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


Monday, October 22, 2007

The gloom of the fall rain and the promise of the winter cold are wonderfully compensated by the warmth of going to listen to my friends play music. My friends (incuding violinist/violist Paul Luchkow, below) are the musicians of the Pacific Baroque Orchestra.

They play baroque music standing up (read below) very close to where I sit in the protective and intimate environment of a church. They perform music that is rarely played on the radio. It is fresh, exciting, challenging and satisfying. I often attend with my friends Graham Walker, Abraham Rogatnick and my granddaughter Rebecca.


Delirio Amoroso: Handel's Italian Years
Alex Weimann - Guest Director
Washington McClain - Oboe Soloist

Saturday, October 27, 2007, 8.00 p.m.
St. Augustine's Church, Vancouver
2028 West 7th Avenue (corner of Maple and West 7th)

Sunday, October 28, 2007, 2.30 p.m.
West Vancouver United Church
2062 Esquimalt Avenue (at 21st Street and Marine Drive)

In September 2002 the Pacific Baroque Orchestra, my favourite Canadian orchestra, and its leader, violinist Marc Destrubé introduced their first CD with the Haydn violin concertos in G, C and A major. The CD cover photo of Destrubé was my last contribution as a two-year trustee of the orchestra.

My journey into an intimate musical enlightenment began while munching on a bag of fish and chips (with my daughters Ale and Hilary) on May 13, 1980 at the Orpheum Theater in Vancouver. John Eliot Gardiner (seen here in CBC's Studio 1 where I photographed him in 1979) was directing the CBC Vancouver Orchestra in a series called A Little Lunch Music. The program featured Bach’s concerto in D minor for 2 violins.

That year Gardiner had begun to verse the ensemble in baroque performance practice, and had introduced period bows and tuning. At the concert Gardiner showed us the difference in sound between the modern and baroque violins. I was hooked to the latter’s quieter but warmer sound.

On Sunday October 27, 1996 at Ryerson Church in Vancouver. A local baroque group founded in 1990, the Pacific Baroque Orchestra, played the Vivaldi Gloria in D major RV 589. The concert not only opened my ears but also my eyes. The musicians, with the exception of the cellists, the bassist and the harpsichordist, to my consternation, were all playing standing up. The big surprise was the all female Electra Women’s Chorus. I had never heard a Vivaldi Gloria with an all female chorus. The performance introduced me to red-haired sisters Caitlin (a mezzo soprano) and Phoebe MacRae (a soprano) who were featured soloists. In later years I would enjoy hearing Caitlin with Vancouver’s Musica Intima and Phoebe as a frequent soloist with the PBO and with the Modern Baroque Opera (now sadly gone).

Soon I found myself going to all the performances of the PBO. I was particularly attracted to sitting in the front rows and hearing the group playing in intimate concert venues, usually churches. It was a surprise to me when two years ago I was called by PBO manager Tom Durrie called me to ask me to be a trustee. My wife suggested that this could be a good career move for me. A more cynical member of the Vancouver Symphony, pianist Linda Lee Thomas told me, “It’s for free pictures, and you’re a photographer.”

My wife was wrong, I spent too much time worrying about the finances of the PBO and little on our own. While I did provide the PBO with free pictures the two-year experience was rewarding and an eye opener in many ways.

I had erroneously thought that as a trustee I would get to see all the concerts for free. No, I had to pay. I thought that being a trustee would be a prestigious endeavor I could boast about. In a city where the arts are suffering what some call a “fund raising burnout” I found I had to help organize golf tournaments. I hate golf. Who would ever know that one of the problems was to find someone who would transport the harpsichord to a concert?

For a while my media connections served me well. When countertenor Matthew White was to appear at a concert with the PBO I called up CBC Radio’s Paul Grant and offered to take to his studio a grown man who sang in a falsetto. The subsequent interview helped fill seats. But soon calling my friend Vancouver Sun music critic Lloyd Dykk put me into the dilemma: was I wearing the hat of friend or of PBO trustee wanting exposure for the band?

As a trustee I found out the nightmarish financial problems that most arts organizations are in. Budgets include federal, provincial and city grants that are not always sure things. Not getting a grant can spell an operating disaster which fund-raising events can only partially alleviate.

After two years as a trustee I feel that the closer contact I had with musicians (many showed up at the board meetings) has given me a further insight into music, baroque music and how it is played.

From Destrubé I found out that until Ludwig Spohr invented the violin’s chin rest emotion in music was heard through the composer’s music. “Once the chin rest was there,” Destrubé said, “ the music could be heard in the musician’s head. We could now feel the music and express ourselves through it.” He further explained that the French Revolution marked the decline of rich patrons for music and composers and musicians had to rely on ordinary citizens to foot the bills. This meant larger concert halls where instruments had to be louder. Baroque instruments were beefed up to allow for strings under higher tension. The warmth of the baroque instruments was superseded by the need for a louder sound.

While being a trustee did not, in the end make me feel important, I have learned that sitting up front at a PBO concert is no different from being a king of a European country of the 18th century. These musicians are there, close, playing just for me.

And why do members of the PBO play standing up? Marc Destrubé explained, “Just like rock and roll musicians connect with their audience by standing, I feel we can, too."

More PBO
And even more PBO


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