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.