Friday, quotidian

Because you were up in the night, reading obsessively about the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918, imagining your own family in Drumheller, the laying out of one body after another, your grandmother somehow going on afterwards, because you were reading and trying to place them on maps (where is Ploeg Street? Is the area where you stayed last April, in view of the Dinosaur Hotel, roughly where they lived above the river?), because you were groggy when you woke but delighted to find a review by your son online, the son who has always loved history, and that made you remember the summers you spent camping, in search of places like Batnuni Crossing where traces of the grease trails could still be seen, and where you wandered Barkerville, each moment somehow shimmering, so that you made notes and wrote “Days of Gold and Fireweed” as soon as you got home (published in Red Laredo Boots),

at barkerville2
the historian and his brother (the mathematician) on old cart, at Barkerville, 1992

anyway, because you were groggy and lying quietly in bed, reading the Ormsby Review online and waiting for your coffee, you tried to ignore the cat’s rumbling stomach against your leg, no, you shouldn’t have ignored it because suddenly he rose and (there is no nice way to say this) threw up his entire breakfast and what suspiciously looked like a mouse corpse partly digested onto the homemade log-cabin quilt on the foot of the bed and then on the duvet (luckily not a down one this time of year), its lovely cover, and down onto the carpet. So instead of drinking your coffee, which was in fact on its way up, carried by your thoughtful husband, you leapt from the bed, the two of you found old towels and a bucket of warm water, you stripped the bed of every cover, and while you rinsed various linens, your husband scrubbed the carpet. The cat washed his paws nearby without a second look. The morning which you had hoped to spend writing was instead spent doing load after load of bedding, rinsing everything twice because, well, cat’s breakfast (and mouse corpse), and hanging it outside on the line where it will no doubt come in dusty with the Douglas fir pollen that is everywhere right now (between laundry loads you vacuumed the kitchen where a golden haze of pollen was on the floor and other surfaces because yesterday you had doors and windows open to the sunlight), and only now you are sitting at your desk, having taken a little time to read Alex Ross’s beautiful piece about Brahms and grief, so lovely that you immediately put on one of your favourite singers, Kathleen Ferrier, singing the Brahms Alto Rhapsody (preceeded on the cd by the ravishing “Two Songs for Contralto with Viola Obbligato, Op. 91”), and maybe it is time to get on with the day.

Once in a blue moon

Once in a blue moon (last night’s) you hear a piece of music that stops you completely in your tracks — in this case, preparing some food for a dinner party this evening — and you stand, helpless, listening to something so beautiful and somehow life-enhancing that you can only keep pressing  Repeat (until your husband sighs loudly). Yesterday I received a package of cds in the mail, several discs I knew but didn’t have in my own collection. One of them is Kathleen Ferrier singing the Brahms Alto Rhapsody, Op. 53. I’ve heard several recordings of this over the years — Janet Baker’s, which is gorgeous; and I’m almost certain I’ve heard Anne Sophie von Otter’s version too, also heart-stoppingly lovely. And Christa Ludwig.  But Ferrier’s, with the London Philharmonic Orchestra and Male Choir, conducted by Clemens Krauss, in December 1947, is music I could hear daily and never tire of.  The tonal quality and warmth of her voice anticipate Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, I think. Which makes me wonder if LHL ever sang the Alto Rhapsody?

The English translation of the first verse, from the German of Goethe,  is this:

But who is that apart?
His path disappears in the bushes;
behind him the branches spring together;
the grass stands up again;
the wasteland engulfs him.

One in a blue moon, but the sensation will last forever.

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.