Sunday, February 15, 2015

Who Do You Think You Are? (Programming and Presenting Classical Concerts in Many Settings) - small thoughts

For classical musicians (and everyone else), this is a question that comes up, but never in those exact words.

For example, when someone asks you to present a concert for them, they both want to know the answer to this question and then, either support or challenge your response.

The important thing is to have a response.  And to like your own response at a fundamental level.  If people are then willing to pay you for your response, even better!  But the order of thought is really bloody important.  

Normally, when presenting my response to that existential question (what are you going to play aka who do you think you are?), I am dressed to the hilt and paid a lot of money.   And on very rare occasions, I am asked to give a command performance for someone I respect with all my heart.  Both types of concert and experience are essential in creating the best answer.

Last night, I played a house concert in the home of composer Michael Colgrass and his fiery, activist wife, Ulla surrounded by a fiercely supportive audience.  I invited Dr Cecilia Lee to join me and she instantly said yes even though she has an insanely busy existence (in addition to playing for an endless stream of university students, she insists on attending many concerts to feed her imagination and then stays up ’til dawn helping friends move and then goes running 4 miles…).

Michael and Ulla’s house concerts are legendary and always involve a large group of richly interesting people who have responded with lightning quickness to the Colgrass invitation to gather in their living room, followed by eating Ulla’s delicious meatballs, salads, cheeses and array of things added by talented guests.  The old Steinway is always tuned, the living room rings despite the capacity crowd, and Sonny the cat stretches his long blond frame across the doorway, ever hopeful that a shrimp or meatball will drop his way, completely unfazed by the din of lively conversation amongst 34 people.

Michael introduces us, skipping over the usual blahblahblah of our dazzling accomplishments, and focusing on the things that make us human, e.g. my boast that I have commissioned and recorded more new works for bassoon and orchestra than any other Canadian bassoonist (pretty sure it’s true) and Cecilia’s delightful tag in her bio (all true for sure) “In addition to performing, Dr. Lee is an active recording engineer/producer, working with the Faculty of Music, University of Toronto and various freelance projects in the city.  Her hobbies include mid-distance running, surprise-last minute trips to faraway lands and curious wandering in the city, looking for images, mishaps and interesting arts events.”

Michael also takes a minute to reveal truths that the quiet crowd soaks in… here is my clumsy remembrance of one —- he said that that music is often defined as an aural experience, yet it is a profoundly physical one and that there is a tremendous benefit to being close to the vibrations of live musicians.  When he made that analogy that the pleasure drawn from this experience is the healthful version of  the junky’s rush, the crowd laughed, yet he was serenely serious.  He went on to say that he advises orchestras to maintain a "Citizen's Chair" so that a member of the audience can sit on stage to feel that indescribable rush of combined vibrations from all the different live instruments.   He said more, but really, you have to come to one of the concerts to gain the full benefit of his particular luminous insight.

Then Cecilia and I played our response... a small program of ice and fire.

Thank you, Ulla and Michael, for giving us this gift of life and music combined.  Thank you for wanting to know who I think I am and reflecting my response back to me.  And Cecilia's.   And honestly, thank you for buying my CD.  

Colgrass Christmas on Valentine’s Day
Cecilia Lee, piano
Nadina Mackie Jackson, bassoon

Edvard Grieg
Sonata in F Major, Opus 8
allegro con brio
bassoon & piano

Claude Debussy: 
des pas sur le neige
clair de lune
solo piano

Henri Dutilleux 
Sarabande et Cortège
bassoon & piano

Joan Tower
“or like a…an engine” (1994)
solo piano

Arnold Schoenberg op. 16
no. 1
no. 2
no. 3
no. 4
no. 5
no. 6
solo piano

Domenico Scarlatti 
3 Sonatas 
Allegretto K 506
Andante, K 213
Prestissimo K 545
solo bassoon

Arvo Pärt:
für alina
solo piano

Sergei Prokofiev 
Sonata in D Major, Op 94
allegro con brio
bassoon & piano

Michael Colgrass Introducing Dr Cecilia Lee
photo by Laura

Nadina playing with Cecilia for incredibly attentive audience in the art-filled living room of Michael and Ulla Colgrass
photo by Laura
One of my favourite photos ever of the brilliant Cecilia... note the statue in centre-photo
photo by Scott R.

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