Glissando

I’m delighted to be part of Ensemble Polaris, a motley crew of musicians whose diverse creative histories and broad array of musical interests make for some very entertaining and off-the-beaten-track collaboration. Since 2013 we’ve been playing live soundtracks for various films, starting with short films by Marcel Duchamps, Georges Méliès and Man Ray. Our most recent outing had us creating music for our first full-length movie, the historic documentary The Epic of Everest, which was presented by the Toronto Silent Film Festival. Ben Grossman was back with us for that project, playing vibraphone, and what a wonderfully surreal that whole evening was.

But since 2015 we’ve also been collaborating with faculty and students from Ryerson University’s Image Arts department, and we’ll soon have a DVD out which features work born of that activity. Here’s a sneak preview of the disc – Glissando, by Gerda Cammaer, with music by yours truly. It’s a lovely pocket film of a New Zealand fenicular railway ride, in both directions simultaneously. When I first saw it I had no knowledge of Gerda’s goal of creating a cinematic ‘lento pensivo’ – the music simply arrived in my head because of the way the film felt to me. Take a little look/listen:  https://vimeo.com/120089868

‘Breathe’ Revisited

About three years ago, I wrote here about a new piece called Breathe, written by Canadian composer James Rolfe for the new music presenter Soundstreams, and performed for them in 2011 by the Norwegian Trio Medieval and the Toronto Consort. The period of preparation and performance for that concert was a very bright few days, evocative, inspiring, and challenging. You can read the previous post and hear a concert version of the piece here: http://wp.me/s2XU04-breathe

In the world of new music, the premiere of a new work often turns out to be the only performance the piece receives, or one of only a very few. This is particularly true if the piece is written for an unusual grouping of performers: works for string quartets, for example, stand a much better chance for repeat performance than pieces for a non-standard instrumentation. Breathe, scored for three female voices, recorders, vielle/violin, lute, chamber organ and percussion, is certainly in that latter category. It was a beautiful piece, but its orchestration was pretty specific to its commissioner’s plans and didn’t fit any standard instrumentation. So last year, it was excellent to hear that James had received support from the Canada Council for the Arts to make a recording of Breathe and two other works. Great news! A rare chance to revisit the music, and an opportunity to make it accessible to a lot more people!

And last weekend, after a few very focused days of rehearsal, a crew of us headed down to Toronto’s Revolution Recording studios to commit Breathe to digital format. Also on the recording slate was Europa, a chamber cantata for soprano, baritone, Baroque flute, two violins, bass viol, theorbo and chamber organ, and originally written for Toronto Masque Theatre. With each piece being pretty complex and demanding, and about twenty minutes long, and with only three hours of recording time allotted to each, it was an intense day – but judging by the looks on the faces below, I think you can tell we had some fun! Energy very well spent.

Thanks to James for the music, to David F., David J. and Dennis for their efficiency and great ears, to Revolution for the beautiful space and friendly assistants, and to my fellow musicians for their talent, focus and teamwork. It was a real pleasure.

The CD is projected for release in the spring of 2017 on the Centrediscs label.

the-rolfe-europa-gang

The Europa crew, Revolution Recording, September 17/16. From left to right: James Rolfe, Aisslinn Nosky, Patricia Ahern, Felix Deak, Alexander Dobson, Suzie LeBlanc, David Jaeger, Paul Jenkins, David Fallis, Lucas Harris, Alison Melville and Dennis Patterson. Thanks to Dennis for the photo!

Old (music)/New (photography)

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the relevance of old music, Baroque music in particular. If it’s music that’s truly relevant in modern life, then what it expresses will resonate with other forms of artistic expression from today’s world. So I’ve begun exploring the combining of Baroque music with non-Baroque imagery, and here’s the first offering. My partner Colin Savage is a photographer and musician, and for many years now he’s been taking shots of abandoned, demolition-slated, decommissioned and otherwise ‘doomed’ buildings, using a Twin Lens Reflex camera (i.e., using a historical instrument to take photographs of old places…) as well as shooting in digital format. He put together a slideshow to a couple of tracks from a CD of mine. See how it strikes you. There’s more info on the music and the photos below.

Music: James Paisible (c.1656-1721), Grave/Adagio & Presto from Sonata VI for alto recorder & b.c. Yours truly, alto recorder; Lucas Harris, archlute; Joëlle Morton, bass viol. From the CD The Business of Angels (Pipistrelle Music, PIP 1110, 2010).

Photographs by Colin Savage. Locations: Muskoka Sanitorium (Gravenhurst, ON); General Electric Davenport Works, CNR Locomotive Shop, Don Valley Brickworks, National Rubber Industries (all in Toronto, ON); Bowmanville High School and Camp 30 (Bowmanville, ON); Houghton Industries, Lever Bros., Tower Automotive, New York Pork, and Kodak Canada (all in Toronto, ON).

 

Daniël Brüggen’s ‘Ricercata’

Many recorder players will recognize Daniël Brüggen’s name either as a member of the celebrated but now-defunct Amsterdam Loeki Stardust Quartet, a teacher at the Royal Conservatory of The Hague, and/or as the nephew of Frans Brüggen. What’s perhaps not so generally well known is that in recent years he’s expanded his artistic horizons to include filmmaking, producing various documentaries as well as shorter classical music videos for the Royal Wind Music, Zefiro, l’Armonia Sonora and various others.

One of his recent works is Ricercata, a quite beautiful documentary on the recorder which is available on DVD (2011, MusicFrame Films). Like the Renaissance musical form for which it’s named, Ricercata explores a particular musical motif from various angles, lightly but attentively touching upon the recorder’s character, history, music, symbolism, construction, reputation and its role in education through visits with people, players, makers and others. If you’re a recorder enthusiast, or you’re looking for a gift for someone else who is, this could be just the thing (link provided below).

ricercata

The film opens with Daniël Brüggen’s visit to recorder maker Bob Marvin in rural Québec, and then to the Yamaha factory in Japan which turns out 80,000 plastic recorders a year – a thought-provoking juxtaposition between a most individualistic, independent and celebrated maker and a finely-honed producer for the collective, both of the highest standard and greatest devotion to their task. Then on to Seoul and a rehearsal by an exemplary recorder ensemble from South Korea’s highly successful school music programs; then to the Dordrecht Museum, where we meet the oldest extant recorder known to us (dating from the late 14th/early 15th century); and then to Barcelona where some of the recorder’s symbolism in Renaissance painting is explored with art historian Romá Escalas. Brüggen then spends some time ‘talking recorder’ with his uncle Frans at the latter’s holiday home in Tuscany, a conversation which until the filming had never taken place, even despite a familial and instrumental connection.  Daniël closes the film by playing an Ortiz recercada on a glorious-sounding 16th-century ivory tenor recorder in Kloster Wienhausen.

The film is a personal exploration of the ‘soul’ of the recorder by the man behind the camera, a man who has spent so much of his life with the instrument. It’s fascinating, touching, and thoughtful. Many insightful observations about the recorder are made here: particularly resonant for me were those from Bob Marvin, Mrs. J.S. Lee of Seoul, and (no surprise here) Onkel Frans. Those of us who feel the recorder is really ‘our’ instrument, for better and for worse, will find community, comfort and inspiration here. The chats with Bob and Frans alone make this film worth a viewing; and the cinematography is striking, whether it’s of Bob’s workshop in the woods and his attempt to dismantle a beaver’s dam, the neon-lit bustle of Tokyo’s main streets, or a cabbage white butterfly (that ancient symbol of the soul) in Tuscany’s beautiful afternoon light.

I referred to this film in an earlier post about recorder maker Bob Marvin, and included a Vimeo link to an excerpt from Ricercata. Here it is again, to pique your interest: http://vimeo.com/vicenteparrilla/bob-marvin-interview

Ricercata is 37′ long, is in Dutch (and some English) with English/German/Spanish/Korean/Japanese subtitles, and is playable on North American players. Should you be interested in getting a copy for yourself, go to http://www.orpheusmusic.com.au/lizard-postcards/6934-ricercata.html. If you can’t get one for yourself, ask your local public or university library to order it!

Daniel Brüggen

Daniel Brüggen

And if you want to see Daniël Brüggen do another visit with a few tenor recorders, go here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y704rV2yf9U