A THOUSAND WORDS - Alex Waterhouse-Hayward's blog on pictures, plants, politics and whatever else is on his mind.


Monday, March 12, 2007

Marc Destrubé and the Axelrod Quartet will be playing Beethoven's Op 132 (5 movements): March 15, 2007, 8:pm, Scotiabank Dance Centre, 677 Davie Street with Peter Hannan, Kenton Lowen and Pissed Of Wild (in no particular order).

“Peugeot 505s are solid cars. They are used as taxis in Buenos Aires and all over Africa.”
Marc Destrubé

I always notice people who drive Peugeots or any other French cars. They are few. Most of these drivers are stubborn individuals. One of them to me looks like Antonio Vivaldi or Nicolo Paganini. I think I make this connection because I know he is Vancouver violinist Marc Destrubé.

Goethe likened listening to a string quartet to "eavesdropping on a conversation among four intelligent people." Perhaps that's why listening to one can seem like a such an intimidating experience, unlike, say, listening to an orchestra. Vancouver musician Marc Destrubé, first violinist of the Smithsonian's Axelrod Quartet, one of the world's best, thinks the experience should be anything but intimidating. "Our repertoire is immensely warm and inviting," Destrubé says. "Yes, I'm in the middle of it. But you have the chance to listen in on a private conversation among four individuals. Whereas a concert by the Pacific Baroque Orchestra, which Destrubé founded and has directed since 1991, is like going to a pop concert, the music being thrown at you. You are not looking into someone else's activity. The activity is there to please you."

I disagree with Destrubé's pop concert comparison. His violin playing adds that extra brilliance to the PBO concerts. But he may be right when he tells me, "Baroque music is a door into the appreciation of the music that followed it." After years of being enthused with baroque music I now have a nascent interest in the music of the 19th century as represented by quartets and other small orchestras. And I may be one of many others. It is only recently that I have also been interested in what in Vancouver is called New Music and often is presented by the society of that name, The Vancouver New Music Society. Being able to listen to this new music by Marc Destrubé, who has always made music warm and inviting makes this concert a hard one to miss.

In 1998 the Smithsonian's Smithson String Quartet changed its name to its present one after it received a gift from the self-taught ichthyologist and tropical fish expert Herbert Axelrod. The gift was a quartet (two violins, one viola and cello) of exquisitely decorated Antonio Stradivari instruments. Destrubé's instrument of choice, the 1709 "Greffuhle" Stradivari, is inlaid with gryphons and spotted leopards. Those leopards and gryphons must have their influence. Of playing on the Greffuhle, Destrubé says, "It has an intimate sound but a strong personality as if it were alive and you are going to battle with it." A seemingly out-of-the- blue offer, in April 2002, to be the first violinist of the Axelrod Quartet came at the right time for Destrubé.

Until 2002, as concertmaster of the CBC Radio Orchestra, he had such a gruelling playing and teaching schedule that it became impossible to juggle his concertmaster tasks with his international commitments. Diversity is another reason for Destrubé's success. He is a soloist, a director, a concertmaster for various orchestras, a teacher, and plays baroque, 19th- and 20th-century music. He has a soft spot for Russian composer Alfred Schnittke (1934 - 1998). As a director of the PBO he has commissioned works from contemporary Canadian composers, including Thursday night's performer/composer Peter Hannan.

And somehow he finds the time to take his wife and two children on camping holidays. The Victoria-raised Destrubé has an interesting background that may explain his attraction to diversity. His father, while a French Second World War prisoner of war in a camp in Austria in 1944, became sick and was transferred to a hospital in Villach. There he met his soon-to-be wife, a young German doctor. Such were the mechanical skills of the senior Destrubé that he soon was repairing hospital equipment and taking the pre-operation x-rays. Fudging on his health status, while being careful not to cross the Nazi hospital administrators, Destrubé never returned to his camp and married the doctor at the end of the war. An uncle who had moved from London to start a general store in Northern Alberta at the turn of the 20th century had retired in Victoria. The Destrube's moved there. To this day, Marc Destrubé drives French cars because, "My father always drove one." Destrubé's achievement at 52 is extraordinary, when you consider he became a musician later in life than normal. "I wasn't a prodigy. I made the decision to be a musician when I was 17 after I had started my pre-med studies. I then just worked hard [beginning at the Victoria Conservatory of Music]." By 1987 he was the first violinist for the Purcell String Quartet and was a founding member of Tafelmusik. Destrubé explained the challenge in quartet playing. "It involves skills that have to do with one's imagination as a musician. One must not only get along but also work with three people in an intense situation. It is the ability, as a first violinist, to stand out as a greater amongst equals and to be willing to discuss musical points on an equal level."

I have watched Destrubé at PBO rehearsals and I can confirm that he has a soft-spoken authority that must serve him well in the quartet.

Adendum by Marc Destrubé

Dear friends,

I thought you might like to at least know about this most unusual concert. The Axelrod Quartet will be playing Beethoven Op. 132 (5 movements), Kenton Loewen (amazing drummer) and I will be playing Peter Hannan's new piece (5 parts), with live electronics, and Pissed Off Wild (Kenton's band - the name says it all) will play (5 songs), all this in no particular order, and we'll all do something together at the end.

Vancouver New Music


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