Friday, December 20, 2013

group of 27 November 15, 2013 Beethoven 2, M'vt III

A snippet from our last concert with the group of twenty-seven led by Eric Paetkau... this is the orchestra that I recorded the Canadian Concerto Project with.  We are allowed to publish 30" segments of our pieces, so a sample of the premiere of the Oddbird Concerto will be coming soon.

I love this orchestra!  It is the best orchestra I have ever played in and I want everyone to come to our shows.


Monday, December 16, 2013


Thinking a lot about my dear parents... Dad recovering from surgery and still ready to take on the world at the age of 88... my Mom so strong in my memory.

They love/d me so much!

Christmas makes me remember their fiery spirits and how they tried to make it a wonderful time for me and my brother Keith even as it brought to the fore all of the anomalies of our family... too bad they didn't know they did not have to be the "perfect" family, but that their fierce love and spiky spirits were beyond perfect.

I'll try to tell them.  Again.
Nadina with B. Allan Mackie (a.k.a. Slim) at Silloep Hills Ranch, B.C. 1959

Nadina with Mary Mackie (a.k.a. B.C. Mary) at Silloep Hills Ranch,  B.C., 1959

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Getting In Shape

I have a few live performances up on YouTube. Part of me flinches every time I put them up because they are flawed. But there are also good parts and tons of good memories about the events, and also informative because they are all live. In truth, they are also the only footage that I have… I do have some better footage but don’t own the rights so cannot share (yet). It is hard to get concert footage for classical musicians… so many rules governing hall, and even when there are no rules, the audience is never sure if they are allowed to film us. But I have come to love the idea of casual videos and am going to figure out how to edit. Anyway, on to my topic.

When I do live performances, I have learned the hard way over the years that I cannot drink coffee. I mentioned this once to a great orchestral flautist, and she said that she would never give up the enjoyable things in life for playing better… I think she is one of the lucky ones who doesn’t fall apart from being over-stimulated!

And I sooooo want to drink coffee. So sometimes I have my last cup quite close to the concert day. And it is always an error. It throws me into another time zone and I have to hang on for dear life once my particular brand of performance adrenalin kicks in. And it really is dumb, because it takes away the refinements that actually are part of my voice.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

New Photos!

I love getting new publicity photos!  I always love the fantasy and the process.  These photos were taken at Toronto's Pearson International Airport... I had just come home from premiering the first movement of Paul Frehner's Apollo X with Orchestra London and Valdy was driving in from Pembroke, the last concert of his Ontario tour.  We needed shots for our first show with orchestra that will be on February 1 in Brampton with the Rose Orchestra (Valdy to Vivaldi).

We met our photographer, Bo Huang and his wife Yan at the airport.  I had managed to secure permission from the airport administration that very morning to set up and it was one of the most enjoyable shoots I have ever done.

Here are a couple of the pictures... many more were taken from all angles and I'll reveal them on our websites over time.

All photos by

Great Ideas for Orchestras: chamber music concerts

Last night, I played a recital with the violist David Rose on the chamber series that has been launched by our chamber orchestra, group of twenty-seven.  I would love to have all of my friends come to these concerts with me... this is the most vibrant orchestra that I know and I love them.

The concept of a chamber music series attached to an orchestral season springs from the percolating mind of our creative, energetic and buff conductor, Eric Paetkau (all conductors should work out and eat right, just saying).  This is our first season of more concerts, namely 4 orchestra concerts and 12 (count ‘em) chamber music concerts that feature the astonishingly good musicians within the orchestra.

Today I want to talk about the idea of chamber music within the orchestral context….

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Life in Music: the company we keep (colleagues)

I am grateful and amazed to the point of being stunned.  Stunned in the sense of standing motionless, jaw slightly agape, mind racing, body frozen.  No actual injury; quite the contrary.

This month, I have played with some new people and have felt new fires rising... rehearsing this week with the violist David Rose for our recital on December 9.... all who know David know what a supremely gentle and intelligent soul he is.  Those who have played with him know how skilled he is.  And what fire and strength lies in this refined and thoughtful person!  To play with him, I feel how amazingly quickly he learns... each repeat of our fiendishly challenging new work by Gernot Wolfgang is better... if I fumble and stumble, David is momentarily confused by my opacity but never loses his pulse.  Each great player that I work with has some distinct trait beyond the universal markers of beautiful tone, tuning and sensitivity.  Sometimes it is hard to name because I am experiencing these traits for the first time.  But it is amazing to experience.

Life in Music: the company we keep (teachers)

Had breakfast this morning with my first bassoon teacher and the layers of memory, all of the joy of learning to play came flooding back, listening to his familiar, nuanced, animated voice and seeing his dear face, so unchanged after 40 years of knowing each other.  For reasons that are forgotten, we have not seen each other much in the last few years.  Christopher Millard is an international star and I have been busy too.  Yet this morning, in gray rainy Toronto, in the elegant open restaurant at the Intercontinental, we were in non-stop conversation, comparing reed confessions and aspirations, talking about our new generation of talented students, about our aging parents and our own lives…. Spent another hour interviewing Guy Legere about his amazing polymer reeds… Finally reluctantly said goodbye, wanted to stay longer yet left happy and inspired anew. 

Friday, October 18, 2013

Notes from Abroad

I have been keeping a daily written journal for the last six months.  By nature, I am an incorrigible archivist and have two trunks full of diaries from most of my life… minus several years of my early twenties when I thought that it would be cathartic to excise the torrid accounts of my many boyfriends… I regret losing those silly stories now.  Not sure where my prudish moment of bookburning came from; surely I wasn’t planning to run for public office?

Back to the present, the physical pleasure of putting pen to paper is undeniable.  Fighting the inevitable doubts, I have resolved to find the quotidian details of my life fascinating.  And the truth is, anybody’s diary will always reflect a common reality, a glimpse into the times of everyone alive at this moment.

I’ve succeeded in writing every day, and the written diary has momentarily eclipsed my blog.  Life has been wonderfully interesting for me these last few months.  I have performed 5 concerti and several recitals that included the Berio Sequenza XII and I am preparing to premiere two more concerti that have been written for me and give two new recitals with friends. I have given four masterclasses to inspiring students at universities beyond my own borders and the new year holds 3 more concerto premieres and more regular concerti and a recital tour with Guy and more masterclasses.  I have been intensely involved in negotiating life with my roster of a dozen wonderful students in Toronto, with great support, intelligence and comprehension from the administrators at the University of Toronto and still optimistically working  for the same from the Glenn Gould School of the Royal Conservatory of Music (learning experiences all!)… enjoying the students tremendously (even when I am yelling pieces of wisdom such as …. Be…. MUSICAL!!!)  along with spending some time with my old rockstar father up north. 

I was thinking that if reincarnation were a reality, then I wish to return as a bassoonist; if heaven is a reality, I will to be a golden cherub playing the bassoon; if a genie comes out of a bottle with an offer of 3 wishes, I respectfully request:   1.  to be a bassoonist  2.   the courage and the chops to play really well in any and all styles of music and 3.  to always help my family, both immediate and musical.    

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Grammys? Grammies?

I can't even spell it.

But am happy to have been included in the nominations lists with some much bigger players...

Vivaldi Bassoon Concerti Volume I - nominated for best solo/best producer
Canadian Concerto Project Volume I - nominated for best instrumental/best contemporary composition

Glenn Buhr's 'man will only grieve if he believes the sun stands still' is the nominated contemporary work.  This piece is based on the poetry of Margaret Sweatman and you can hear her singing them on her album Phenomenological Love Songs.

Our US label (we don't have a Canadian label... none of them wanted us!) tells us that the lists will go up in about a month and then the members of NARAS (National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences) will vote, short-listing 5 candidates in each category.

Winners will be announced sometime in February, 2014.


Mirror or Light - What Kind of Musician Are You?

Mirror or Light?

I have been thinking a lot about recently some of the musicians in my life and also about my role as a musician.

I see that some musicians are like lights… they have an inner and outer radiance that illuminates their audience.  My greatest hopes and ambitions start to flicker, and moth-like, I am drawn to them, either to play or buy their CDs or to go to their shows.  In either context, I learn about myself and how I want to be in the world of music.

Monday, July 1, 2013

I Suck/Rock Therefore I Am

Is it interesting to write about failure?  Should I write about failure?

It carries a frisson of taboo, an inversion of the voodoo idea that having your picture taken will steal your soul.  Does acknowledging failure make it my domain?  But that’s my point... it is part of our domain.  Along with cameras and souls.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Alabama Shakes and the anguish of hearing something so good that it confuses the crap out of me

Before I start my rant, let me say that Alabama Shakes is so good in every way that I cannot even begin to adequately describe them so I will let you discover them for yourself though you may have realized this fact long before me.

Back to regular programming.

I am puzzled.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Conducting My Life

Conductors have had a huge impact on my life.  Other musicians generally have focussed and defined me, but interactions with conductors have caused pivotal moments of startled recognition.  Not the kind of dutiful, obligatory and of course always appreciated recognition that occurs via post-concert bows and congratulations, but something more visceral and immediate that stands alone in my memory.

When I was much younger and in the Montreal Symphony, I was playing principal bassoon during a week when the two principals were away... the programme included the Brahms Double Concerto (names of soloists long forgotten) and Schumann’s Spring Symphony and something else (also long forgotten).  

Our concert was moved to a church because of a stagehand strike at Place des Arts and our guest conductor, John Elliott Gardiner, was more than a little bitchy.  He was patronizing (I thought) towards me... his main crime was thinking that I had played a wrong note and it took the prompt confession of the principal clarinetist to rectify that.  This  fired me to vengeance, which took the super-nerd form of memorizing the solos and glaring at the conductor.  I was made even crosser by the fact that he was extremely musical and quite wonderful to watch.  

After the first performance, I was leaving the church with my best friend (cellist) following closely behind me. Gary Russell had endured my blistering tirades about this arrogant bastard of a conductor who had the temerity to also be superbly musical (so much easier to hate someone who is both a brute and incompetent) and had spent our rides alternately goading me, sympathizing and occasionally wondering if there were any other topic that could perhaps be also be exhausted (a true friend). 

The curved hallway of the church was narrow and there was a bottleneck of musicians  and to my annoyance, I realized I was going to have to directly pass Maestro Gardiner.  Luckily his back was turned and I thought that I could brush through like a hot, angry wind... unseen but felt.  Just as I passed him, he spied me, and spinning around, caught both my hands in his (my bassoon was on my back) and exclaimed that I was such a musical person and how much he enjoyed working with me during the week.  Momentarily speechless, I recovered my equanimity enough to thank him and to say, in all truthfulness, that his musicality was wonderful to me too.  Meanwhile, my friend Gary was prodding me ruthlessly in the back with his umbrella as I sputtered and dealt with a complete turnaround in my perceptions of this conductor.   

Fast forward many many years, and this week I am an older, blue-haired player under the baton of a fiery, joyful young conductor with an impossible mop of strawberry-blonde clown curls.  I am playing extra with the Toronto Symphony (second in Après-Midi d’un Faune and fourth in Symphonie Fantastique) and enjoying every second.  Every word, every gesture of the French wildman Stéphane Denève is a musical and linguistic delight.  He is the epitome of deeply expressive, powerful and flexible musicality along with highly appropriate metaphor and elegant delightful vulgarity.  In short, I am just happy to be on stage.  Of course I want to tell him that he has unleashed joy in my somewhat jaded heart, but somehow I resist the temptation to gush, and simply beam from my seat in the middle of the gleaming orchestra.  

On the final night of our 3 show run at Roy Thomson Hall, I put my bassoon in the case and rushed out to the hall to hear the Poulenc  Double Piano Concerto.  As I pass the backstage, I see Stéphane waiting in the wings with the two wonderful soloists... I see him and sweep past, not wanting to interrupt in the moments before this powerful piece.  As I am about to push through the large double doors, I hear him call out, and turning, I see the tall redhead walking quickly towards me.  He extends his hands, takes both of mine, and I instinctively offer my version of the french air kiss, but he has something to say... he thanked me for my good energy during the week of rehearsals and concert.  Such a heartfelt and kind thing to say, and somehow urgently delivered.  Of course, this had the unexpected (for him) effect of unleashing my gratitude and I rather overwhelmed him and slightly mortified myself, yet it ended well and I felt as if a treasure had been given to me.  I went out and listened to the brilliant Poulenc with increased sentience and happiness. 

Conductors do transmit energy in the most immediate ways... it always changes the lives of the musicians under their batons for better or worse, but how amazing to me that we, the players, are in turn conducting palpable energy back to our leaders. These moments stand out in a lifetime of training and interaction with conductors, most of which is printed in my unconscious reflexes and reactions... these two particular moments live as vivid memories of sight, sound, touch and the invisible rush of happiness (ecstasy) that comes from playing.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Life and Gigs and New CD and First Day of Spring

I have caught up with my shadow a bit this month but have not taken the time yet to share the details... tomorrow is the first day of spring, Guy's birthday, and the planned release date of our Canadian Concerto Project...

Monday, February 18, 2013

Gananoque Concert!

 Guy Few and I were thrilled to return to the Firehall Theatre and the Gananoque Concert Association, one of Canada’s long-standing small concert societies.

Friday, February 15, 2013

New Bassoon Concerto by Paul Frehner

One of the best emails ever...   We just received news that the Ontario Arts Council is funding most of the commission of the new bassoon concerto by superstar composer Paul Frehner!  The concerto will be premiered in 2013/14 and I will announce the orchestra once I have permission from all contracted parties.  So flipping happy/grateful/selfpinching.

Play Every Day! - practising on the road (or anywhere that they will let you)

Practising on the Road (or anywhere that they will let you)

3 concerts this week with Violons du Roy (accompanying superstar Alexandre Tharaud)
and recitals coming up February 17 in Gananoque and February 28 in Richmond Hill.

Once you have a life as a professional musician, practising on the road is a constant reality, along with making reeds and paying bills and trying to be a complete human being.  In the last two weeks, I have practised in 7 different locations in 4 different cities in 3 provinces.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Snow Day!

Snow day instead of recital day!  What a strange, odd, unsettling feeling.  Our February 8 concert for the Celebrity Concert Series at McMaster University was buried under a mountain of snow.  Even though my big silver 4 x 4 kingcab pickup truck had a tank full of gas and snowtires ready for anything, the university wasn’t taking any chances and cancelled all activities early in the blizzardy day and they  will reschedule us.  Stay tuned to my website for the Hamilton date (and others!).

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Glorious Youth Part III (i think) - 15.5 hour teaching day

Yesterday, I taught all of my university students on a single day, which meant  12.5 hours of teaching, 2 hours of travel and eating and one blessed hour for practising.  A typical 15.5 hour work day starting at 7:00 a.m. and ending at 10:30 p.m.

Monday, February 4, 2013


On January 21, 2013, I was part of the first-ever Canadian integral performance of all the Berio Sequenze.  Here is an account from WholeNote reviewer, Wendalyn Bartely.  The whole show was incredibly stimulating and curious.

Playing Sequenza XII was a harrowing, thrilling experience for me.  I felt shredded by the effort of pulling all of the technique together in the too-short time I had to fully learn the piece.  I felt like a deconstructed clock,  put back together... everything seems to run the same but now I am aware of things that have existed only before on the periphery... sounds and techniques that I have toyed but have never been obliged to put together into something that is so unabashedly committed to its own unique outcome.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Lyrical and Inspiring Writing By Musicians

Loving the poetic prose of Patti Smith in Woolgathering and the burstingly funny yet tough-ethical-gutsy writing of Dolly Parton.  Both of these books fit into your pocket.  One on each side.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

How to Make a Living In Music - Danny Barnes' blog

Danny Barnes (banjo player) writes so very well about his life in music.  I underline everything he says... I either agree or need to change.  Fantastic blog entry How to Make a Living in Music --- read the other stuff too.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Happy New Year

If you want to excel at something (I’m thinking of a musical goal on the bassoon, but really, it can be anything), then you must attempt something much more difficult than your immediate objective.