a winged imp

We’re in the middle of the Pender Harbour Chamber Music Festival here on the Sunshine Coast. Last night audiences were treated to “String Theory”, an event of Bach, Schubert, Beethoven, and Mozart. The musicians are truly fine — and it always astonishes me that people who gather together from all over — for this year’s festival, they’ve come from Toronto, Ottawa, Vancouver, Victoria, and New York City —  for rehearsals on Monday or Tuesday play so wonderfully together by the first concert on Thursday evening. (That was “New Sensations” and it was sensational.)

Last night, listening to Mozart’s String Quartet No. 6 in E flat major, K614 beautifully played by Lara St. John, Joyce Lai, Yehonatan Berick, Ian Clarke, and Rachel Mercer, I was taken back to Brno. Music does that. It carries in it memory and history, our own and the culture’s. In 2010 we were in Brno for a lively conference at Masaryk University. We had a few days to explore the city and John and I both fell in love with it (and have returned, and will return again, I hope). In front of the Reduta — a theatre where Mozart performed at the age of 11 — there is a sculpture presiding over both the theatre itself and the Zelný trh, or Cabbage Market.


It’s Mozart, of course — half impish boy, half angel. I think of this sculpture every time I hear his music — the playful and the divine, in perfect balance.

On that visit to Brno, our hosts arranged tickets for an evening of chamber opera at the Reduta. We sat in this room —


 — and watched Second Movement’s performance of Bohuslav Martinu’s “The Knife’s Tears” and two short operas performed by the Ensemble Opera Diversa: Lukáš Sommer and Václav Havel’s” Ela, Hela and the Hitchhiking” and Ondrej Kyas and Pavel Drábek’s “The Pumpkin Demon in a Vegetarian Restaurant”. (I can’t seem to get all the diacritics to work here…) It was an exhilarating evening, made even better by the huge table of delicious food and many bottles of beautiful Moravian wines provided for the audience, not to mention the pumpkin confit cooked on stage during the performance of the last opera — can you imagine this? A prep line, the smell of ginger and garlic deliciously filling that glorious red room, and the cast graciously serving the audience after the last notes? As we walked back to our hotel that night, our route punctuated with the soft lights illuminating the Baroque facade of St. Thomas church, I asked John to remind me just why we were leaving Brno the next day. I wanted to stay forever.

And I was transported last night, in a similar way, but driving home down the dark highway, I knew I wasn’t leaving.


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.