Archive for Vancouver Observer Articles

Vancouver Chamber Choir explores spring’s veiled splendours

The following is a review I wrote for The Vancouver Observer.

 

Vancouver Chamber Choir - Orpheum, 2015

When it comes to springtime, redemption is a less marketable commodity than, say, bunnies and chocolate eggs, so on a blossom-filled Good Friday, I was surprised to see that the promise of crucifixion, mortal sacrifice, and death was enough to pack the Orpheum with an audience enthusiastic to try a bout of the Vancouver Chamber Choir’s darker fare.

After the opening work, VCC Conductor Jon Washburn revealed his enthusiasm, “Isn’t it a gem?” he said. The gem, Heinrich Schütz’s Die sieben Worte Jesu Christi am Kreuz (The Seven [Last] Words of Christ) was indeed a gem—hidden in a jewel box, shrouded in velvet, and encased in solid seventeenth century solid German cabinetry. I revelled how, with clockwork precision, it unveiled its beauty layer by layer.

Vancouver Chamber Choir

Photo courtesy Vancouver Chamber Choir

Next up was Schütz’s Italian contemporary, Giacomo Carissimi, who took us back much further to the early days of the Old Testament. Maestro Washburn told us the tale concerning the tragedy of Jephthah, an Israelite general who made a vow that if God would deliver them from their enemy, the Ammonites, Jephthah would offer up the first who greeted him on his return as “a burnt offering”. Tragically, that turned out to be his beloved daughter, Filia. Carman J. Price, tenor, sang Jephte and Catherine Laub, soprano, captured Filia’s fall from girlish innocence to condemned outcast in a way that to me felt as contemporary and horrific as anything on the evening news. Although her role was relatively small, Fabiana Katz, alto (historicus) also picked up on the horror in a way that made my ears snap to attention.

Even though the Requiem is sung in Latin (duh, it’s a requiem), there is something so innately French and nineteenth century about Fauré’s treatment of it. Fauré’s Requiem seems synonymous with Gustave Caillebotte’s Rue de Paris par temps de pluie, the way it portrays everyday life (and death) as a gentle thing.

"Gustave Caillebotte - Paris Street; Rainy Day - Google Art Project" by Gustave

Photo courtesy Wikipedia/Chicago Museum of Art

Fauré is masterful in his reduced orchestra, replacing violins with the throatier violas, decimating the woodwind section but for a couple of bassoons, and retaining only an echo of brass (2 horns, 2 trumpets) enough for one or two volleys, but more in the sense of Haydn and Mozart than the resources his contemporaries had at their disposal.

While the performance was fine and reverent and all, it didn’t really congeal until soprano Siri Oleson captured our attention with Fauré’s indescribably gentle Pie Jesu. With that, I think many audience members succumbed to very personal reflections and, in some cases, even tears.

For the Fauré, the Vancouver Chamber Choir was joined by the Pacifica Singers and the Vancouver Youth Choirand their inclusion added much to an already full programme. Now we see all the faces of Vancouver— many cultures young and old come together­—singing.

If you missed this concert, springtime is full of singing:

  • 24 April, the Vancouver Chamber Choir presents Youth & Music 2015 – New Choral Creators at Ryerson United Church in Kerrisdale
  • 1 May to May 3, The Vancouver Youth Choir participates in Canadian Cantando Music Festival up at Whistler.
  • Also, for those of you whose interest in choral music goes beyond mere listening, the Vancouver Chamber Choir is holding auditions for professional-level singers on April 25 and May 23. Contact Grant for an appointment at grantwutzke@live.com

Balkan Music: Re-Thinking Dissonance

This article was published in July on the Vancouver Observer website. In it, I explore the idea as dissonance as valuable in its own right (not all dissonances have to be resolved) through the medium of the rich and exotic world of Balkan music. Below, I’ve included a short excerpt, all the images, and a link to the complete article.

“In her book, Dancing in the Streets: A History of Collective Joy, author and cultural historian Barbara Ehrenreich contrasts the “epidemic of melancholia” that pervades much of the modern world with the “phenomenon of communal, shared ecstatic ritual” that existed in our own culture even until the 17th century.

“Western tonal music is based on the dichotomy of dissonance and consonance where unstable dissonances seek their resolutions to consonant sonorities”, states Kalin Kirilov, the camp’s expert on Bulgarian harmony. “If you compare music to energy”, he continues, “the dissonances carry a more powerful charge in comparison to the consonances.”

Read the full article on the VO site. It’s been renamed The Balkan Music and Dance Workshops: re-thinking dissonance originally published 29 July, 2011.

Pedal power and the builders of musical instruments in Vancouver

Last December, I developed an interest in Vancouver’s hidden music makers—the builders of musical instruments. I wrote a double-barrelled story about natural fibre horn maker, David Gowman, and harpsichord maker, Craig Tomlinson.  Now, let me tell you about the Furnaphone, and why “anything’s a potential instrument.”

Drummer Dan keeps his carbon footprint small getting to his next gig.

Drummer Dan keeps his carbon footprint small getting to his next gig.

With Bike to Work Week, Velopoloosa, and the In the House Festival all converging this weekend, the stage is set to highlight another fascinating musical instrument maker, Daniel Lunn.

Daniel is making a name for himself as a drummer (and guitarist) around town, but for someone who plays an instrument that is legendary for its lack of portability, it’s his mode of transportation that caught my attention—by bicycle.

» Read more..

Get your Brit on – at VanDusen Gardens

I was initially drawn to VanDusen Gardens this rainy Victoria Day week-end through a friend, and fellow musician. He posted a concert on Facebook of the Little Mountain Brass Band‘s forthcoming performance at Van Dusen Gardens, although the main event was the British Classic Car Show. Hosted by Western Driver, the car shows draws classic auto enthusiasts and gawkers of many stripes from around Vancouver, BC, and several US states to the south.

For $14, I got to hear a little bit of sweet band music and see more Morgans, Triumphs, Minis, Metropolitains, Bentleys, Rovers, and MGs as well as more brollys than I may ever need to see again. In fact, with the re-appearance of the rains, it gave me an added sense of Britishness to stiff-upper-lip it with the tweed set, hobnobbing with those who’d prefer to debate shades of hunter green than, say, head to the beach.

More pictures on Vancouver Observer site.

Music Review: Ederlezi strikes gypsy heart in Strathcona

I was at a Balkan music festival and was compelled to write a review (compelled and too stoked to sleep). Below is an excerpt from the review posted on the Vancouver Observer site.

Orkestar Slivovica

Orkestar Slivovica at the Russian Hall

Tonight, I attended part one of the two-part concert week-end known as Ederlezi – Balkan Brass Festival (6-7 May at the Russian Hall). Billed as a “Roma Spring holiday”, it features no fewer than three Balkan-style brass bands: Orkestar Zirkonium from Seattle, Brass Menazeri from San Francisco, and our own Orkestar Slivovica. There were also two lovely belly dance troupes, (and assorted vendors of Balkan eats and drinks), but the stars of the show are the brass bands.

The evening began with Orkestar Slivovica, which I thought was playing a little more up tempo than the last time I heard them at the Ukrainian Hall. Perhaps, they were intimidated by the quicker and sharper performances of their American counterparts. Gradually, they eased into their signature pelvic back beat and things began to heat up. That’s the thing about this music: if you’re not willing to let go with the hips, you’re not going to enjoy it. But they let go, and so did we—especially as the Šljivovica (Balkan plum brandy) started flowing.

Xwayxway (Not Stanley Park)

Solstice-sunset-on-Sunset-Beach,-Stanley-ParkSolstice-sunset-on-Sunset-Beach,-Stanley-ParkI wrote this article for the Vancouver Observer in response to the proposal to use the First Nations’ name, Xwayxway, in place of Stanley Park. My article is mostly a romp through history and the many cultural shifts and name changes these shifts have caused.

Anyway, here she goes…

Xwayxway (Not Stanley Park)

Hagia Sophia, Istanbul

It’s been a bad couple of weeks for the old British Empire in Canada. Even the Queen’s visit seemed to be generating undue negative reaction, culminating with accusations that Michaelle Jean’s husband, Jean-Daniel Lafond, had suggested the Queen find accommodation in a local hotel (rather than Rideau Hall) whilst visiting Ottawa. Would Motel 6 do? And famously here, there was the suggestion of doing away with Lord Stanley’s eponymously named park in favour of the traditional Xwayxway. What’s next? No more tea at the Empress?

A most interesting case for name changing is Istanbul. That ancient city founded as Byzantium by the Greeks during their heyday in the 600’s BC, it took the name Constantinople when Emperor Constantine moved the capital of the Roman Empire there in 330 AD. It remained the centre of the Eastern Roman Empire (Byzantine Empire) until the Ottoman Turks sacked it in 1453, and among other renovations (such as adding minarets to the Hagia Sophia), the name Constantinople got the works and the city was renamed Istanbul. Its stunning Hagia Sophia was first a Christian Church, then an Islamic Mosque, now it’s a secular UNESCO world heritage site.

Journey of Man

Geneticist Spencer Wells has been analyzing human DNA from people in all regions of the world and has traced a journey of man that starts in Africa and in one unbroken lineage leads us around the world in less than 2,000 generations. All the human diversity we see today descends from a single man who lived in Africa around 60,000 years ago.

A very recent discovery, by Western Washington University linguistics professor Edward Vajdof, reveals a linguistic link between the Old World and the New. Vajdof has discovered an ancient language connection between the Ket people of Western Siberia and the language family of Na-Dene, (which includes Tlingit, Gwich’in, Dena’ina, Koyukon, Navajo, Carrier, Hupa, Apache and about 45 other languages). This discovery gives Wells’ DNA studies new meaning. We are not just connected genetically, but also culturally.

As I write this, a First Nations’ delegation is headed to Moscow to meet their 10,000 year old linguistic cousins. The journey continues.

Bradford

On 30 June, I was fortunate enough to be at the official opening ceremonies for Klahowya Village in Stanley Park. The village, located near Malkin Bowl, features an interpretation centre, a re-skinned Stanley Park choo-choo called the Spirit Catcher train, and a chance for local First Nations peoples to put their face forward in the city. We were treated to native singing, dancing, feasting, and long, long speeches of thanks and gratitude.

Strolling around the “village”, I chatted with some First Nations’ folks selling handmade crafts. We chatted affably for a while until a reference was made to the Union Jack as a “Butcher Apron” and some disparaging comments were made about the Queen. My thoughts, “that was uncalled for”. So, while it’s intellectual suicide to trash other cultures, the old predominant culture of Canada, the English, seems to be fair game.

I have only to go back two generations to find myself in the moors of Lancashire and Yorkshire, specifically in Bradford, England. I’ve never visited Bradford, but from what I’ve gathered, my forebears were wise to get out. It’s a dirty bleak industrial town, so I have great thanks that I live in Vancouver and not Bradford. Incidentally, since my grandfather’s childhood there, it now sports a surprisingly large number of mosques—evidence of other journeys. In any case, whatever can be done with Bradford, it will never have anything as wondrous as my Stanley Park. Whatever we call it, Stanley Park is our jewel to the world. It is a unique crossroad for many, many human journeys.