Thu Huynh, Training Manager, Webtech Wireless

Jason introduced a new way of doing our installation guides, many examples of which I continue to use in the way we do things today.

—Thu Huynh, Training Manager, Webtech Wireless

Nu:BC Collective unmasks madness fit for a king

The following is a review written for publication in The Vancouver Observer.

Masque-19-VO

 

“I’M NERVOUS!!!!! If you want to know what is the matter with me I AM NERVOUS!!!”, quoted tenor Will George on his Facebook profile just hours before his title role performance in Eight Songs for a Mad King. Will was justifiably nervous: Eight Songs, based on the real-life madness of King George III, is a tour-de-force treatise of modern vocal techniques­ spanning a mighty range of over four octaves.

It’s not just for the madness I’d come. (Sir) Peter Maxwell Davies’s Eight Songs ranks, along with Schönberg’s Pierrot Lunaire and Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring,among the top twentieth-century works of contemporary concert music.

“Who has stolen my key?”

Sadly for UBC-based hosting ensemble Nu:BC Collective (flutist, Paolo Bortolussi; cellist, Eric Wilson; and pianist, Corey Hamm), the first part of the programme was arguably more maddening than the featured work. Like falling dominos, each of the electronic pieces fizzled making nervous geeks out of respectable UBC composers Bob Pritchard and Keith Hamel. While they strained over their laptops, the audience stared expectantly forward at idled musicians who for their part stood helplessly clutching perfectly functioning acoustic instruments. Finally, pianist Corey Hamm rescued the moment with a little Bach-Gounod arpeggiation and the audience filed out for an extra intermission.

“Blue-yellow-green is the world like a chained man’s bruise.”

On our return, the stage was set for the entrance of the king even though Diane Park’s inventive set design, a triumph of economy, looked as if she’d done it on a budget of no more than $75. I have no idea the actual cost but after the performance, Diane said how much she’d enjoyed the challenge of designing Eight Songs  because of how it sits in the nearly uncharted waters between chamber music (“No sets required if you please”) and music theatre (“My dad’s got a barn—let’s put on a show!”).

8Songs-cages

 

The trick in all this is making musicians—who in a strict sense can’t act—be part of the action. To accomplish this, Diane enclosed each of the four front musicians in bird cages and dressed up their formal concert attire with brightly coloured neck scarves and feathers making them look vaguely like late eighteenth century birdmen. There, they could go about their music-making business while doubling for theatrical purposes as sets.

The remainder of Diane’s budget was reserved for Will’s regal purple robe (with genuine thrift store ermine) and of course that extra violin that would later become pivotal to the action. At key junctures in the performance, Will disrobed revealing a little more of the history of the period—most effective was his recoiling horror on discovering the lining of his robe was sewn in with an anti-royalist American flag.

8Songs-costume-fitting

“Sometimes he howled like a dog.”

Singers, unlike musicians, are expected to be able to act and sing and all the rest. For this performance, singer Will George was at his best. After the performance, Will described his preparation for the role: “When I started preparing the piece, I wasn’t sure how I was going to produce all the sounds and extended techniques required. As I started listening to modern recordings and watching YouTube videos, I noticed that almost none of the performers were attempting these techniques, much less the pitches. This took a little pressure off, but I did want to be as faithful to the score as possible.”

Masque 16

During the performance, Will took some opportunity to interact with the audience and particularly with the musicians, but otherwise his actions all seemed to precipitate from his inner mental anguish. Perhaps the blocking was a little jerky but I hardly noticed for the fact that Maxwell Davies’s music is so endlessly interesting. From the opening chords, which disassembled from rhythmic unison into chaos to Corey Hamm’s rapid transitions from harpsichord to piano to play a few baroque flourishes here followed an instant later—and several decades musicological speaking—with corresponding flourishes in Mozartian classical style there. Even when referencing earlier composers, his music never sounded referential. Indeed, it provided us with the context needed to appreciate the unfolding drama.

“Poor fellow, he went mad.”

There’s a long tradition of on-stage musical instrument destruction but they’ve occurred mostly in rock and jazz circles, not so much on the classical concert stage. In fact, Eight Songs may be the only such work. Most audience members last Thursday would likely have known of this scene, so as Will George snatched Mark Ferris’s violin and then smashed it to pieces on the stage right there in front of us, there was an air of quiet that seemed downright pornographic. This sort of behaviour is to chamber music what CGI is to the movies—both for titillation and expense.

Sadly, there was only one performance of Eight Songs but, hey, if you’ve got an old violin you’d like to sacrifice, Nu:BC and company might be willing to mount it again.

Smash-violin

Masque

Nu:BC Collective’s performance of Eight Songs for a Mad King is part of a series of new music concert continuing throughout April. I can’t say for sure if any violins will meet their end, but the line up is otherwise very promising.

Upcoming in the Masque series:

  • Apr 17 & 19 – Turning Point Ensemble – featuring works by Benjamin Britten, jazz artist Tony Wilson, Bradshaw Pack, and arrangements of medieval and renaissance music by Peter Maxwell Davies and Harrison Birtwistle.
  • Apr 24 & 25 – musica intima – featuring music befitting a Venetian Carnival – masks, theatrics, and salon-style seating, and vocal works by Adriano Banchieri, Orazio Vecchi, Giovani Gabrieli and Claudio Monteverdi.

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

10 top stories – tooting my own horn

Award-Winning

Over the last five years, I’ve written so many stories, blogs, and articles that it’s easy to lose track of what they are and what made them work.

To come up with a short list, I’ve chosen ten top stories and assigned “award categories”:

Best headline – This concert review might have gone unnoticed had I not tied one of the pieces performed with issues critical to The Vancouver Observer’s news coverage. The result: Erato Music got much more attention from readers who might not otherwise have taken an interest in chamber music.

“Oilblood” re-imagines Harper with Baroque vengeance

Best use of images (supplied) – I worked with Bicycle Opera and their photographer to find really compelling photos to help tell this interesting and quirky story. In the end, I also pirated several photos from their Facebook page

Bicycle Opera wheels into rural Ontario

Best use of images (I took) – This was a really interesting article to write. It was part music story, research project, and travel story and perhaps owing to the fact that I was a participant to these workshops in California, my photography skills came through.

The Balkan Music and Dance Workshops: re-thinking dissonance

Best niche story – There’s no niche for this story really, because it’s so weird an quirky. Still, there’s a real person who made his own drum kit that could be transported by bicycle.

Musical instrument makers on bikes

Best interview –  Also, on the theme of musical instrument makers, this story describes in great detail two Vancouver-based musical instrument makers. I visited their workshops and photographed them at work.

Discovering Vancouver’s hidden music makers

Most detailed historical travel story – I like this story because it shows one of the most saturated travel destinations, Paris, from the perspective of a lone cyclist not afraid to go anywhere to dig up some good history.

Unforgettable bicycle trips around Paris: Notre Dame, Château de Vincennes, Arc de Triomphe

From my three-and-a-half years at Webtech Wireless, a few outstanding stories emerged:

Best corporate technology story –  I attended a trucking trade show in Orlando and attended a talk about data – yawn. But wait, then I wove it into a colourful story drawing a thread of continuing from Sumo wrestlers, Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, and Québec performance artist, Jean Francois–all who had something to say about perspective.

Drawing Intelligence from Data

Best corporate human story – I interviewed Webtech Wireless firmware engineer, Alireza Nematollahi, and wrote about his success as a national kayak champion and drew a connection to his testing work at Webtech. When I criticize formulaic blog writing, I see this as an example of what corporate blogs could be. 

Testing the Limits

Best corporate hay-making story – Here, I found a connection between the temperature monitors Webtech Wireless makes for food transportation and world hunger. The statistics for food wastage in transport are huge, so it wasn’t an unreasonable stretch–certainly one I was happy to make.

Cargo Temperature Monitoring Helps Reduce Hunger

Best corporate culture/technology tie-in story – I decided to write our weekly blog as a travel story and sing the praises of Ottawa’s winter celebrations (and its fabled Rideau Canal skating rink), while slipping in the expected corporate blog about how the City of Ottawa uses Webtech Wireless technology to ensures its roads are kept ice free.

Winter Fleets—Let’s Celebrate!

 

Janet Steinberg, Associate Principal Cellist, Vancouver Symphony Orchestra

 

Thank you so much for the wonderful article. I thought it was beautifully written and I absolutely loved it!   It was so nice chatting with you last week. Thanks also for making the interview such a pleasant experience.
I am looking forward to reading more of your articles in future and hope to see you at a concert sometime next season.

—Sincerely, Janet Steinberg,
Associate Principal Cellist, Vancouver Symphony Orchestra

Stefan Hintersteininger, composer/musician

Excellent review of Ethos Collective’s concert last week by the always-insightful Jason Hall in The Vancouver Observer.

—Stefan Hintersteininger, Canadian Music Centre

Jenny Uechi, Managing Editor at The Vancouver Observer

Jason is an incredibly thoughtful and detail-oriented writer and communicator. I’ve worked with him for a few years and have found that not only is his work impressive but he’s a great person to have on a team. His strengths are not just in writing but in public speaking as well. At a recent editorial meeting, he gave a really inspiring speech about writing and putting soul into a story. It was very powerful and moving.

—Jenny Uechi, Managing Editor at The Vancouver Observer

Stefan Hintersteininger, cellist/composer

Spot-on analysis of my piece (last Friday’s Colin MacDonald Pocket Orchestra concert) in this review!

—Stefan Hintersteininger, composer

Nothing Exceeds Like Excess

HotelScribe

Somewhere in the back of my head, Ernest Hemingway cautions me to avoid excess. I’m usually attentive to the perils of excessive adjectives, and in fact, that’s mostly what gets cut in the first edit. I admire his terse style, although to write like Hemingway is to risk becoming a parody of brevity.

Last week, I wrote one of the longest sentences ever. In a story I wrote for Webtech Wireless, I needed to pull together several disparate ideas in as few words as possible. To reinforce the sentence, I put the punch at the end, echoing the point made in the title.

Last week at the 2013 Management Conference and Exhibition, Bill Graves’ “State of the Industry” keynote address quoted from Bob Dylan’s classic song, “The Times They Are a Changin’”, and this year’s Critical Issues in the Trucking Industry – 2013 report by The American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI) gives further fuel to idea that the trucking industry is in the midst of profound changes.

Read 2013 ATA Critical Issues and the Road Ahead

Another way I curb my writing is to search out the verb that most efficiently coins the action. As a rule, the verbs “to be” and “to have” describe action least effectively. Usually, replacing them with more descriptive verbs moves the story along nicely. In the sentence quoted above, I use “to be” like brakes on a train. “To be” only appears at the end to stop the forward movement of the sentence.

And then this week, I reviewed a concert for the Vancouver Observer and wrote an article with a series of long sentences. Here there was another reason for long sentences: Sometimes they give a sense of breathlessness to writing. Especially, when pierced with a few short sentences that once again stop the action dead in its tracks.

Pianist Anna Levy took a few moments to describe how the relative thaw in artistic expression in the Soviet Block countries during the 60s allowed for Fantasia’s creation. What’s all the fuss? Well. It has jazz in it.

Read Colin MacDonald’s Orchestra: A Pocket Full of Fun
PDF

2013 ATA Critical Issues and the Road Ahead

TheRoadAhead

Last week at the 2013 Management Conference and Exhibition, Bill Graves’ “State of the Industry” keynote address quoted from Bob Dylan’s classic song, “The Times They Are a Changin’”, and this year’s Critical Issues in the Trucking Industry – 2013 report by The American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI) gives further fuel to idea that the trucking industry is in the midst of profound changes.

The Report’s opening salvo describes “no shortage of changes and challenges” and then goes on to innumerate the new federal House of Service rules that went into effect July 1, 2013, unknown safety impacts stemming from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s (FMCSA) CSA Initiative, pending changes to regulations around electronic logging devices (ELD), and even driver shortages resulting from a revitalizing economy and more stringent CSA regulations.

How Its Top-Ten Issues are Calculated

To create the report, respondents from the industry are surveyed and asked to give values to the issues affecting the industry based on the Industry Concern Index (ICI). From that, the top-ten list is developed with particular attention paid to the top-three spots.

2012-ATRI-Survey-Stats

Hours of Service

This year, Hours of Service achieved top billing for the first time in three years. Its promotion is due largely to the new US Federal HOS rules surrounding 30-minute mandatory breaks and the 34-hour restart rule.

  • 30-Minute Mandatory Break – Drivers of a CMV operating in the US cannot drive if more than eight hours have passed since the driver’s last off-duty or sleeper break of 30 minutes or more.  When a driver reaches the eighth hour into the work shift, before continuing the driver must take a 30-minute break.
  • Restart Rules – A 34-hour restart is a “valid” restart only if the driver ensures that the period includes two back-to-back nighttime rest periods from 1:00 a.m. to 5:00 a.m. The restart rules restrict how often a restart can be used. If a driver restarts more often than what’s allowed by US rules, the driver must indicate on the log which restart will be the one that’s being used as the valid restart.

CSA

Compliance, Safety, Accountability (CSA) was eclipsed by HOS this year, but it still held the number two spot. According to ATRI, “Two of the most significant areas of concern surrounding CSA are the lack of crash accountability in CSA scoring and the inability of CSA scores to accurately predict carrier safety performance”.

Driver Shortage

While the concern over driver shortages has dropped since its heyday back in 2006, it still rocks the top-three concerns for trucking. Even with the economy growing again and increased CSA regulations, opinions vary regarding the true source of driver shortages. Most agree that it’s a multi-faceted issue. According to ATA, estimates of the driver shortage run between 20,000 and 25,000 drivers.

Get the full report

At Webtech Wireless, we anticipate changes to HOS rules and provide regular software and hardware updates well in advance of change deadlines to ensure our customers never experience downtime and business interruption. In addition to readying all of our customers for the new HOS rules last July, in the previous December, we released an update of our In-Cab solution to offer HOS Oil Well Waiting capability for fleets in the Oil and Gas sector. Our new Webtech Driver Center is our latest solution to provide a single software platform for Hours of Service.

If you’d like a full copy of the Report, contact ATRI and complete their request form.