Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Conceptually Possible - Christmas and reeds




Christmas day and very nice to be up north with Dad and Jake and even the stupid cat, Diva.  She is happy to be with all of us, very interested in all the new smells and makes the weird, jaw-vibrato-cat-must-kill-bird sounds when she spots the many blue jays on Dad’s balcony feeder.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Grace - Return from Japan with Dad, Dec 17, 2012


I haven’t written since our return from Japan.  Using the unusual gift of some free time to finally organize my office.  And to woodshed the Berio Sequenza XII, coming up soon.  And visiting with Nic McGegan, here to conduct 5 concerts of Messiah with the Toronto Symphony.  And trying to make a nod towards Christmas...


Sunday, December 16, 2012

Japan with Dad, Dec. 15 & 16, 2012

Photos on Facebook

15/12/12
(previous days' blog)

Rainy morning... still going to go for a run.  I only had to get up once last night to help keep the fire blazing.  As always, my upstairs room is so hot that I am not in any need of extra heat, but must keep in mind that Dad feels the cold so strongly.  It is so hard because he cannot move quickly at all which is the one thing that would keep him warm!

Today many more people arrived to see Dad. Toward the end of the day, a local artist (Fukami-san) arrived to show Dad a special door that had been commissioned by the mayor of the  Tochigi prefecture.


Friday, December 14, 2012

Japan with Dad, 2012


Japan Trip with Dad
December 10/11, 2012

Photo album is on FaceBook

In some way, this journey is a door to the world for me, witnessing the path that my Dad took alone for so many decades.  It is humbling to see the way that his Japanese and Korean friends welcome him, how they honour him yet integrate him into their midst.  How they respect his old age yet still remember the vibrant super hero that he was.  How they quietly try to understand his cryptic humour, explaining the metaphors to one another until the laugh takes over the room.  How candid they are through the veils of multiple languages (the Japanese speak English to the Koreans, some of them understand one another’s languages while not speaking them) and open about their emotions while somehow staying very calm. How much they laugh and how quietly glad Dad is to be in their company.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Vivaldi 2012 - Prêt-à-Jouer - 8:00 p.m., Saturday, December 8, 2012 at Walter Hall, University of Toronto



This was the very best Vivaldi celebration that we have done since I first jump-started this event into existence 7 years ago.  Every year I say that it was the best production and insufferable as it seems, I am sure that I have been right every year.


Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Seventh Annual Vivaldi Concert - Pret-a-jouer 2012




We do this every year and it gets bigger and better every year and sometimes we think it is so dammuchwork that we'll never do it again.  Either way, this will be a really special, once-in-a-lifetime experience!

Saturday, December 8 at 8:00 p.m. in Walter Hall at the University of Toronto ---

Sunday, December 2, 2012

FatGurlWannaBeARockStar presents Found Things


Show was wonderful (FatGurlWannaBeARockStar presents Found Things)... my reed was geriatric --- I have NEVER played on such an old reed (one month!  aka 30 days!!);  have been so screamingly busy recently and the two unexpected sight-reading-Don-Quixote concert nights at the symphony killed my last-minute-reed-making-and-learning-new-movement-of-electronic-work Master Plan.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Windmills and Fridges


Visited the wonderful composer Michael Colgrass and his beautiful wife Ulla in their lakeside condo this morning.  Talking about life choices.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Everyday

Teaching day yesterday.... meeting early with one senior student at the Glenn Gould School of Music to hear his Hummel concerto,

Monday, November 26, 2012

Happy Birthday continues


Cannot go to bed early... maybe I will be cured of inveterate late nights once I make the trip to Japan and back with my old Dad (December 10-17).  Until then, when inspiration hits at 11 p.m. Sunday night, I know that it is going to be hard to get up on Monday morning.


Saturday, November 24, 2012

Vivaldi Pret-a-Jouer 2012

Today was a first... three of today's students played three different Vivaldi concerti from memory.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Listen - Listen - Listen



It has been an interesting day because I am listening to all of the takes from our Canadian Concerto Project from our recording days in July and September.  I have never ever before listened to every single take from any recording session! Until now, my engineers have done most of the editing before I listen to it at all.  What a princess.


Thursday, November 22, 2012

Trash Talk


Rehearsing with Dr Lee this morning and talking about the concepts/props/subtext for our concert in 11 days...the idea circling around value and perception, garbage and treasure.  We are playing pieces that were long-lost then unrecognized, undervalued, and now sexy.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Everyday


 The things that I do everyday are the things that make me who I really am.  And what is that?

Pondering various realities... the lives of my students and how I affect them... planning our concerts, talking about their lives, trying to answer their questions about how to practise while I am secretly thinking about when I can practise.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Getting There From Here: the journey in music takes unexpected paths.

For the last two days, I have been writing my final reports for the Canadian Concerto Project. I won 2 grants that collectively covered about half of the cost of this project. The FACTOR grant is actually a loan though the repayment terms are very generous; as a result, the final report is more like a thorough audit that checks every detail to make sure we actually did the recording under the terms discussed. By contrast, the Ontario Arts Council final report is more general yet also requires lucidity when reporting the numbers and facts.


Friday, November 9, 2012

Subversion Project

Tonight is the Subversion Project with Eric Paetkau’s chamber orchestra, group of twenty seven.  

I have known Eric for many years now, first as an excellent violist, then as a young conductor.  I felt that I really got to know how gifted he is when he led our Canadian Concerto project this summer, recording 6 new works under challenging conditions (late delivery of music, tropical temperatures, bassoon breakdown).  He kept his cool at all times and tirelessly drove the orchestra forward into our best playing even in the final minutes.  


Sunday, November 4, 2012

Playing By Heart - the morning after



After last night’s show, I got to speak with hundreds of people and sign an almost equal number of CD’s.  This always happens when I play with orchestras, but this night was special for so many reasons. 

A Night of Firsts

Tonight was really important for me.  I love playing concerti with orchestras, which is why I record so many, but the opportunities to play live are rare.  Sometimes I will get to play with orchestra three times per year and usually they want me to play the Weber Andante and Rondo, so it was an incredible treat to be invited to play with the Prince George Symphony and to be offered the opportunity to pick the works of my choice.


Tuesday, September 25, 2012

In the Company of Glorious Youth, Part III


Yesterday, I met my some of my students at the end of the day.  I had asked them to come to Rm 120 at the University of Toronto to make me nervous while I played through two of my upcoming concerti, RV 480 and Hummel, which I will be playing with the Prince George Symphony in November.  Though I know these works very well and have recorded both of them, it is always important to build towards each performance in a way that gives it new life.


Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Strings, in heat, go down


Perception is everything.  And much depends on who is listening to you.

Recently, I was describing my recent high temperature concerto recording sessions to a respected colleague.  I had forgotten that he was a brass player in his former life, and when I was describing our recording day, I naïvely explained, "Strings, in heat, go down" which led to general cackling.

Same with music.  

We just got the first edits of our 6 new Canadian Concerti.  I love this music by Michael Occhipinti, Mathieu Lussier and Glenn Buhr... it is very challenging to play and yet paradoxically very easy listening... plenty of film-influenced pop-referenced jazz-based outpourings for solo bassoon, trumpet, corno and string orchestra with percussion and guitars.  It is absolutely beautiful.  

We wonder if we are going to be blasted for this project or if people are going to love it.  

Much will depend on who is listening.



Monday, September 17, 2012

I Love My Job Part III (fundraising event for Okanagan Symphony Orchestra)


Guy and I flew to Kelowna on Friday morning and had an unforgettable 2 days in the western Canadian paradise of the Okanagan Valley.

We were met by cellist, Audrey King Wilson and taken to lunch at the Quail’s Nest restaurant overlooking Lake Okanagan.  Scott Wilson, the General Manager of the Okanagan Symphony, joined us after his morning of meetings and it was wonderful to visit.  I know Scott and Audrey from their many years with the Toronto Symphony, but this was my first opportunity to sit and visit with them.  They have made a huge life change in leaving the metropolis after 40 years with the TSO to pursue their wine business and to help run the Okanagan Symphony.  Audrey has surprised herself by returning to orchestral playing as principal cello with the OSO starting in the 2012-13 season; Scott has sold his horn to protect himself from the temptation to do the enormous work of getting back into shape.  It was fascinating to me to hear about the pivotal moments that have led to this change, to hear about their vivid experiences earlier in their lives that led to a fascination with fine food and viniculture... their culinary knowledge is extreme (to me) yet it is woven into an aesthetic of simplicity and pleasure in the moment.  This takes skill and concentration to maintain!  Or maybe just a certainty about values.  Either way, the two days were incredible for me because we were being looked after by two first-rate musicians who understood our needs... a real luxury.

The afternoon passed quickly... I made a reed for the following day’s concert and Guy and I both practised a bit before dinner.  Scott and Audrey prepared fresh things from their terraced garden at the back of the house.... multi-hued heirloom tomatoes, skins removed and chopped finely, buffalo mozzorella finely cubed, basil made into a chiffonade (I think), then the whole sauce blended with olive oil and left to sit while we ate vibrant green salsa made with lime juice and something else, so sweet, but made without any sweetener.  

Rosemary Thomson arrived with her husband Dan and two bright children, Molly and Sam.  Audrey cooked the pasta and Scott tossed the fresh sauce in with the hot noodles and we devoured it along with fresh salad.  Guy and I don’t drink, but everyone else had fragrant wines.  It was wonderful to have time to get to know each other a bit before the big fundraiser event the next day.  We said goodnight at 10 pm and Rosemary still had to put the commemorative slide show together after her kids were in bed.... it is challenging to be a conductor (she leads the Okanagan Symphony and the Youth Orchestra and other groups)  and have young children but she is juggling it all.

The next day, we were up early and my first band teacher arrived on the dot of 9:00 a.m. as we had arranged, whisking me and Guy to their downtown condo overlooking the lakes and hills.  We had a magnificent breakfast made by Debbie Hartely...rosemary/goat cheese bread pudding... also beautiful fruit from the area and turkey bacon... it was so good!  I feel so fortunate when I see Gary Hartley... he was the one that sent the eternal bell of inspiration vibrating when I was a youngster... he made us feel how vast and inviting the world of music could be.  I don’t really know how he did it, but forever etched in my mind is a vision of him standing sideways, trumpet lifted, playing for us.  I have to confess, I’ve ALWAYS had a thing for trumpeters.... Anyway, both he and Debbie welcome us with all their hearts and I feel fueled to face the world again after being with them.  

We had time to walk downtown and visit the lakeside and go to the excellent coffee shop and stores and see the unforgettable sight of a small dashund named Thomas chasing (herding) a soccer ball that was three times bigger than him, then meet local bassoonist Darren Williams.  He had just finished a bassoon quartet rehearsal!!   I had hoped to have time to give him a lesson, but the time was gone, so he drove us back to fetch our instruments... later, I wished that I had used the time to make an even better reed, but that is always the dilemma of touring... do I soak up the once-in-a-lifetime beauty of the moment or do I scrape a reed?  There is no right answer. 

Gary and Debbie jumped into their car to drive us into the country to the huge white winery overlooking the grand valley... blue skies, grape vines quivering in the sun, the huge Lake Okanagan shimmering below.  Yeah.

A Yamaha piano was set up on stage and we were banked on either side by immense stainless steel wine vats and oaken barrels... huge industrial garage windows at either end.  I loved the sound but a sweetly persistent sound man bristled our tiny stage with microphone stands... we felt a bit oppressed but whatever... maybe it would bring extra clarity.  The volunteer staff was setting up round tables and the long tables with all of the silent auction items.  Scott Wilson, the general manager, was also acting as computer tech master, coördinating two huge television screens to show a slide show at the evening fundraiser.   Though he found the task stressful, he was able to navigate the techno-maze to create a smoothly functioning system in time for the event to start.

And to his credit, he had to drive me and Guy around the lake to get dressed for the show before he had finished getting the videos working and he muttered only a little bit.
When we got home, Audrey was back from her gig in the mountains (a wedding on an airstrip... you’ll have to ask her) and dressed for the evening.  She whipped up perfect scrambled eggs for me and Guy, then I started my elaborate preparations.  Sometimes Guy wishes I had simpler dresses that did not involve such a production to get into, but that isn’t going to happen soon.  We drove back to the winery in the afternoon glow and mingled with the patrons in the beautiful upper wine bar while twin violinists from the youth symphony gamely played for the happy noisy convivial crowd.  Then Guy played a fanfare from Vaughan Williams' Pilgrims Progress and everyone went down to dinner.  The sun was setting and the room was softly lit by candles and tiny white lights strung amidst the gleaming vats.  I suddenly wished that I had memorized all of my music but the playing went well and the audience was deeply attentive... we played two sets, and in between, sat down to a gourmet meal prepared by chef Roger Planiden and paired with Tantalus wines chosen by winemaker David Paterson... again, Guy and I only inhaled the wafting perfumes of the wines but we happily ate the exquisite food with our new patron friends.
Rosemary Thomson (conductor) was the cheerful mc with animated help from Kevin Lim of Astral Media’s Morning Show in Kelowna.  We had an incredible response from the people and I always feel that I am so stinking lucky to have these opportunities.  And so glad that we will be returning to play with the Okanagan Symphony in March, 2014.
We talked with many people and got home late but happy.  Shoved everything into suitcases and fell into bed.

Sunday morning, I was up at a reasonably early hour.  Audrey made me lovely scrambled eggs and Scott drove me to the airport for my flight to Vancouver.  I was met at the airport by George Zukerman, the Order of Canada bassoonist who has travelled the world giving concerts and helping hundreds of communities to establish viable concert societies.  We were meeting to discuss his show, the Great Mozart Hunt which I might be taking on for future performances.  George ran through the whole show from memory, explaining the musical research and choices of music, then doing it all again with actor, Ron Halder.  I had the presence of mind to get some video footage of George, so beautifully animated as he narrated the script and described the music.
We had lunch with George's violinist wife, Erica and then George drove me to the bus and I got back to the airport in time for my evening flight back to Toronto.

Guy was still asleep when I left Kelowna as his flight to Toronto was not ‘til noon.  After my great day in Vancouver , I too flew back to the big TO, arriving at 2 a.m., and Guy was already home, sound asleep.

It was a great two days.  God I love my job.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Ready to Fly


Today was spent putting some things in motion for the future, but first, I taught a lesson to one of my U of T students today, an ed major, and he thrilled me by playing the first movement of RV500 from memory.  OH MY GOD, it is finally happening!  The students are owning this scintillating repertoire.

Then I finished my commissioning grant application to the Canada Council for the Arts.  I am commissioning Paul Frehner to write me a bassoon concerto that will be premiered in November 2013 with a Canadian orchestra (need signed contract before I can tell you which one).  This is the FIRST TIME that I have submitted a grant TWO days before the deadline.  I probably forgot to include my name.

Then I met with recording engineer, Rob DiVito, to see if my Q3HD Zoom can be used to broadcast live on Ustream... it took us an hour to realize that it cannot unless it is hooked up to some fancy million dollar box that I wouldn’t know how to run.  So I am going to try to broadcast on Ustream from my computer when we playing our benefit for the Okanagan Symphony on Saturday.  It might be messy but I am determined to start.

The I met with designer Christina Poddubiuk and costume builder, Brenda Clark, to talk about the new cross-century gown that I will be wearing for the concerti with the Prince George Symphony in November.

Now have to pack to fly to B. C. tomorrow. 

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

If A Genie Offered A Wish...


If a gender-ambiguous genie sashayed out of a lamp and offered you a wish, would you be ready?

I am.

I always think my goals and purposes are extremely obvious --- I want to play tons of concerti (as many as humanly possible) and the rest of the time play sonatas and lyric stuff with Guy Few and other inhumanly gifted pianists, bass players, guitar players, singers, beat box composers etc and in my spare time, keep producing immense abstract oil and acrylic paintings while continuing my series of character drawings, ornate illustrations and satircal, self-mocking cartoons (Fat Gurl Plays the Bassoon).
And I want to play badminton with my son.  Badly.  And hang out with my world-famous lonely beautiful old Dad.  And take my kayak for a spin.  And do all of this all across Canada and the world.

I want to make enough money from this that I can donate ALL of my teaching income to the development of the Council of Canadian Bassoonists.  I want to travel all over Canada to meet any of the odd, brilliant children who want to play the bassoon.  If they are old enough, I want to take them out for coffee and laugh our asses off about how much we want to play the bassoon.

Is that one wish or many?  And where’s that fucking genie?

Sunday, September 9, 2012

concerti recording done, can't sleep


It is already tomorrow but I cannot walk to my bed.  Not sure why, because I am well and truly tired.

The recording sessions started at yesterday at 11:00 a.m. and ended at 9:00 p.m..  We had a largely trouble-free day of recording lyrical modern music... the rain had stopped pounding by the late morning and the bright blue sunwashed sky came bursting out just in time for the dinner break.  We began the day with the brand new Michael Occhipinti piece --- so beautiful and written with a motive of 13 to reflect the sorrowful statistic that every 13 seconds someone dies of AIDS in Africa.  A big subject and we went a bit overtime in finishing the recording. This left only 25 minutes to record the Buhr duo and this time, Guy’s horn had a sticky valve, sounding so much like the sticking key that I had in the last sessions.   Then we recorded the first of the Lussier bassoon solo works (a very dramatic single movement work on a theme of sorrow Le Dernier Chant d’Ophélie) and then I stayed during the dinner break to record the unaccompanied intro and our conductor, Eric Paetkau, stayed with me.  

The evening session was entirely dedicated to Mathieu Lussier’s new Oddbird Concerto for bassoon... some parts were incredibly unexpectedly hard for me to play as exactly as I thought I could, yet we managed to find the lilt and groove and soaring quality of his music.  The theme of this work seems to be immolation and redemption... either way, it took the full 3 hours to capture 3 movements. The musicians were so engaged and our conductor never disconnected for a second.  Then it was all over... While I wrote  cheques and sorted out details, Guy and our conductor Eric Paetkau and our assistant Neil Bishop moved the big pews back into place.  Karen Moffat, our principal viola, packed up the snacks and gathered all of the coffee cups and empty water bottles.  Neil had sorted out all of the music according to my exacting orders and for the first time in my concerto-recording career, I was able to pack up music that we can just file on the library shelf, rather than trying to find another 4 hours to figure it all out.  A few of us went to a local place as sat for awhile, enjoying our continued connection.  I don't drink (I probably should learn how) but I enjoyed sitting down for the first time that the day.

Though I cannot sleep yet, I also am too tired to describe details... but it is so bloody interesting to do these projects, to feel the difference between recording and performing, to feel how much performing influences recording, to think ahead to more projects that would put in me in constant company of these glorious musicians (including composers and engineers) while we developed  shows that are really vibrant.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Recording Day for Occhipinti, Buhr and Lussier

Today is the recording day that I have been planning for four and a half years.
Yes, I have done many other projects in between and yes, this one has taken on a new shape that will require two CDs with two orchestras, but the day has come.

It is pouring rain but maybe in it will stop by the time the sessions start at 11 a.m. and before we finish at 9 or 10 p.m. tonight.  Or maybe St Anne's Anglican Church will not reverberate like a drum to the sound of the rain... we'll just have to see.  I have done 10 projects in this building over the years, in the greenhouse, bassoon-melting temperatures of summer and the heater-banging, see-your-breath frigidity of January, but never before in monsoon season.

But I feel happy.  The orchestra is alert and beautiful and our conductor Eric Paetkau is completely connected to the music. Guy is full of spirit despite having a weather-induced headache (the rain is actually better than the pre-rain for him).  He has just two pieces to record today, so he can take it easy in the afternoon.

Yesterday, we heard the new pieces for the first time... it is always a wonderful experience to never-before-played music with a group of great players.

Mathieu Lussier's Oddbird Concerto --- the lush harmonies justified by the great string playing and dramatic percussion.

The new Occipinti, despite it's sorrowful inspiration (every 13 seconds, someone died of AIDS in Africa) is spatial, mesmerizing and has a lyric groove.

The older pieces, Le Dernier Chant de Ophélie (Lussier/bassoon) and man will only grieve (Buhr/corno/bassoon)  feel very real and familiar.

Time to make lunch, dinner and  another reed.  Over and out until tonight.


Friday, September 7, 2012

Rehearsal Day for New Concerti

Heading into rehearsal day.  First, stopped by the University of Toronto to find out why my university email account has disappeared (they don't know but are going to find out).  Called the fridge repair guy to ask why my gigantic fancy stainless steel fridge keeps going on expensive vacations (he doesn't know and I don't think he can find out).  Reed desk beckons in vain.  Rounding up some muscled people to help me move the 100 year old oak pews to make room for the orchestra (I always forget about this until the day of the show).  Drinking cappuccino now.

Took a look at my CD inventory... we have about 100 copies each left of our first two albums with orchestra (Bacchanale and Romanza) so this one is coming at a good time (February, 2013)

Trying to decide if I really need expensive record labels anymore.

I read with interest the Norman Lebrecht article about struggling orchestras sinking beneath the waves... my recording orchestras have never had any big administrative assistance or financial backing so I can appreciate the anxiety of the musicians.  I think the time has come to approach the whole idea from a very different angle but more on that after the recordings.

I am having fun (my Dad always reminds me that that is our purpose).



Thursday, September 6, 2012

Canadian Concerto Project


When I was a young bassoonist, I would put on big canister headphones and fall into blissful, post-practising sleep in the stereo room of the music library at the University of British Columbia while listening to the concerto albums of the great French virtuosi. I thought that recording projects happened as part of an incredibly ordered and carefully planned life.  I thought that someone else provided the money, orchestra, venue, organization and that it would be the pinnacle of a glittering career.

Almost 40 years later and hundreds of recordings later, I know some of that is true (the glittering part), yet also that recordings happen in the great writhing nexus of life, part of the entropic bursting forth of various levels of aspiration, ambition, planning and never-dying hopes for funding.

It is always a twisted path that leads from initial inspiration to the birth of a project... concepts blossom and change.   Never more so than with new music.  The excitement that is generated by imagining what super talented musicians will write for us, the panic as the recording date approaches and the music hasn't arrived, wondering if everything will go smoothly on the day or if one of us will get injured moving the immense wooden pews out of the way in our Victorian church recording space, the mood swings as we balance our own comforts with the reality that any piece of music has the ability to take on a life of its own that we might not even understand... and the incredible euphoria of taking off in the music with the incredibly good and focused orchestra.  That is always amazing.  And the result of handpicking our teams.

The story of the Canadian Concerto Project spans 4 years of hectic living that included a nationally broadcast premiere of three of the new concerti, a winter car crash the week before the broadcast, divorce, death and illness in the family, 5 house moves, 5 other recording projects, running a baroque festival, thousands of miles of touring and concertizing across North America, more grant applications than I can remember because I shredded all the rejections, a hellishly hot recording session to launch this project (see my blog about that), a baroque bassoon sold to make up the money for the recording session lost because of the extreme heat  and finally, 7 gorgeous, overtly lyrical yet challenging new Canadian solo works for bassoon, trumpet, corno da caccia and string orchestra with percussion, one with electric guitar and one with acoustic guitar.

The whole idea for this began when I first met Guy Few and we realized there was almost no music for our duo, though there were thousands of solo concerti for each of instruments.  Confident that this is a musical genre that could really be exciting, I immediately began commissioning both duo and solo works and we immediately began playing recitals together, then recordings, then developing a viable touring career together (Guy is also a first rate pianist, which helps).  There is now a significant body of music for our instruments as a duo with orchestra, written by Canadian composers.  And one American composer who wrote a massive symphony for us.  But that's another story.

The CBC helped by commissioning 3 new works by Alain Trudel and Mathieu Lussier (I think that this may have been one of the last times that CBC commissioned orchestral art music), Ontario Arts Council and FACTOR both gave big time help towards recording the new pieces and I have written a half dozen other failed grant applications to help with other commissioning costs.  In the end, I have paid over half of the remaining costs for  the composers and recording out of my line of credit, my savings and selling part of my instrument collection.  This was the commitment that I made when I first conceived of the project.  It is hard but worth it.  Every day we read stories about orchestras struggling for survival and I think that I have been struggling for survival for a very long time now and enjoying (almost) every minute of it.  Maybe the difference is that I am in charge of my perilous path.

This is a Canadian Concerto Project and it is fascinating that all of the titles are about the old world and even ancient worlds in the case of the trumpet concerto and interior mythical worlds in the bassoon concerto.  More than that, death and transfiguration seems to be the central theme, something that we couldn’t have known when this project began since Michael’s gorgeous pieces arrived the day before rehearsals started.

Here are the titles... lots of scope for the imagination

Mathieu Lussier
Le Dernier Chant d’Ophélie
Impressions de l’Alameda
Oddbird Concerto (first mv’t - Bird and Agitation of Life; second mv’t - Ending Worlds - third mv’t - Tragic Bird Finds Its Way to Peace
Glenn Buhr
man will only grieve if he believes the sun stands still
Michael Occhipinti
Sicilian Proverbs
Thirteen Seconds (as in, every 13 seconds, someone dies of Aids in Africa)

The second Canadian Concerto CD will be recorded in 2013 and will feature
Alain Trudel
Carnets de Voyages for bassoon, trumpet, string orchestra with percussion
Paul Frehner (next commission)
Concerto for bassoon and string orchestra

Tomorrow, September 7,  we have 6 hours of rehearsal to capture our feeling for this music (two of the works are absolutely brand new) and on Saturday, September 8, we will record the remaining four concerti in 10 hours (including breaks) of recording time.  The orchestra is fantastic, g27, led by one of my favourite conductors, Eric Paetkau. Our globe-trotting engineer, Ed Marshall, will drive in from Elora with all of his gear.  The percussion will arrive on time.  My student assistant, Neil Bishop, will look after a hundred details and all the music and schedule.  My repairman, Shane Wieler, will sit in on all the sessions like a guardian angel.   I have to go to bed now.



Monday, August 27, 2012

Glorious Youth in Our Company, Part II - Nico Comes to Toronto


In September, 2011, Guy and I had the privilege of flying to Prince Edward Island for a showcase.  This has led to a mini-tour being booked for 2013 with 3 concerts in  PEI and Nova Scotia.
For me, the trip was unforgettable because I LOVE to travel and play, LOVE to do these things with my sensual, crazy, fun (so musical)  Guy Few and LOVE it when this leads to more tours.  At a personal level, it was utterly unforgettable because I met many young musicians but in particular, a fourteen-year old boy who had just started the bassoon and was mad keen enough to convince his mother to drive from Frederickton, New Brunswick to meet me.

As you can see from the comments in this article, many people helped make this possible (see article), but above all, it was Nico’s clarity about wanting to know more about the bassoon and his remarkable poise, gentle confidence and clear devotion to an art that was only a whiff in the air at this stage of his career.

The conference was far busier than I had thought it would be and we had only a little time to talk and no time for the lesson I had promised to Nico.  The organizers were kind enough to admit Nico and his Mom to our private showcase and I gave him a our newly-released After Hours CD.  Nico and I corresponded throughout the year and in the spring, Nico told me that he had saved $400 towards reed tools.

He has been frustrated by the fact that he cannot practise after 11:00 p.m. in his apartment building (boy after my own heart) and thought that he could use that time to make reeds if he knew how.  I agreed, but rather than try to teach him how to make reeds over email, I suggested that he buy a plane ticket with his savings and we would start reed lessons.  

That is exactly what he did, and he arrived in Toronto at 7 a.m. on August 16 and I picked him up for a whirlwind 2.5 days of reed-making, music-listening, bassoon-trying and meeting another gifted student (Robert Lu) and several professionals (Michael Sweeney, Sam Banks, Shane Wieler, Gary Armstrong, Ziming Wan, Camille Watts, Gillian Mackay, Jeff Reyolds, to drop just a few names).  Nico spent considerable time poring over the heaps of music that I had on loan from the University of Toronto library and helped me haul even more of this music.

I assembled a tool kit for him from my collection of less-used knives, files etc and also gave him one of my father’s beautiful, rare white oak easels.  I know that this boy will appreciate everything and use it to the best of his ability.  I know that he will repay any generosity that I may have shown in how he treats his students in the future.

In a way, this was the first concrete act of the Council of Canadian Bassoonists, my very fledgling charitable organization that is devoted to helping young players gain the tools to become performers and to have the vision to see beyond the pre-set limits of our instrument.  Nico is the perfect candidate... when we spent time listening to recordings, he would deliver concise and accurate assessments of the players and music.  Always appreciative of the skills and efforts of others, he equally had no hesitation whatsoever in identifying generic, one-dimensional playing or writing.  I enjoyed his insights so much and he also led me to some performances and pieces that I knew nothing about.  

I decided to show Nico EVERYTHING about my methods of freehand shaping, profiling and reed-making.  He did the freehand work with the very sharp xacto knife under my eagle-eyed stare and produced a very respectable shape.  We continued with the profiling the next day as we had appointments to try Fox bassoons and meet with Michael Sweeney about Vivaldi Concerti (more on that later).  Though Nico learned very quickly, I had only enough time to show him the freehand shaping, profiling and blank-making.  He observed me performing all of these steps and he also did these things.  I showed him how to wrap and encouraged him to practise on all of his pencils!  The next step will be trimming and finishing the reed which I hope we can do in the coming months, or at the very latest, when I am on tour in the Maritimes in 2013.

I feel that my mission in life is to perform, yet the opportunity to teach gifted, devoted young players seems to be inextricably connected to this ambition.  

Thank you, Nico, for giving me your time and your incredibly valuable enthusiasm that has reminded me of every good reason for continuing in this art form.


Saturday, July 21, 2012

Glorious Youth in our Company


Glorious Youth in our Company
Right now, we are listening to the first edit of Guy’s recording of the Lussier concerto for trumpet and strings (Impressions d’Alameda) that he recorded on July 19.  We are sitting with 3 young trumpeters (ages 6,10 and 12) whose bright eyes are reflecting every soaring note that is coming from my old speakers.
Yesterday (July 20, 2012), Guy and I went to speak with the young members of the National Academy Orchestra in Hamilton, Ontario.
We went at the invitation of the powerhouse young manager of the NAO, Megan Jones, to speak about our wide-ranging careers, to play a bit for these young professionals and to listen to bassoonist Kristin Day play the Allemande from the Bach Flute Partita and trumpeter Ben Promane play Honnegger’s Intrada.  Both players came with beautiful sounds and we both had a lot to say about the speaking of music through a wind instrument (rather than specifics of bassoon or trumpet).  Maybe you had to be there for it to make sense since so much of our teaching is based on image and movement. 
Guy and I cherish opportunities to speak to our younger colleagues... I know it sounds corny and possibly disingenuous, but we can remember our youth, the ardent striving and the deep doubts.  We want to describe our lives and to provoke their questions and remind them that they are needed and their imaginations are as important as their skills.  Well, this is what I am thinking and I hope that by exposing our work to them, it will ignite something original and powerful in them.
Here are my rough notes from  the class and I will add to them later based on some of the incredible, probing questions that came from the serious yet joyful young players who crowded around us after the session.

Afterwards, we drove to the small town of Elora to pick up the first edit of the Sicialian Proverbs (Michael Occhipinti) and the trumpet concerto which we recorded on July 17 and 18.  This is the fastest turn-around ever (from recording to first edit) and our engineer Ed Marshall laughed at our undisguised glee.  We are now listening to both the edit and all of the takes that were done in the seven hours of recording, so that is fascinating too.  The trumpet concerto sounds spectacular and the double concerto will sound glorious once we have messed with some more edits.

OK, now I have to go buy a fridge!  There was a funny smell in the house when we returned last night and the big shiny stainless steel fridge has decided to go toes-up for the second time this year.  Life is never only about music!!
Where the Wind Blows:  classical performer’s survival guide to building a powerful multifaceted career
Throughout our careers, we carry the idea that our goal is simply to be good and that the desired rewards will follow.
What is rarely seen is the struggle that every passionate musician faces when attempting to balance the pursuit of art with the need to make a living; often one cancels the other.  
In fact, balance is the word that comes up most often when in reality, choices must be made that, in other professions, would be called sacrifices.
Students looking at the bios of professionals can be overwhelmed by the scope of accomplishments listed.   
Professionals in the midst of their careers can be overwhelmed by looking at the bios of colleagues and assume that others have more talent, time or money at their disposal. 
Ours is a profession that has no arrival point of absolute security.  Yet ours is the profession that allows us to be constantly renewed.  The injuries that come our way provide more fuel for expression and the joy confirms the value of our occupation.
I believe that the future of classical music lies in the hands and imaginations of the individual musician.  It is urgent that musicians of every level participate in creating events that develop and further our art.  To achieve this we need to have strategies that allows us to earn a living while developing our craft.
I am a quintessential product of the narrowly-focused orchestral training programs soon to fade into the recent past, and the fact that I operate successfully both outside the confines of that world speaks volumes about lasting virtues of the  strict training of university/conservatory system.  
In this lecture, I will discuss the skills and talents that the individual student can perceive and develop in himself, preparing new possibilities for the future while developing the traditional musical skills in the present.  
Where the Wind Blows:   classical performer’s survival guide to building a powerful multifaceted career
Everything, absolutely everything, is learned on the job.  But before that, an idea must take root and a plan must follow. 
Essential element of developing a multi-faceted career include planning, scheduling and thinking for yourself..
1.  Daily planning = Life planning 
-assume that you are capable of achieving your goals
-develop the tools necessary
organizing yourself to achieve career goals
-conceptualizing overview – dreamer – realist - critic
-maintaining practical aspects
-planning is believing – give yourself your big break – making concerts and ideas come to life
-setting dates with destiny (recitals, grants, recordings) can start immediately
2.  Who Do You Think You Are?  - finding your own voice under the influence of a commercial culture.

The Bold Monk
- confidence and humility
-how to use publicity to create opportunities for your best work
Hymns and Devotion - Marketing and Promotion 
-dedication to craft combined with articulation of ideas and art
Solitary Refinement
-how to use the discipline that comes from sustained personal practise to achieve other goals
-the practise of practise
Developing a Solo Repertoire and Reputation 
-does this help your orchestral/teaching career?
-are bassoonists allowed to be divas?
Winning the Lottery or Free Time:  choices – always be prepared
-you’re not bored, you’re just acting stupid
-practice while there is time… once you hit the big time there is never any time ever again
3.  Body of Work:  
-how to be strong enough to have a performance career
-endurance training (recitals and concerti)
-sprint training (orchestral excerpts)
-recovery from playing (rest etc)
-recovery from accidents and illness
-building strength (physical exercise)
-mental stamina to face life’s challenges and maintain performance standards
Mind & Body
-practising confidence and purposefulness
--auditioning and not feeling sorry for yourself
-techniques for stage confidence
Playing By Heart
-memorizing
-choosing projects that allow you to create a life in music
4.  The Office
Read your contracts
Research Skills
Writing Skills: CVs; resumés; programmes, grants; bios; proposals
Negotiating Skills – how to collaborate at every level
Legal Matters and Accounting:  archives and accounts
Developing a Library:  solo and orchestral
Developing Websites:  current information for fans
Ideas for Fundraising:  new ways to pay for cultural initiatives.
Rumor Mill – how to use it
Grant Applications
-planning
-assembling materials
-persistence
Publishing:  Recordings and articles
-write it down, commit, develop
-management of project
-planning and execution
-maintaining performance standards
Investing wisely to support your artistic goals
-time, money and energy must be used as commodities of equal value to attain your goals.

5.  The Company You Keep - Cooperation, Collaboration and Negotiating Long Term Musical Relationships, Ethical and artistic decision making in the classical music world
-your choice of colleagues can forever change your musical life.
-gving interviews; talking to conductors; talking to colleagues
Winning and Keeping an Orchestral Job
- orchestral excerpt training – basis of technical training
-playing the excerpts is not the same as playing the music!
Developing Chamber Music Groups
-don’t wait for them to come to you
-build within school and orchestra
Home Front
-Goose /Gander - pay and gender differences in the classical world 
-Family -  can you have a family and a performance career?
6.  Life-long Learning – parallel occupations
-learning historical instruments expands your knowledge of your instrument 

Friday, July 20, 2012

Hot Stuff


Words that you do not want to see on the day of a recording project in a heritage church that does not have air-conditioning:
Extreme heat alert
Humidex advisory
Severe thunderstorm watch
Planning a recording takes a huge amount of advance work.  Emails fly back and forth as I collect dates and data from the other soloist, the conductor, the composers, orchestra, the venue.  And after all of that sometimes, the things beyond our control add a completely unexpected level of challenge.  Weather and family always come first in this situation.
 Monday, July 17 dawned bright and hot. I had time to make a new reed and then Guy and I went early to the St Anne’s church on Gladstone Avenue (near Little Italy in Toronto and across from the Cadbury factory).  We stopped to buy snacks for our orchestra.  Our engineer, Ed Marshall, arrived early to check his gear which was already in place.   We had already moved the pews and set up the orchestra during the previous day’s rehearsal.  Our extra drummer arrived early (he hadn’t been available for the previous day’s rehearsal) and we moved the viola section over to make room for him in the centre of the group.  Our composer/guitarist arrived and we found a spot for him and his monitors behind the bass section.
 Our spectacular conductor (Eric Paetkau) string players arrived and everyone commented on the heavy humidity and the heat.
We got into position with two drummers, electric guitar, and chamber strings (including our jazz bassist friend Daniel Fortin) and Guy and me as solo trumpet and bassoon.
The session went hard and fast and we played flat out for the about three hours of the four hour session (with two 20’ breaks).  Everyone was hot but it went really well.  Our composer (Michael Occhipinti) gave very good comments and our conductor was amazingly quick at coordinating the jazz style with the classical players.  There was just enough time at the end to record a short piece by Glenn Buhr for corno da caccia, bassoon and strings and we thought it would be a nice way to end before lunch and heading into the late afternoon session for the solo bassoon piece (Le Dernier Chant d’Ophélie by Mathieu Lussier).
My instrument was hot and gluey with sweat, but I had complete confidence that it would work.  And that is when something strange began to happen.  I could play for about 30 seconds, then keys would begin to gently stick.  I really couldn’t tell which ones were doing it and the panic clouded my mind.  We opted to break early so that I could talk to my repairman and take the horn into an air-conditioned space.  Shane Wieler, my repairman, pointed out that this was the hottest day on record to date and it might be out of our control.  But we both were puzzled because my 15,000 series Heckel is an extremely stable instrument.  
During that time, my elderly father called me in a panic from his northern home (a three hour drive from Toronto)... he really needed company and needed to get to Toronto to be with me.  It has been a very hard year in terms of health for him.  In the 45 minutes before I had to be recording again, I called 3 friends and found someone who could drive him part way so that I could then plan to drive an hour north and collect him after the recording session.
When we returned for the late afternoon session, I hoped against hope that it would work... we got about 4 minutes into the piece when the humidity took over again.  I could not see any springs out of place on the bassoon and I used paper to clear the humidity from the pads, but it instantly took over again the minute I began to play.
Just when I realized that I was in trouble again, my cell phone began flashing my son’s name.  My boy never uses the phone, so I thought it must be important.  I answered, and he had forgotten his house key and his Dad was not home and not answering any calls.  So I quickly tried to find a solution to that problem before trying a few more times to get through the session.
I had to cancel the session and will rebook for September, which will cost me thousands of extra dollars.  The conductor asked if I could borrow a bassoon... I said no.  These projects are so expensive and require such a level of preparation that I must be playing on the best bassoon available, which of course is my own!  Not to mention that there would be no way to find a pro instrument in time to finish the sessions.  I am now seriously considering buying a back-up instrument.
We packed up for the night.  The next day was scheduled for Guy’s recording of the trumpet concerto (Impressions d’Alameda) and we hoped that we might be able to slot in the short piece at the end of that session.  Guy and I went for a coffee, then I drove up north to pick up my dear old Dad.
We are now in the process of finding dates that will work for the same orchestra members in September, which is a big challenge.  And I will have a back-up bassoon with me this time!  And I will make sure that people are watching over my son and Dad before the sessions start, just so that fate will have to get inventive.
Life is complex and I think that I actually like it this way.  The good news is that our engineer did the first edit on the following day, so we will have the luxury of hearing two of the pieces before we go in to record the last four pieces.  This is an unprecedented gift.

I have a lot more to tell you about the rest of the sessions, but now have to get ready to go to Hamilton to speak to the young members of the National Academy Orchestra about a multifaceted life in music... I think that I know what to tell them!
  1. ernoon Weather Webcast: July 17, 2012
    Jul 17, 2012

    Severe thunderstorm watch, humidex advisory and extreme heat alert in effect in Toronto. 
  1. pastedGraphic.pdf
    Mid-morning Weather Webcast: July 17, 2012

    Jul 17, 2012

    Hot and humid. Risk of thunderstorms or active weather. High of 37 C. 
  1. pastedGraphic_1.pdf
    Morning Weather Webcast: July 17, 2012

    Jul 17, 2012

    High of 37C feeling like 44 C with the humidity.