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.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Good Kiss continued

Scott Good was a one time student of the National Arts Centre summer music school for budding composers. In those days, he was studying for a "double major" in trombone-playing and composing at the University of Toronto. The Kiss, which I heard in rehearsal this morning, is his 12th composition for orchestra, although he is still young, with a two-month-old baby and a two-year-old child when he was working on this 18 minute piece, which took him two and a half months to compose. It should have taken less time, only he threw away the first two weeks of work and started again because it had sounded too abstract.

How do I know this? Before this morning's rehearsal, the composer himself gave a talk to NAC Foundation donors. He told us that seeing the Rodin sculpture was an experience that had such a powerful effect that "it changed me!" It made all the more of an impact when he learned the story behind the sculpture: a couple, Paulo and Francesca, caught in flagrante by the Paulo's brother, the husband of Francesca, who then, according to one version of the story, walled her up alive. Dante, in his Inferno, places these characters in the second circle of Hell.

Scott Good thought up a melody for Paulo and a melody for Francesca. Put together, the melodies form the harmonic progress of his piece which crescendoes to a climax (of course), after which the music "dissipates and falls away like a memory." Rodin studied the way Michelangelo's art turned motion into stillness. Likewise Scott, the composer, has spent a great deal of time studying the composers of other eras. He admits to being influenced by Messiaen and Lutoslawski (whose string quartet has no bar lines).

He spoke of music freezing time, as does sculpture. Music, he said, is sculpted onto paper but in that form is "not all that entertaining" until it is actually performed! He wrote one recent work called Shock Therapy Variations which features rock and funk styles, incorporating electric guitars, but this composition we heard today, The Kiss, has "classical harmonic content, and is rooted in the romantic era (indeed, it sounded very romantic to me—reminded me of Khachaturian) with echoes of Tchaikovsky, the composer said, plus a folksy element, the pentatonic scale for the man's theme, and the woman's theme takes its inspiration from the "exotic" Middle East or India with a hint of quarter tones.

"So how do you set about composing?" somebody asked. The answer was that he begins with the theoretical construction which gives rise to the melody lines. His wife, also a musician, had given him a warning, though. "Once you've written a piece it's not yours any more," she said. The performers and the listeners take charge.

It started with a sort of monotonic hum on gongs, vibraphones and strings, but before long the woodwind, solo cello (played by Amanda Forsyth in this performance) and violins begin to soar, and the rest sounded more conventionally lyrical to me.

The violin features prominently in the rest of today's programme too, the other items being Korngold's Violin Concerto (even more like Khachaturian) played by a brilliant, Manitoban violinist James Ehnes, and Elgar's Enigma Variations. The orchestra hadn't got round to the Elgar before their break at 11:30 a.m.; leaving after that, I never heard it. On the way out of the building I paused to take this photo of the extraordinary work of art in the foyer: not quite Rodin, but interesting, you must admit. Look at the "feet"! Believe it or not, because it creates an optical illusion, the rest of the sculpture is concave, too.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

A Good Kiss!

Sorry to disappoint my readers, but I came up with that subject heading having found out about the Canadian composer Scott Good and his orchestral work being premièred by the NACO tomorrow, The Kiss. I did a Google search for "good kiss," you see, which seemed too good a combination of words to waste. This is what I found on the NAC's website:

...the NAC Orchestra commissioned him to write a new work which will now have its world premiere. Scott Good explains how he was inspired by the sculptures of renowned French artist Auguste Rodin. "The Kiss had a particularly profound impact on me with its sense of proportion and physical sensuality. The bodies are in perfect balance, neither dominating the other. The impression was so strong that I hoped somehow to pay tribute this work. The commission to write a new piece for the National Arts Centre Orchestra provided the appropriate opportunity."

Anyway, I am going to attend the rehearsal tomorrow morning, at which I expect the orchestra will also be working on the other two items on the evening's programme, the Korngold Violin Concerto and Elgar's Enigma Variations. I may not have time to write a blogpost about it, because it's Chris' weekly singing lesson afterwards; then on Thursday night I'm due to fly to London.

Thursday's going to be a big day for Ottawa with a forecast snowfall to deal with on top of President Obama's flying visit, for which the city has been erecting barricades for days. Because of this disruption I fear my own flight may be delayed, but let's hope not. I'm not due to take off until late.

Talking of flights, Chris took to the air quite a lot at the weekend, so that he enjoyed doing a total of 7 landings in lovely clear weather! I went up twice and one of his other flights was with a very keen photographer as passenger, Chuck, who later "stitched" two shots of the Rideau Canal together, making an impressive composite picture that he has posted here, on Flickr.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Friday 13th and St. Valentine's

Oh! no soul is sad alongside me. I lift up their poor little hearts with my consigne: 'Courage, tout le monde, le diable est mort.'

(Charles Reade, The Cloister and the Hearth, 1861)

As I posted on my Facebook status report just now, I have just trained my binoculars on the sunlit tops of the maple trees in the next street (visible from our kitchen window) to confirm my impression that their flower buds are opening, that the sap has begun to rise. You know what that means: the End of Winter is in sight!

Chris has gained a few more days at his post at Nortel, since Friday 13th didn't turn out to be such an unlucky day as predicted. I spent Friday morning at the home of the Swedish Ambassador and her husband with about 90 other people, many of whom (despite the windchill of -20°C) were making the most of the chance to go snowshoeing in the grounds of this residence with its panoramic view of the Ottawa River.

Encouraged by our Diplomatic Hospitality group, the Swedish couple, in the centre of my picture above right, were trying out this sport for the first time, as were other new diplomats from Turkey, Columbia, Spain, China, Japan, Brunei, Bolivia and Yemen. Here are four ladies from the Chinese Embassy making friends with Ella from Indonesia (in the bright green mittens).

Chris and I went flying over the Gatineau Park in PTN this afternoon and back to Rockcliffe Airport after a touch-and-go at Gatineau Airport on the way—beautiful. Last week's rain cleared a layer of snow off the frozen rivers so that their bare ice gleamed. In more than a couple of places below us, Canadians were revelling in the sunny day, a solitary skater gliding in slow circles on an empty rink in the afternoon sunshine, skidoos zipping through the fields. The approach to CYND was busier than Heathrow with local pilots practising their circuits. Chris' landings were "greasers" today. He said this flight was my treat for St. Valentine's Day and I said that it must have been his, too.

Even the raccoons appreciated this afternoon's sun, one of them sunbathing so luxuriously on a neighbour's fence that it fell fast asleep, oblivious to passers-by. I did not use a zoom lens to take this picture.

Thursday, February 12, 2009


Yesterday I met Greta and Cristina at the National Gallery to give them a tour of as many Canadian works of art as we had time for; Cristina (from Germany) hadn't seen any before. Interesting that her curiosity was aroused by the gallery displaying some of Betty Goodwin's "vest" drawings. I don't know much about this very serious minded artist; I gather she died at the end of last year which probably explains the number of her pieces on display. Cristina didn't know of Betty Goodwin but she had heard of the German artist whose archetypal vest (i.e waistcoat) she'd drawn, Joseph Beuys.

The other day I designed and made my own waistcoat, by the way, cut out of a $3 fleece found at Giant Tiger. I've only had the sewing machine a month or two so need the practice (especially now that Chris' Nortel pension is under threat). The garment's wearable so long as no one peers too closely at my clumsy stitching round the hems. It keeps me warm, anyhow.

No comments about coarse actors' costumes now, please!

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Damage limitation

The freezing rain forecast for yesterday never happened, and today we even had sunny intervals; it has only just begun to rain this evening ... and now there is a "Rainfall warning for the City of Ottawa" for tomorrow. Whether it will be disastrous enough to warrant the warning is another matter. This constant nervousness about tomorrow is all to do with our lack of control over the world and our too high expectations that are forever being dashed: the source of much unhappiness in our over-developed world.

Monday, February 9, 2009


The weather has been bad lately (not one plus temperature in January) and there's worse to come. Yesterday afternoon though, it was warm enough to sit in the sun in the shelter of the clubhouse and watch Chris take to the air for the first time in weeks. He was happy to be up there while I struggled over my sewing machine, repairing the tears in one of our wing covers. I was not keen to be his passenger because a northwest wind was blowing, and he admits I wouldn't have appreciated the turbulence and fierce gusts of crosswind combined with his touchdown on the icy runway. For tomorrow, twelve hours of freezing rain are forecast, followed by a day of rain on Wednesday and sleet on Thursday.

Talking of Crosswinds, I finished putting the January edition of the club's newsletter together in January, and am thinking of other things now. Mostly to do with one of my least favourite topics, financial planning. I'm feverishly budgeting. Nortel having filed for bankruptcy protection means that a large percentage of its employees will be laid off this month, perhaps this week. We know there will be no warning of the announcement, and haven't any clear idea of what's going to happen to his pay and pension if Chris is one of them, as he probably will be. When the time comes, so the rumour goes, Chris and other unfortunates, some of whom have worked thirty years for this company, will be escorted by security guards to their desks to pick up their possessions and hence escorted like criminals off the premises. In case this happens, Chris has been bringing home armfuls of books and other office paraphernalia night after night, since he couldn't possibly carry off all his stuff in one go. It's a disconcerting situation, but he doesn't seem too dismayed by it yet. He's in another room as I write this, with a group of fellow groundschool instructors, laying the groundwork for a new enterprise of his own devising: Farmhall Aviation Training. Many hours have already, and will be, spent on this, I'm glad to say, for I don't want him bored and frustrated during these challenging times.

Yesterday evening we went to a fundraiser for a new piano at the MacKay Street United Church where five members of the NACO played us quartets, the first being Mozart's Oboe Quartet, K 370, with Charles Hamann playing the lovely oboe part—click here!—Sally Benson on the viola and Leah Wyber on the cello, and the second being Dvorak's 11th String Quartet, Op. 61. Dvorak wrote 14 quartets in all and the first violinist, Leah Roseman, said that this one was full of his love of life. Mark Friedman (her husband) took the second violin part, the two violins indulging in gentle repartee in the slow movement and playing in thirds for much of the last movement. Pretty music, but it didn't seem to have as much substance as the Mozart.