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’OphĂ©lie
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.



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