late, so late

So late in the season. I woke early and am sitting at my desk, wondering how the months of summer could have passed, or gathered, so quickly. I know, I say this every year; but every year it’s true all over again.

Our Pender Harbour Chamber Music Festival has come and gone. All year we work on details large and small — reading with pleasure Artistic Director Alexander Tselyakov’s suggested repertoire for the 6 concerts over 4 days, arranging programme notes (thank you, Evan Hesketh!), finding places for the musicians to sleep and be fed (we have wonderful host families), writing and proof-reading the brochure copy and then the programme copy, putting into place the wheels (or notes?) that will carry the Festival smoothly from one concert to the next. On Thursday night we heard everything come together and we knew it would all work out, even if there might be glitches ahead. I thought I knew Vivaldi but oh, the Violin Concerto in D Major (“Il Grosso Mogul”), played so gloriously by Mark Fewer, David Gillham, Joyce Lai, Ian Clarke, Simon Fryer, and Alexander Tselyakov, was absolutely new to me. Its little phrases of Roma song, its mysterious allegiances to India, its amazing cadenzas which Mark Fewer gave full attention and ability to — wonderful. And listening to COULOIR (Ariel Barnes, cello, and Heidi Krutzen, harp) play Jocelyn Morlock’s  Three Meditations on Light for violoncello and harp on Saturday night was a gift. I thought of Alice Oswald’s “Tithonus: 46 Minutes in the Life of the Dawn” with its expressions of day coming to life, light returning, the urgency of its argument with the night. Our Rising Tide initiative was very successful this year, with beautiful playing by Hanna Crudele, Rae Gallimore, and Jenny Dou. So a weekend of music, a weekend of festive activity (when else do I drink glasses of pink champagne in the afternoon?), and lots of work. After the last concert on Sunday, after the ticket tent was taken down, the chairs put away, the kitchen tidied by Ann Munro (who keeps everyone fed and watered), after some of the musicians had left to race to the ferry and others returned to their host families for a night of rest, we went to have dinner with our friends Robin and Jillian Ridington on their Nordic Tug, the SwanStar. Drank Prosecco with lovely cheeses and other nibbles, followed by steak grilled on the ingenious barbecue bolted to the side of the boat, toasting the meal with red wine, and talking, talking, talking, while the boat drifted in slow circles on its anchor, so that we were seeing the old net sheds on the edge of Whiskey Slough, then the big houses on the cliffs above Gerrans Bay, the remnants of old boats in the mud, posh sailboats and gillnetters pulling on their lines. Robin and Jillian are anthropologists as well as chamber music aficionados and I knew their books before I knew them. When You Sing It Now, Just Like New: First Nations Poetics, Voices and Representations. And most recently Where Happiness Dwells: A History of the Dane-Zaa First Nations. We talked of Dane-Zaa dreamers and shamen, grandchildren and food, books we’d read and were reading, and John and I left with the sense that our conversations with Robin and Jillian could go on forever.

In a few days, Forrest, Manon, and Arthur come for two weeks! Angie will join us for part of that. And while they are all here, we anticipate a phone call from Edmonton to say that another baby has joined our family, a brother or sister for Kelly.

Yesterday, as I stood on the deck and wondered how it had got so late, a cedar waxwing came to the mountain ash to feast on berries. It was so silky and slightly clumsy and when it turned to pluck from a low-hanging clump, I could see the yellow wash of its belly.


I know it’s not quite the end of summer, even if it feels that way. But fall is in the air. The winey smell of berries drying on their branches, rustle of leaves under foot, the earlier sunsets, the later dawns (I was up at 5 and it was still dark, though even three weeks ago, I could hear birdsong). Soon we’ll be feasting with some of our children, they’ll be heading lakeward every afternoon to plunge into the waters they’ve known since infancy, I’ll be listening for the phone call to tell me of another grandbaby, and then when fall actually comes, John and I will head off on a brief road trip so I can gather sensory detail for the novella I reluctantly put on hold at the beginning of the summer.


We are half-way through the Pender Harbour Chamber Music Festival here on the Sunshine Coast. Though the days are grey and damp, the mood of those of us who help to organize the Festival is exuberant. It’s going so well. The musicians are stellar, the audiences (the concerts are sold-out) enthusiastic, the big baskets of flowers we gather and arrange each year are glorious, and the thought of three more concerts (this afternoon, this evening, and tomorrow afternoon) makes me pinch myself to make sure I’m not dreaming.

John and I are hosting the composer Kelly-Marie Murphy and her husband Greg Van Bavel. Kelly was commissioned by the Festival to compose a piano quintet in celebration of our 10th anniversary. The work, In a World of Motion and Distance, received its world premiere on Thursday evening, performed by the Lafayette String Quartet and pianist (and Festival Artistic Director) Alexander Tselyakov. It’s a stunning piece. (Look for the recording, released at the Festival on Thursday evening, along with the Shostakovich Piano Quintet in G Minor, Op.57, which will close the Festival on Sunday afternoon.)

It’s been really interesting to talk with Kelly about composing (and everything else under the sun), to realize the afinities with my own creative process — the gathering of material, allowing it to settle, recognizing the spark that ignites the imagination. She has a fine and graceful mind and it’s such a pleasure to have her here. John and I are already wondering if we can be in Ottawa in November for the premiere of her Blue on Blue: Unthinkable Distance,Unspeakable Sorrow, a work commissioned by the Ottawa Symphony’s music director, David Currie, to celebrate the orchestra’s 50th anniversary season. (For more information about this project, visit Kelly’s website:

This is how summer passes — beautiful music under August skies, the friendships begun on terraces by the ocean, and the knowledge that both the music and the conversations will continue.

pre-festival dinner

After the Festival

The last concert of the Pender Harbour Chamber Music Festival was this afternoon. In way, it’s something of a secret, known to a devoted group of music lovers. Our lovely small venue, the Music School in Madeira Park, holds slightly more than a hundred seats, though with the new roof over our patio area, we can put out a few more chairs for the overflow crowd that has come the norm for this annual event. I’m on the organizing committee, along with Barbara Storer, Margi Skelley, Kathy Harrison, Marg Penney, Ann Munro, Janet Falk, Elaine Park, and Lee Ross. Those of us with husbands volunteer them and many community members volunteer too. They host musicians, tend bar, arrange flowers, organize the venue, manage parking, sell tickets, write programme notes and brochure copy, and every job you can think of.

This year’s Festival was the 8th. When we began in 2005, we had 5 musicians come for three days of concerts, though in truth they arrived earlier in order to rehearse together. This year there were four days of concerts, several parties, a lively and eager audience, and the most beautiful performance of Chopin’s Piano Concerto No. 2 in F minor, Op. 21 that you could imagine.

And imagine, if you can, a pretty room overlooking a harbour bright with boats, some of them pleasure craft and some part of the harbour’s fishing fleet. Huge baskets of flowers — hydrangeas, dahlias, heads of dill flowers, bullrushes, tansy, Queen Anne’s lace, sword ferns, salal, huckleberry, daisies, and gladioli. People everywhere, glad to be among the audience, holding glasses of sparkling wine. The sound of instruments being tuned in the room upstairs. Last minute pleas for tickets.

And imagine the musicians themselves: our Artistic Director, pianist Alexander Tselyakov, violist Guylaine Lemaire and her cellist-husband Julian Armour, violinists Dale Barltrop and Kai Gleusteen, Guy Few and his trumpet, pianist Catherine Ordronneau, double bassist Dylan Palmer, James Campbell and his clarinet, Salvador Ferreras performing magic on percussion instruments for one enchanted evening, and Alec Tebbutt narrating Anthony Plog’s Animal Ditties.

There were so many memorable moments. The way the ensemble made Mozart’s familiar Clarinet Quintet in A Major, K. 581 sound utterly new. The unexpected delight of Alexander Glazunov’s Album Leaf  (for trumpet and piano). The unbearable beauty of the Trio for Clarinet, Cello and Piano, Op. 114 by Brahms.

We’re already planning for next year. As audience members left, those who’d been to our Festival in the past said that this one was the best yet. But some said that last year. And the year before. So it goes without saying that the 2013 festival will be worth taking in. But keep an eye on the website for the programme and ticket information in early June. Seats sell out quickly and after this year, I predict that the Pender Harbour Chamber Music Festival won’t be such a secret any longer.

Here’s a selection of photographs, courtesy of John Farrer.