|Craig Tomlinson's lovely harpsichord|
For years our Vancouver has had an inferiority complex about not being “world class”. The city is going to pump lots of money to build a “Guggenheim-type” of gallery. They think that this will put it on the map. I believe that we are better. We are Vancouver Class and we should be proud of that.
The intimate La Modestine concert I attended yesterday at the Bruce Wright residence made it that much more evident to me.
When I first went to a performance of the Pacific Baroque
Orchestra in 1991, directed by Marc Destrubé, New York City did not have an
equivalent group that played with period instruments and baroque strings. John Eliot Gardiner, as musical director of the CBC Vancouver Radio Orchestra, introduced at the Orpheum the sound of baroque stringed instruments. I was there with my two daughters and some brown bags.
Few Vancouverites know that we have the Turning Point Ensemble headed by Owen Underhill. Many of the musicians of the group, tthat performs in the basement (cell phones do not work there!) of Simon Fraser University's downtown campus, are professionals in the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra. They understand that there are composers of the 20th and 21st that we seldom hear or know about. In one of their past concerts they played Duke Ellington’s symphonic compositions and it was in another concert where I first heard Stravinski’s Tango played by the formidable Jane Hayes who understands that a piano is a percussive instrument.
I have written about what I call the Petit Avant-Garde before here:
At last night’s concert by the trio La Modestine in the home of Bruce Wright, who had just returned from Victoria, where he was awarded the Order of BC for his promotion of the arts, we were surrounded by arts books, architecture books and works of art on every wall.
The concert itself featured baroque composers I had never heard of with the exception of Dietrich Buxtehude. Had I not had four snow tires on my Chevrolet Cruze I would have happily walked from my home in Kitsilano to the concert near Granville and Broadway.
Both Marc Destrubé and Natalie Mackie explained why these composers were unknown. It seems that some had not worked in the royal courts, or had bad press agents and their compositions had been consumed by fire.
My Spanish grandmother would have said of those composers,, "En su casa los conocen," that translates to, "Their families know who they are."
The Italian harpsichordist Marco Vitale played a composition by Buxtehude that was in a style called Stylus Fantasticus. Somehow the acoustics of the room rendered his harpsichord (beautifully built by our local treasure of a man, Craig Tomlinson) in a lively sound. I noticed, in particular, that the lower register of Destrube’s violin almost resembled the bass notes of a lute. I must add here that Vitale and I compared notes (not musical ones) on Andrea Camilleri's Inspetore Montalbano.
I cannot leave this without explaining that Modestine was a fine donkey that was ridden by Robert Louis Stevenson in his Travels with a Donkey in the Cévennes (1879). It seems that Modestine was a stubborn and manipulative donkey Stevenson was never able to master.
There was another famous donkey, the one Sancho Panza rode in Don Quixote de la Mancha. This donkey was more noble. After being asked by many of my friends to identify the donkey’s name I had to re-read Don Quixote (in my native Spanish) to find out that the donkey had no name and was simply described as “el rucio” or the spotted one.
I can state here that Marc Destrubé, like the donkey Modestine, will be stubbornly going with his Modestine players in directions that will always surprise us in fantastic performances.
Baroque concerts featuring composers I have never heard of represent for me the idea that it is new music - very old avant-garde, perhaps?
It was at a performance of Messiaen's The Quartet For the End of Time,
in 2008 with Marc Destrubé that I first heard this magical work and I
can happily report that I have gone to three more performances in the
last few years. This is a work that in many ways addresses all the turmoil of of present times.