blending an assortment of thoughts and experiences for my friends, relations and kindred spirit

blending an assortment of thoughts and experiences for my friends, relations and kindred spirit
By Alison Hobbs, blending a mixture of thoughts and experiences for friends, relations and kindred spirits.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

At St.-Antoine-de-L'Isle-aux-Grues

Being on the island feels like being in a dream, a good dream, I must add. Most of the time for the two days we were there we walked in silence, taking in its beauty, its simplicity, and the quiet. Up from the ferry dock to the village on the other side of the island, a narrow country road leads through wide open fields, with a row of telegraph poles (none of them quite vertical) on the left and a fantastic view of the Laurentide Mountains ahead, standing in line beyond northern river channel. Wild flowers on the verges, including clumps of ragwort, pretty but poisonous, and invasive. All we could hear were the crickets in the grass. Once over the brow of the hill where the long, low barn stands, its lonely aspect reminding my husband so much of the setting of a novel by J L Carr that he nicknamed that barn Pollock's Crossing, the roofs of the village and church spire become visible.

The catholic church has been there since the mid 19th century and still seems to be the focal point, people gathering there for social occasions and special traditions at certain times of the year, such as for the Sale of Souls raffle in January or an opportunity to disguise oneself in fancy dress at the Mi-Carême festival in March. There aren't many shops on the island. The museum sells a few cards and souvenirs and the Riopelle Cheese Factory shop sells its delicious cheeses. There's one dépanneur along the main street which stocks the basic necessities; I gather this is going to be situated elsewhere in the near future. The Café-aux-Quatre-Vents likewise sells a few touristy things, as do the two auberges. And that's it!

In order to keep the village cheerful in winter and on grey days, some houses have been painted in bright colours. In their gardens stand artistically crafted models of cranes or herons, under the white birches or among the garden flowers. For our visit there was colour enough in any case, a field of sunflowers in full bloom next to the church, all their heads facing the road, green marsh grass and the blue water beyond. Other crops grown on the island are barley and two kinds of beans. We noticed structures for drying hay. Apple trees, at this time of year, are bearing healthy looking red fruit. Fishing and hunting are other productive pastimes here. In the depths of winter the community gets a canot team together to compete in the ice-canoe races across the frozen river. Before the airport, this was the only means of reaching the mainland in winter.

In the churchyard are the graves of the local population although one man obviously didn't want to be buried with the riff-raff because one solitary gravestone stood in the middle of the beanfields futher up the hill, away from the village. I didn't go close enough to inspect it in detail.

English doesn't come easy to the francophone people who live here. The most famous inhabitant of the island was Jean-Paul Riopelle, the rebellious abstract painter. The museum, housed in an old barn, features videos of him as an unkempt old eccentric, working obsessively on his paintings, squeezing paint straight from the tubes onto the canvas. The myriad white blobs in his later paintings are probably a reference to the snow-geese that migrate via the island in their tens of thousands twice a year. He was born nearby and died on the island.

On Thursday we lingered over breakfast at the Grand Hérons, watching the tide start to dribble in over the mud where the sandpipers were foraging under a grey, wet sky. Chris went to sit at the business end of the dock watching the activity around the ferry that sat low in the water waiting for the incoming tide to lift it high enough for vehicles and passengers to get on board, while I remained at the breakfast table reading a book. Eventually the rain eased off and we set off for a walk along the rivage, following the track past the cottages, through the trees, till it fizzled out and left us on the shore, with deer footprints all over the sand. From where we stood, it didn't look so far to the tip of the island at the western end, but that headland is elusive, and it turned out to be further away than we thought. We wandered for about 2 and a half hours that morning, the best part of our hike being the marked trails around the Pointe aux Pins which we had explored before, on our previous visit. Here we met one other couple, the only other people we encountered. We remembered the views from the look-out points. A bonus sight this time was of a large-headed bird, probably the short-eared owl that's supposed to frequent this spot, sitting on a rock at the end of the island, so motionless, that at first I thought it was just an upright stone or piece of driftwood. Then it took off, on wide wings. We saw another such bird fly out of the forest as we walked further along.

There's an even wilder area of untouched woodland at the eastern tip of the island, where we have not been; this is a hunting reserve. Closer to the inhabited part, east of our lodging beyond the tipis, you can follow more trails through the forest and the fields and then turn left up the hill to cross the island towards the airport and village, again. At the edge of the woods in this direction was a clearing where we noticed a surprisingly large number of small wooden structures ... "They look like dog kennels," I said to Chris, breaking our companionable silence, at which point all hell broke loose, the pack of huskies (probably used as sled dogs in the winter), having heard a voice they didn't recognise, leaping out of their kennels, barking, howling and frantically pulling on their chains. We were mighty glad they'd been chained up, I must say. It was quite an alarming encounter and we didn't linger.

Hoping to see stars after dark on the first night we'd gone up the road to sit by the lonely barn, but too many clouds surrounded the clear patches of sky. I did spot one shooting star. On the second evening it clouded over again, but while we ate our supper at a window table, seeing the hills of Maine beyond the water, the setting sun behind us tinged the clouds above them pink, and then a distant rain-shower lit up with all the colours of the rainbow. Everyone in the dining room was awe-struck by it.




Monday, September 4, 2017

On the Isle again

I am starting to write this post in our waterside room at the Auberge known as Maisons du Grand Héron on the Isle-Aux-Grues that we are revisting for the first time since we stayed at the other Auberge on the other side of the island.

Papa Tango November is cleared to the Montmagny airport via direct TAKOL, Tango 731, AGLUK, Tango 781, PESAC, YQB, Victor 98 to FLEUR, direct CSE5.

That was our clearance yesterday morning as we left Ottawa-Rockcliffe for Montmagny, 2 hours 20 minutes away to the northeast. The total flight time was in fact 2 hours 24 minutes. The flight was remarkably smooth through very hazy air, although we had clear views over Quebec City; having been diverted left by 10-degrees for traffic avoidance in the airspace around CYQB we were then set back on course right across the city, seeing the Plains of Abraham, harbour and downtown as we went.

Then followed the romantic stretch across the Isle d'Orléans and the archipelego of islands round this one, the Isle-aux-Grues lying almost adjacent to Montmagny. Children who live on the island go to school by plane every morning (a free, 5-minute Air Montmagny flight to the mainland, or le continent, as they call it in these parts). It must be one of the shortest regular flights on the planet. We saw the school plane in its hangar --- we saw this twin-prop. being taxied right inside the hangar before its engine was turned off, only the tail sticking out! --- and, once we took to the air again to do our own short hop across to the island, we spotted the school below us, too. Our midday meal had been a packed lunch at the Montmagny airport picnic table by the bullrushes, a far cry from lunch at Heathrow, where I shall be next week.

I had loved our stay on the island in 2011, when we had our meals on the Auberge des Dunes' delapidated old boat Le Bateau Ivre (its name inspired by Rimbaud's famous poem) still stuck in in the mud on the northern shore, and have loved it again this time round, this being the first time we actually landed on the island in our plane. The previous time, PTN having a flat tyre or something, we had flown in a less familiar, substitute plane (a Piper Cherokee) that may not have been so easy to land on such a short runway, so had left it on the ground at Montmagny and had come across on the ferry.

The Isle-Aux-Grues makes good memories. This time we were staying at the Maisons du Grand Héron on the rue du Rivage of the southern shore, facing the ferry dock; in fact we had a good view of the dock and distant mainland from our bedroom window. During supper on our second evening there, once again next to the windows, we even had the rare privilege of seeing a sunset sky complete with extraordinary, widely spread rainbow colours, as the setting sun lit a distant rain shower over the hills of Maine, beyond Cap St. Ignace.

The hotel has rooms within the Auberge itself, where the meals are served, as well as two yurts (yaourts) and two wooden "tipis" in the trees alongside. Their interiors are nicely furnished with all the requisite amenities and a barbeque outside; the only snag might be mosquito bites in the bug-season. Anyhow, the manager, Gilles, came to pick us up with our bags from the airport by pre-arrangement and drove us 3km along the quiet country roads to his place. We had chosen to take advantage of the four-course suppers and breakfasts offered as part of one of their forfaits (packages at $110 per person, per night --- not bad value). During our breakfasts one of the live grands hérons who frequent the muddy river edge when the tide is out, flew in to entertain us. Sandpipers and snow geese made their apppearance there too.

Gilles told us a heartbreaking story about the snow geese. During the last migration season / hunting season, earlier this year, one of the geese we saw was shot in the wing and not killed, but incapacitated, unable fly north, so (s)he had to remain on the island. Geese being faithful creatures, its mate and family stayed too. And when the winter comes, and the other thousands of snow geese stop by on their journey south, this particular goose family will be stuck on the island and will doubtless all die of cold.

Supper at the Maison des Grands Héron deserves a description. It was served in a leisurely fashion which meant that we were sitting at our supper table for about two hours. Drinks first, while we studied the Table d'Hote menu. The entrée is concocted with smoked esturgeon, whether you like it or not. Never fear, you will like it, fresh from the local sea water, nicely presented with an artistic salad and subtle dressing. We had slices of this smoked fish on the first night and a little ball of smoked sturgeon mousse on the second night. (Sturgeon can grow 2 metres long, so there is plenty for everyone. I just learned that they can live for 60 years, if you don't catch them.) The second course is a small bowl of tasty and fairly thick homemade soup, served with slices of homemade bread in a basket. The piece de résistance course is some kind of meat or fish in a sauce (presumably slow-cooked during the day) which they serve in individual casserole dishes with a not-too-heavy helping of rice or potatoes and carrots or similar on the side. I had curried sturgeon (!) on the first night and veal on the second. The dessert course is a slice of homemade cake or a fruit sorbet, once again artistically served, with tea or coffee.

I also appreciated the good taste with which the Auberge had been decorated. I dare say that Gilles' wife Nicole was responsible for this. The surroundings, despite all the activity at the dockside, make for a peaceful night's sleep. With our windows open, all we heard at night was the natural sound of rustling leaves or rain falling.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

And finally ... J.S. Bach

Music and Beyond's performance of the B-minor Mass on July 16th was the climax of the festival, and we had didn't need to pay to get in! It was a Festival-Plus concert, which means that I ought to have paid extra, and Chris was ready to buy his own ticket. But the organisers had given me (and other disappointed patrons) two complimentary tickets for the Bach, to compensate for the cancellation of Wednesday's lecture.

I knew this concert would be tremendous, because we had also been at the St. Matthew Passion performance on Good Friday, a few months ago, which had thrilled me then and for a long time afterwards. The soloist who had taken the part of Jesus in the oratorio was now singing the bass arias in the mass, so we knew the standard of singing would be high, as indeed it was, very, and we were to have the same able conductor at the podium, Kevin Mallon. We had many of the same instumentalists too (the Thirteen Strings plus their friends from the NACO -- its lead flute, oboe, trumpet, horn) including Julian Armour again, taking responsibility for the continuo part on his cello. The choir singing the great choruses of the mass, highly competent and well rehearsed, as we could see, since we sat near them, was from the Studio de musique ancienne de Montréal. We particularly admired the stamina of the first sopranos!

It is impossible to describe Bach's music in words. "The culmination of the Baroque!" my school notes used to say, but that is only a text book phrase. Perhaps a painting would do better justice to it, using all the colours. I have sung the B-minor Mass ... when I was 19, as one of the 2nd sopranos in London's Imperial College Choir, an experience that gave me a very good idea of what "in Heaven" means. Even though that performance wasn't half as good as what we heard in Ottawa, I remember how the last half hour of it was like flying through a night sky full of stars, making all my self-centred little worries null and void. Probably my mother once felt the same, because she has told me that she'd like a recording of the Sanctus from Bach's B-minor Mass played at her funeral.


Mum came up with another simile too; she once said that singing the Sanctus was like being on a big ship sailing the high seas.

I have found this blogpost about Sir John Eliot Gardiner and his more detailed response to the Bach mass, worth reading if you're interested.

Bach's greatness wasn't as obvious to his contemporaries at it is to us, and it wasn't until Mendelssohn's day, over a hundred years later, that he acquired his stature as a great composer. The 1720s clergymen at Leipzig had thought his St. Matthew Passion far too long and over-dramatic so hadn't given it a good reception. In a fit of pique, perhaps --- although this is undocumented speculation --- Bach decided to offer his large scale choral music to the court at Dresden instead, after that, setting Catholic Latin texts, what's more.

In Ottawa, the following day (July 17th) I went to visit the Syrian family I've befriended, who have a new baby, and coming home through the city in the afternoon I realised that I'd have time to attend one further concert, a performance of Bach's The Art of Fugue (Die Kunst der Fuge) on period instruments (or replicas?), viols of different sizes and timbres, all held vertically, by a consort of four instrumentalists known as Les Voix Humaines. Not looking them up beforehand, I must confess I'd supposed that a group calling itself Les Voix Humaines would be singers, and so did others of the rather large audience, and so we were taken by surprise.

Again, it was very warm and humid that day, so it was essential to sit still in the non airconditioned church to hear this rather same-ish, soft music, lightly played, and the lack of resonance in these instruments so lulling that many of us had a hard time keeping awake. Sad to say, the nave wasn't half so full after the intermission because many of the audience had made their escape. I was sitting with Jingnan and Lee from my Chinese class during this concert, and we were among the few who remained. Jingnan told me that the word for 'soporific' in Chinese is cuīmián (催眠). During the break I walked up to the podium to take a closer look at the viols that had been left there. They constituted a visual work of art, too, each one decorated with a plume of coloured ribbons, as were their music stands.

The music sounds serious, intellectual, to us but the chief viol player (Susie Napper), who introduced everything, claimed that Bach himself saw the composition of the Art of Fugue pieces more as an after-dinner pastime and she informed us that Bach had a sense of fun, as well as a great liking for wine. She apologised for "the lack of seriousness in this performance", although actually I failed to identify any humorous moments in what followed. The fugues and canons were composed, maybe as a challenge from one of his family or friends, during the last ten years of Bach's life, in 2, 3 and 4 parts: Contrapunctus I, Contrapunctus II, Contrapunctus III, etc., all the way to Contrapunctus XVIII.

In complete contrast, the encore the instrumentalists gave us was an arrangement of Gershwin's Summertime for viols with the song part played on the recorder by Mélisande Corriveau.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Czech musicians and composers

In the second week of the Music and Beyond festival we had the good fortune to welcome the Bennewitz Quartet to town, who are from Prague.

Photo: ©Kamil Ghaisption
I went to two of their concerts, the first one with Chris. This was held at the Horticulture Building at Lansdowne Park, but I don't think Music and Beyond concerts ought to be held there next year, because, despite the pleasant nearby surroundings, it wasn't the best venue. The underground parking is expensive and inside the hall, the intrusively loud hum from the airconditioners, working at full revs, compromised our appreciation and must have been quite off-putting for the musicians themselves. It was also very hot and humid in there.

Carping aside, the concert was still wonderful. If he were writing this blogpost, my husband would doubtless observe that the viola player in particular attracted my attention (as does the German actor Henry Arnold or the President of France for that matter, with their similar good looks).

Enough of that; let's concentrate on the music, which in this concert was all Czech. The Ambassador of the Czech Republic said a few words from the front row, the second violinist made the rest of the introductions, and the first piece we heard was Dussek's Quartet in E-flat major, Op. 60. Dussek (1760-1812) is better known for his piano music, but he also created a large output of other chamber music, including three string quartets. This was the last of these. We were encouraged to listen for the classical and romantic elements in this piece which can be classified as "pre-romantic".

Here's the Scherzo:



Janacek and his wife when young
A very different piece followed, Janacek's Intimate Letters (his String Quartet No. 2, 1928, written at the end of his life). This is programme music, or music as a secret code. The amorous feelings the elderly Janacek was attempting to convey were for a certain Kamila Stösslova, 38 years younger than he! They apparently exchanged about 700 real letters as well. Janacek's wife, unsurprisingly disgusted, obliterated his verbal references to the various intimacies in the original manuscript with a thick black pen, so performers simply have to guess at what he meant. These four performers made a most passionate job of it and deserved their break in the cooler fresh air during the intermission.

They had played so well that Chris and I decided to stay for the second half of the concert despite that noisy competition from the air conditioners. This time we heard Smetena's From My Life (Z mého života) Quartet, the work that first attracted my husband to chamber music. Czechs always feel that Smetana expresses their soul better than does Dvorak; especially when they hear his most patriotic, symphonic work Ma Vlast, Smetana is the Czech composer. Both Ma Vlast and From My Life were late works from the 1870s, after he had lost his hearing. The quartet expresses a personal turmoil, Smetana trying to come to terms with his tragic memories of the 1850s when three of his children and then his wife died. Although mostly in the minor, it is not unhappy music. The second movement is a Polka, the Czech (not Polish) national dance, and the gentle Largo was written in memory of his wife. The Vivace at the end first expresses his sense of triumph at having succeeded as a composer, but then comes the sudden long note, the harmonic high E on the violin that signifies the tinnitus he heard as he began to go deaf. Touchingly, the previous movement's wife-theme returns as a consolation after this fateful shock, and so the quartet ends, resolving gently into the major, on a soft pizzicato.

As the second violinist said, "It's a very beautiful music!"

Of course, the following day I was back in town to hear the Bennewitz Quartet perform again. At this event they offered only two pieces of music: Schubert's great Death and the Maiden Quartet followed by a quartet by Dvorak after the intermission. What sets professionals such as these apart is their mastery of pianissimo playing. I also noted their utter subservience to the music and their respect for one another. If you are going to do this properly, there is no room for egotism. A good lesson for all those in the public eye, if you ask me.

Once more, the second violinist stood up to tell us about the music. This Quartet in D minor, no. 14, was one of the last things Schubert ever wrote, knowing (in 1824, at the age of 27) that his life would soon come to an end, or so people claim. That's debatable, although he did know he had syphilis, but the solemnity and the emotion is certainly there, especially in the way the Bennewitz Quartet handled it. This piece of music is 40 minutes long. I have heard it several times before played live, but this was the best performance I've heard to date. The Andante movement is the one based on Schubert's song of seven years earlier, with five variations of that theme.


Dvorak's Quartet in G, Op. 106, No. 13, may also have been written with death in mind, or at least Dvorak thought of his end when he heard it rehearsed for the first time because on that occasion he abruptly left the hall during its Adagio movement in which all four strings are given highly melodic lines. When someone went out to find out what was the matter, and whether the instrumentalists had upset him with their interpretation, Dvorak was found standing by the river in an emotional state, and he said, "I just realised that I'll probably never write anything so beautiful again!"

We were told a little more about the composer. He had come from a a "gloomy, impoverished background" and music had been his escape. He became internationally famous, especially when asked by New York City to move there to direct its new Conservatory of Music. Travelling back and forth Dvorak also used to write his music aboard transatlantic steamships, including this and his previous (Op. 105) quartet. During the time he spent living in America he was also invited to visit a Czech settlement in Iowa constructed in the style of a Bohemian village, and wrote some of his "most enjoyed pieces" there, as Stepan Jezek of the Bennewitz Quartet put it.

Incidentally, in his last few years, Dvorak succeeded Antonin Bennewitz (for whom the ensemble is named) as director of the Prague Conservatory.

A Canadian selection (continued)

This was the fourth of the 150 Years of Music in Canada series in the Music and Beyond festival. I came along that day (July 13th) because Paul Marleyn and Frédéric Lecroix were going to play, and I like those two U of O musicians.



For the first half of the concert, though, Elaine Keillor was on stage, a lady now in her late seventies who has been a pianist all her life, researching and specialising in Canadian music, and who has been awarded the Order of Canada for her work at the university and elsewhere. She played a series of derivative, light classical pieces by 19th century and early 20th century Canadian composers, some of which reminded me of the music my uncle Frank (1915-2010) used to compose. He used to be a good pianist, too!

Each piece was a dance. The first one, called Yvonne, was a waltz written in 1903 by Alexis Contant. Ms. Keillor spoke to us about the composers and mentioned that that Contant was a student of the man who'd composed Canada's National Anthem, Calixa Lavallée. (O Canada was originally written to be sung in French on Quebec's Saint-Jean-Baptiste Day, you know.) Then came the Chanticleer March & Two Step (1910) by a woman, Jeanne Delmar, of the Delmar music publishers' family. The next composer featured on the programme, Wesley Octavius Forsyth (d. 1937), used to preface his pieces with a poem he'd written. This one was entitled In the Vale of Shadowland --- I'm afraid I don't remember anything about it, but can recall the following piece, by a friend of Forsyth's, Clarence Lucas, born on the Six Nations Reserve managed by his Methodist father. Lucas junior composed no fewer than 300 works, said Ms. Keillor, and this one was a Chopin-like Mazurka (No. 2, 1890). Goodness knows what the natives would have thought of it, sounding nothing like their own music. Finally we heard a lively gavotte, Conversazione, composed by Joseph Vézina (d. 1924), leader of the Quebec Symphony Orchestra, again composed in the popular style of those days.

With the appearance of Paul Marleyn, who (I think) looks remarkably like the British singer Ian Bostridge, the mood and style of the concert changed, and my interest perked up. Now we were into more serious compositions by contemporary composers, first a piece for solo cello by Chan Ka Nin, called Soulmate (1995) dedicated to the composer's wife who, said Mr. Merlyn, is also a composer. "Good music!" I noted. There was fire and intensity in this. For the next item the cellist was accompanied by his friend Mr. Lacroix to play Still Time (1987) by John Burge, a tribute to his wife. Again, an intense piece, abstract and atonal, but I can't find a reference to it on his website. They then played an extra piece, not listed on the programme, by a female composer whose name I didn't catch. Anyway this one, by contrast, was "extremely tonal" and Mr. Marleyn apologised for this!

The final item in this noon hour concert was for Frédéric Lacroix alone, a piano suite he had composed himself. The same age as my daughter, he studied at the University of Montreal, and this composition stems from those days. He wrote it in a light-hearted way in response to the pigeons who had so much disturbed his post-graduate studies of Couperin on the 8th floor of the music faculty by their coo-ing (roucoulement, he said, unable to think of the English word for it!) that he tried had to recreate this sound on the piano. Apart from the trills, there were many references to Couperin's music in the five sections of Lacroix' Le Club du Jardin (1999), each headed by the name of a different creature: Le blaireau ... La castor ... le lievre ...le pigeon ... l'écureuil. Therefore it was most enjoyable to listen to and we applauded with enthusiasm at the end.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Music enhancing art, and vice versa


Last year's Music and Beyond soirée at the National Gallery was a hard act to follow, but this year, on July 11th, they repeated that venture, on all three levels of the building. I had been at the Vienna Piano Trio's concert in the afternoon (as described in my previous post) and had walked to the University after that to hear a lecture on Bach's B-minor Mass (cancelled, but it had entailed a detour on my way home), so was too tired to stay at the museum all evening; however, it was worth being there and I enjoyed the chance to take photos. This event also gave me the chance to take a look, for free, at the refurbished galleries of Canadian art in this 150th year of Canada's history. Hearing complementary pieces of music brought the artworks more to life than if I'd merely been looking. Likewise the music seemed to take on an extra dimension when juxtaposed with what was in the background. The exact location of each mini-concert had been chosen with care; it was fun searching for the connections between the music and the visual art on show at each spot, some links being more obvious than others.

In one of the contemporary galleries, a song and dance performance was beginning as I walked in. This was a bizarre, avant garde piece –– the singer/dancer (Heather Sita Black) lying flat on the floor beside the drummer to start her wordless, wailing music, and the long haired cellist-composer (Raphael Weinroth-Browne, increasingly familiar to Ottawa audiences), throwing his head forward and back as he extemporised an accompaniment –– apparently inspired by the poetry of Emily Dickinson, as was the artwork his partner danced around.

Individuals, families and groups of friends at the event could wander about at will; I explored further. I'm sorry to have accidentally missed the throat-singing performances in the Inuit Galleries. A brass ensemble was playing Baroque music to a large audience in the Rideau Chapel and, wearing costumes appropriate for the 17th century, dancers and musicians enacted another short programme in the Baroque hall. Meanwhile, 18th century British duets were being played by a violinist and cellist in the gallery displaying 18th century British art.

In the Baroque hall
In the impressionists' gallery a young man in a black suit was playing French music on a harp. Walking across the upper floor, I glimpsed members of the Capital Chamber Music Choir, all dressed alike, taking a rest between performances in front of Barnett Newman's famous "Voice of Fire" (1967), some of them sitting or sprawling on the floor, since there are no seats in that space. The choir sang there later, but by then I had moved on.

Downstairs, in another 20th century gallery, I came across someone playing classical guitar music among the abstract art, while a different guitarist serenaded hollow, 3 dimensional sarcophogi. A saxophonist held a group of people spellbound in front of the triptych by Riopelle, performing modern, abstract music. The theramin player, the Dutchman Thorwald Jorgensen, a regular contributor to the festival, had his spot on the middle floor in front of Claude Tousignant's op-art painting of concentric circles, Chromatic Accelerator, creating magical effects with his other-worldly instrument.

Back into the past, demonstrating music that the flute player on Antoine Plamadon's canvas would have played --- on the same kind of wooden transverse flute and wearing the same kind of clothes --- was a live flautist of today, making an eerie comparison to that 150 year old oil painting! Likewise, sea shanties were being sung by a folk singer in a checked shirt, with a guitar, in the maritime section of the Canadian galleries, just what the sailors on the ships depicted there might have heard in their day.

Julian Armour, Director of the Music and Beyond festival, was introducing his quartet for the evening (he plays the cello) in a gallery of 19th century Canadian art (plus an indigenous birchbark canoe).

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Concerts 8 and 9: Schubert and more Schubert!

The Vienna Piano Trio was back in town for our Music and Beyond festival, and the 8th and 9th times I made use of my festival pass this year were to hear them play Schubert. It is good not only to hear these three friends again but to see them again, too, so well do they co-operate on stage. On Monday, July 10th, Chris came with me to Dominion Chalmers United Church for the afternoon concert, because he had a day off work. The young man doing the introductions before the performers came on stage warned us that we'd "only hear one song" [sic] during this concert, which goes to show to what extent iTunes has infiltrated our culture. It was rather a long song, though: Schubert's Opus 100, the E-flat major trio in four movements, some 50 minutes long, so Chris felt he had got his money's worth from his entrance ticket. The allegro moderato movement at the end (not quite a sonata form movement and not quite a rondo) cleverly reprises the main theme from the second movement ...



which makes me realise by how far this composer was ahead of his time, and reminds me yet again how much I love this tune! Schubert himself must have loved it. It was among the last of his own compositions that he heard performed before his death, by the way.

The performers in the video clip above ARE the Vienna Piano Trio! I was thrilled to find this online, as a momento of our experience.

The following day, they performed in another afternoon concert at Dominion Chalmers, and once again it was An Afternoon of Schubert. Chris was stuck at work this time, so I went alone, making sure I had a seat where I could watch the facial expressions of Stefan Mendl, the ultra-musical pianist and leader / founder of the group, who feels every note intensely. I wonder if one of his ancestors centuries ago was also an ancestor of Mendelssohn, but maybe that's too far-fetched a thought. I noticed that he hardly ever looks up at his sheet music, only having it there for occasional reference, although he always employs a page turner.

There were three items on the programme this time, the first two being sonatas rather than trios, the first being the Arpeggione for cello and piano (D.821) followed by the Fantasy in C for violin and piano (D.934). Matthias Gredler is also worth watching in action, and as for the music, Schubert never ceases to awe me. "Genius = surprises and caprice," I noted in the margin, remembering how my music teacher at school (i.e. my dad) had once got me to write an essay on Humour in Music, and thinking how I could perhaps have used the Arpeggione as an example in it. There were Mozartian touches in the Adagio movement. The Fantasy, seven sections long, appealed to me too with its third section quoting one of Schubert's LiederSei mir gegrüßt, developing it into exciting variations. David McCarroll from California, seems to have become thoroughly Viennese since he became the indispensible third member of the Vienna Piano Trio, replacing their former violinist.

After the intermission the whole trio returned to play Schubert's Piano Trio No. 1 in B-flat, op. 99. Here, Schubert composed yet another unforgettable second movement derived from a melody on the cello: 10 minutes of bliss, once more.

Such concerts have a physical effect on me, propelling me so easily along on my walk home afterwards that I feel as if I'm floating.