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.