died here.
Yesterday Thursday, April 20 I was on my way to meet up with my friend Ian Bateson for a concert of La Modestine at the Seymour Art Gallery in Deep Cove.
The concert called "German Spring" was held in an intimately small gallery that had a startlingly crisp almost loud sound.
We sat in the front row as we always do so that I could listen to violinist Marc Destrubé breathe. I sit in the front row of dance performaces for the same reason.
Going to small concerts of Early Music Vancouver or of La Modestine puts me in situations where I feel I am royalty. The four members of La Modestine are violinists Marc Destrubé and Seattle luminary Linda Melsted, viola da gamba player Natalie Mackie and harpsichordist Michael Jarvis (who also might be heard playing the organ).
Those four members, in a small room, make me feel like I may be Alexandre Von Humboldtberger of renowned blue German blood and they are there to play just for me.
There are no announcements (or the very least, least) and the atmosphere is informal. You know these renowned musicians (they are as they are not only famous at home but abroad) put on their pants one foot at a time.
But there is one factor that puts you at odds with them. They can read music like President John Kennedy speed read and they are virtuosi of their instruments.
You need to know that the two violinists have two playing positions. They sit or they stand. When they stand, they play seriously difficult music by the likes (not your household known composer) of Heinrich Ignaz Franz von Biber. When they sit they play evocatively melodious music by that other un-household known name Johann Heinrich Schmelzer.
This particular concert had besides those two composers, a solo performance on the harpsichord (Michael Jarvis) playing Johann Rosenmüller’s Sonata Sonata Sesta a 3 (no siesta it was, we were on our toes) and a most unique duo by gambist Mackie and harpsichordist Jarvis playing a composer discovered by Mackie a mere few weeks before called Jacob Reihmann.
But the best was at the very end. Standing up the violinists and company played a von Biber Partita that included a final passacaglia (I love chaconnes and passacaglias are almost that).
The evening was brilliantly fun but there was one sad moment for me. My friend, designer Graham Walker and my granddaughter Lauren, 14 could not make it. These two collaborate in sketching their impressions of La Modestine and other concerts. They work on the same pages and you can scarcely figure out who did what. I am placing here the sketches they did from the last La Modestine concert, held at Hodson Manor on February 25. I was soon to go to Austin for a school reunion and to Buenos Aires for spring break so I never did get to write my impression of that French and Italian music concert.
In all cases La Modestine specializes in the lesser known
baroque composers of the 17th century. Since you are not inclined to
hear this stuff anywhere else you could say that this is 17 century avant-garde
new music. In the case of von Biber this is a precise description of music that
in that century was called fantastic. Composers took chances and pushed
boundaries. Von Biber tinkered (most successfully) with variant tunings of the
violin. The most famous of his compositions are his 16 Rosary Sonatas. This
alternate tuning is called scordatura. By my reckoning if some violinist (accompanied
by a continuo player, a continuo can be a harpsichord or a string instrument
like a viola da gamba) were to attempt to play all 16 in one sitting and since
the process of re-tuning that violin can take time, it would be necessary to have
at least 14 violins handy!
|Linda Melsted and Lauren Stewart|
You might spot a couple of donkeys in the sketches. The reason is that La Modestine was Robert Louis Stevenson’s donkey when the writer traveled in Europe.
For anybody who might be curious about other famous donkeys, there is Rucio (the dappled one) which was Sancho Panza’s steed of choice.
The evening did end very well. In the gallery I spotted this delightful mono print by artist Liane McLaren Varnam. My Lauren loves cats and has one of her own. I am sure she will be delighted by “The Seagull and the Pussy Cat”.
|Detail from Natali Mackie's viola de gamba|
|Marc Destrubé & his new glasses|
A version of von Biber's Passacaglia from Partita V for two violins and b.c. in g minor
The Jacob Riehmann Prelude from his Sonata VI OP 1