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


Saturday, February 28, 2009

Yesterday I found myself having a pleasant short walk (a very cold but clear evening) from my house to the Unity Church on Oak and 42 Street. I was going to a Early Music Vancouver concert featuring the Axelrod Quartet the resident Smithsonian Museum of American History chamber music quartet. The Axelrod is headed by our very own Marc Destrubé (Pacific Baroque Orchestra, Turning Point Ensemble and several more etcs!) on first violin. Marilyn McDonald played the second violin, James Dunham, viola and Kennth Slowik, violoncello.

Slowik explained in a charming pre-concert talk with slides and some piano-playing-show-and-tell. The music of the evening consisted of an early and a late Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy ( 1809-1827) quartet for strings and the phenomenal and ever popular Octet for Strings in E-flat Major, Op. 20 (1825). Slowik pointed out that the connection of the evening’s concert to the mandate of Early Music Vancouver was twofold. The concert was being played in instruments more or less from or adapted to the time Mendelssohn’s music was first performed. Thus the sound would be pretty close to what the people of the time would have been used to. Then Slowik told us that Dunham’s viola had been built in the late 1500s!

But this blog is not about last night’s concert per se (even though I enjoyed it immensely), but about two people and the prints of Jack Shadbolt.

I had never been inside this church. There are no crosses that I could discern inside and instead of pews they had upholstered seating much like in a cinema. The only religious symbol I found was a print of a shepherd holding a sheep on altar right. The altar itself was bare except for many plants and the musicians’ chairs. On the side walls I noticed about 16 beautifully framed bold, multi-coloured Jack Shadbolt prints. I was so amazed that I questioned Dr. Stephen Drance, a lover of music who believes in donating money in order to listen to his preferences. “I don’t think it is out of the ordinary, after all this is the 21st century!” While Dr Drance is much older than I am, he is certainly the younger man.

Whenever I go to theatre, dance, opera, ballet and concerts of all types I run into a short friendly French Canadian, Denis Bouvier. I affectionately have given him the nick name of Inspector Clouseau. Bouvier has been with Radio Canada since I first arrived in Vancouver in 1975. He is the “Réalisateur”of a two hour long afternoon radio program called Le pont des Arts. Imagine two hours full of cultural entertainment when the English side, of our local CBC Radio, perhaps features at the most 15 minutes per day!

I like the French word for producer Réalisateur because it is much like it is in Spanish realizador. It means to make true. This Radio Canada producer makes our wishes come true with an enthusiasm that is as palpable as his smile.

As I see that smile on Bouvier’s face I wonder what it is that Radio Canada knows about cultural coverage that seems to elude the English side where culture is placed at the bottom. As a CBC Radio producer told me with a promise to not use his/her name, “In Vancouver and especially in the interior its sports and labour problems.”

I was introduced by Turning Point Orchestra trombonist Jeremy Berkman to a friendly woman, Yolaine Mottet who is the Animatrice for Bouvier’s Le pont des Arts. I asked her point blank what it was they knew about culture and arts programs that the English CBC did not know. She said nothing. I asked her who on the English side would be responsible for the no-culture programming. Again not only did she say nothing but she turned her hands up in a “How should I know?” I have a feeling that many other people challenge her with the same question.

I pressed further. “How can you find people who speak French for you daily programs? You must run out quickly." With that smile of hers she told me that they had interviewed Axelrod Quartet cellist Kenneth Slowik who had not spoken French for some years but magically remembered enough of it quickly, to give them a good interview.

Thinking about Dr. Drance’s liberal non surprise at seeing Shadbolts in a church and mulling in my head Bouvier’s all-encompassing appreciation and love for all art (or at the very least this man has varied tastes) Milton Glasser came to mind. Not Milton Glasser the famous designer of the little red heart of I love NY fame but another who was an important mentor in my appreciation of music.

My Milton Glasser was a Jewish dentist from New York who once told me, “I have always tickled the ivories. I used to when I was a dentist and I keep on now when I accompany Jean on the piano.” Retired dentist Glasser had moved to Mexico City in the early 70s with his virtuoso violinist and violist wife Jean who had been hired as principal violinist for the orchestra of the University of Mexico. The Glassers invited us to their home for pre-concerts which featured Jean’s excellent cooking. We treasured those afternoons at the Glasser and they became our eldest daughter’s first exposure to performed music.

I got into several arguments with Milton Glasser (in the second picture that's my wife Rosemary on the left) about music. I told him I had a preference for Italian baroque and for Bach. “I am not interested in the least in what followed, especially those Romantics.” Glasser with a kind smile on his face told me repeatedly but gently, “You will change your mind one day. Mark my words.” I now realize that at age 31 I was an ignorant, biased and opinionated idiot. There are some (including my wife) who would say that I have not changed except that I am older.

The Glassers had a son, Alan, who was (and is) a plasma physicist of fame. He played the clarinet so when he visited his parents we were exposed to trios of clarinet, piano and violin or viola. This is how I first heard the music of Ernest Bloch. But my favourite was a trio version of Pablo de Sarasate’s Zigeunerweisen. One day Milton Glasser sat at the piano and played some confusing music that I almost liked. It was interesting. “What is it? “I asked. It is one of Darius Milhaud’s Saudades do Brazil. He wrote 10. He lived in Brazil for some years and fell in love with it.” In spite of my youthful ignorance I knew that one of my fave jazz pianists Dave Brubeck had studied under Milhaud. Suddenly I could hear a little Brubeck in those Milhaud piano sonatas.

And while I am sure the Glassers are no longer alive in New York, I am sure that in some way, from somewhere they smile upon my more varied and universal tastes in music. Back then I would not have been caught dead listening to a Mendelssohn quartet.

Could it be that it has taken me this long to find out something that the French have always known?


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