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Volume 20 Issue 7 - April 2015

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REMEMBERINGJOAN

REMEMBERINGJOAN WATSONJUNE 28, 1953 - MARCH 12, 2015Andrew TimarI was saddened to hear of the passing of French horn player extraordinaireJoan Thelma Watson on Thursday, March 12, 2015. She wasa trailblazing Canadian horn virtuoso, serving as associate principalhorn with the TSO and the principal horn of the COC Orchestra. Sheworked extensively as a soloist, lecturer and educator and advocatedeffectively on behalf of women brass musicians. Her playing wasfeatured on television, movies, commercials, musicals and she wasproud to have been a founding member of True North Brass.It’s clear however she didn’t want to be known as an ivory-towerclassical musician. “I was a member of Rob McConnell’s Boss Brass,and have backed up Rod Stewart, Andrea Bocelli, Lisa Minnelli, theEagles, Lighthouse and Led Zeppelin,” she wrote.I remember when our musical paths briefly crossed. They weremoments for me that illustrate the inclusiveness of her professionalmusical choices and generosity of spirit towards musicians ofall stripes.The occasion was when Joan performed and then recorded as hornsoloist with Toronto’s Evergreen Club Contemporary Gamelan. That’swhere I, since 1984 the ECCG’s designated suling (ring flute) player,step into the storyline. It was the first Toronto rehearsal of GillesTremblay’s dramatic L’arbre de Borobudur (1994) at the westendWoodshed rehearsal space during a blustery morning in May 1996, afollow-up to the work’s Montreal premiere, an opportunity for ECCGto present the work on its home Toronto turf. ECCG had premieredthat work for 16 (or 17) musicians in Montréal with members ofSMCQ, the group which had commissioned the composition,conducted by Walter Boudreau. Two players had covered the horn partin that performance.My instrument, the suling degung, is a 30-cm long end-blownbamboo ring flute a relatively small, simple-looking instrument, especiallywhen compared with the gleaming metallic magnificence ofthe horn. Moreover the suling degung has only four finger holes toproduce everything required by Tremblay’s demanding score. In therehearsal Joan was seated next to me and the seven other playersof the ECCG, with two harps, a double bass, two percussionists andan ondes martenot also crammed into the space. Maestro Boudreauconducted sporting his signature red sneakers, peering over hisglasses. It was the first time these particular Toronto classical musicianshad worked with any kind of gamelan. … After casual greetings,everyone got down to the serious matter of negotiating the pitchand tuning for the day. Harpist to gamelanist: “Can I have an ‘A’?”Gamelanist: “Sorry, we don’t have one.” It gave both parties a glimpseinto the two different worlds here, but it was quickly sorted.Joan with her horn was sitting beside me in a chair, while I wasseated on a floor cushion in typical gamelan fashion. This considerabledifference in elevation made eye contact rare. We had not met before,but the fact we were playing the only wind instruments in the scoremade us extra aware of each other’s performance.After the sweaty work of wading through several gnarly sections ofthe work, the break was announced. We put down our instrumentsand rose to get a breath of fresh air. Just then Joan caught my eye forthe first time and asked, “What do you call that little flute?”She had been listening to me after all – as I had been to her. I don’trecall my reply, probably because it wasn’t that memorable, but I tookit as a compliment, perhaps even a validation. Now, it was admittedlya slight comment, but I’ve treasured the memory of how good it feltever since. Not sure exactly why ....Her superb playing was a joy to make music with in this rehearsal,the concert itself and the recording of the Road to Ubud CD thatfollowed. I imagined there would be more musical encounters withJoan on stage, but sadly that turns out now to have been the last. WhatI savour most of all is the memory of Joan Watson’s always inspiringmusical spirit.Diane DoigI met Joan Watson shortlyafter leaving my hometownof Montreal to establishmyself as a bona fide professionalFrench horn playerin Toronto. Joan the teacher,the musician and the personwould be instrumental in mybudding career. I would learnlater that Joan was a trailblazerfor other female brassplayers as well.I had just returned from one audition and was already preparingfor the next, when another horn player suggested that I could benefitfrom a lesson with Joan. We arranged a lesson at her home in theBeaches. To set myself up for the lesson I remember drinking tonsof coffee to simulate the nerves of an audition day. To my surprise Iwas more relaxed in her presence and in her home than I had anticipated.I knew this was the beginning of a lasting relationship. On thestreetcar ride home I had a caffeine crash, but with a big smile on myface. That meeting resulted in weekly lessons.As I expected, we worked on orchestral excerpts in our lessons.Her comments were always constructive and positive. Joan lit a fire ofcuriosity in me, while bringing out qualities in me that had been leftdormant. I found that playing the horn could be enjoyable again. As aresult I won my first professional audition in a symphony orchestra.Excited about my new potential, that summer while attending theScotia Festival of Music in Halifax, I was informed about an openingin Toronto for principal horn in a long-running show. I had only twodays to get back for the audition. I knew I needed to stay focused andbe positive, one of the many things Joan had taught me about life:have faith and know everything will work out for the better. A shortinterview followed the audition and I received a phone call from thecontractor Moe Koffman the very next day offering me the job (inpart, as I learned much later, because of a high recommendation fromJoan Watson). An admirable quality of Joan was the way she promotedwhat she believed in.I continued taking lessons with her and over time, had the privilegeof getting to know her on a more personal level. I was playingeight shows a week and Joan was like my personal coach and therapisthelping me to find balance physically and mentally. She was particularlygood at working with people. Organized groups of women ofall ages and from all walks of life were created under her tutelagemeeting once a week to generate positive changes. Joan loved to teachpeople and loved learning from them.She practised what she preached, always leading by example. As theyears went by, she continued to elevate her playing to more impressiveheights. Her ability to navigate and execute the notoriously difficultpassages of the repertoire was inspiring. She continuously keptperfecting her craft: a genuine artist!In 2006, the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts openedwith the COC under Richard Bradshaw performing Wagner’s completeDer Ring des Nibelungen. Joan had the horn section working togetherin unison as a team. Her endurance and execution of sensitivemusical phrases throughout the cycle was outstanding.This year I had the great privilege to play Wagner’s Die Walkürewhile sitting beside Joan. Her breath control and luscious warm soundtruly caught my heart. What none of us realized at the time was thatJoan had been quietly battling breast cancer for a couple of years andreceiving blood transfusions hours before the performances. Shedidn’t want her colleagues to worry about her or treat her any differently.I have been asking myself how on earth did she manage? WhenI look back, all that she taught me in her lessons was present in herown playing; and her passionate horn playing and musicianshipwere extensions of who she was as a person. The countless number ofmusicians she inspired is a testament to her legacy. It is these qualitiesthat defined her career and helped carry her through to the end of herfinal performance on February 22, 2015.64 | April 1 - May 7, 2015 thewholenote.com

DISCOVERIES | RECORDINGS REVIEWEDIwas intrigued to receive a package fromWoody Guthrie Publications in New YorkCity and more so when I opened it to findit contained This Land: Symphonic Variationson a Song by Woody Guthrie by David Amramperformed by the Colorado SymphonyOrchestra (coloradosymphony.org). I firstencountered the music of David Amramalmost half a century ago on the soundtrackto the seminal Beat Generation film Pull My Daisy directed by RobertFrank and Alfred Leslie. The film included Amram’s jazz setting of thetitle poem written by Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac and Neal Cassady.The somewhat haunting theme proved to be an earworm that hasstuck with me since first hearing. (If you haven’t seen the film you cancheck it out at ubu.com/film/leslie_daisy.html.) My next exposure wasat the Mariposa Festival one of the years it took place on the TorontoIslands where Amram was featured in a variety of guises, includingin the children’s tent with Raffi who sang a catchy song to the tuneof Arkansas Traveler with the words “Peanut butter sandwich madewith jam, One for me and one for David Amram…” which still popsup in my ears from time to time. Amram is a renaissance man whois seemingly comfortable in all genres and on almost all instruments.A pioneer of jazz French horn and a trailblazer of the WorldMusic movement, he is equally at home in the concert hall, havingconducted more than 75 orchestras and performed as orchestralsoloist on a host of different instruments. In 1966 Leonard Bernsteinappointed him as the first composer-in-residence with the New YorkPhilharmonic and his oeuvre extends to more than 100 orchestral andchamber works, several operas and a couple of notable film scores(Splendor in the Grass and The Manchurian Candidate). All of whichis to say that he has impeccable credentials to pay tribute to one of themost iconic songwriters and chroniclers of American life.Lasting nearly 40 minutes, This Land uses the orchestral palette topaint a vast pastoral portrait of the land that Guthrie traveled so extensivelyand described so aptly in his songs. The work is divided into sixmain movements with descriptive titles: Theme and Variations for theRoad (in which we first hear the familiar tune from the marimba) &Variation I: Oklahoma Stomp Dance; Variation II: Sunday MorningChurch Service in Okema (Guthrie’s home town); Variation III:Prelude and Pampa Texas Barn Dance; Variation IV: Dreaming ofMexico; Variation V: Dust Bowl Dirge; Variation VI: Street Sounds ofNew York’s Neighborhoods (which includes Caribbean Street Festival,Klezmer Wedding, Salvation Army Hymn and Block Party Jam).The melody of This Land Is Your Land is cleverly woven throughoutthe textures of the work, sometimes hidden but never far from thesurface, and appears in some surprising contexts such as the groundbass for the klezmer clarinet solo. My only concern is the overallsubdued nature of the work. It never gets truly raucous or rambunctiousand we never hear the hard edge of Guthrie’s gritty side, hisworking class hero with the emblem “this guitar kills fascists” etchedon his axe. This Land is complemented with another pastorale, amellow set of variations for flute and strings on the American classicfolk song Red River Valley.A disc that met all my expectations wasrecently released by New World Records(80765-2). Soft Horizons features works byCanadian composer Barbara Monk Feldmanperformed by pianist Aki Takahashi, theFlux Quartet and the DownTown Ensemble.It opens in a very contemplative mood withthe title piece, a solo piano work reminiscentof the composer’s late husband and mentorDAVID OLDSMorton Feldman. The sparse, gentle, meandering work gives eachnote time to breathe before moving on, producing a wondrous senseof calm while at the same time creating a sense of anticipation as weawait the next quiet event. Written in 2012, Soft Horizons is the mostrecent work presented.Although currently residing in Guelph, Monk Feldman lived formany years in New Mexico. Her 2004 String Quartet No.1 is subtitledDesert Scape and presents two visions of that geological phenomenon.The first begins with a consonant viola melody commentedupon by bird- or insect-like sounds from the violins. As the movementdevelops the harmonies get closer in a kind of gentle abrasivenesswhich is supplanted by melodies echoed in higher octavesand later a Bartókian “night music” section, but in slow motion. Thesecond movement maintains the sense of uneasy calm, this time withhigh melodies and commentaries in the lower strings. As the piecegradually unfolds we are drawn into a delicate soundworld where thesense of disquiet gradually seems to become the new normal.The final piece, The Chaco Wilderness (2005), while maintainingthe overall sonic mood of gradual progression adds a wealth of colourto the textures through its use of vibraphone, flute, clarinet, guitar/mandolin and piano. The work is in three contrasting movementsand is the shortest by far on the disc. It may seem surprising that itcontains the most “activity” per se, but I rather think that this is indicativeof Monk Feldman’s style. The pieces in which “nothing happens”need a longer time frame to unfold.All of the artists on this recording are masters of the genre. AkiTakahashi has been in the forefront of the avant garde since the1970s, working with Cage, Xenakis, Boulez and Takemitsu to namebut a few. In 1980 she was invited by Morton Feldman as a CreativeAssociate of the Center of the Creative and Performing Arts at SUNY,Buffalo. FLUX, which includes Canadian violist Max Mandel, wasfounded nearly 20 years ago and has been active on the New Yorkscene ever since. Among their achievements is the performance (andrecording for Mode Records) of Morton Feldman’s stunning five andhalf hour String Quartet No.2. The DownTown Ensemble, founded byDaniel Goode and William Hellermann, is now in its fourth decade ofpresenting experimental music in virtually all of its diverse forms.Coming at it from a very different angle,Europeanized Canadian MC/pop arranger/composer/performer Chilly Gonzales (akaJason Charles Beck) has been working extensivelywith the Hamburg-based KaiserQuartett lately and has just released a discof original compositions for piano and stringquartet. Chambers (Gentle Threat RecordsGENTLE016, chillygonzales.com) is intendedas a reimagining of “Romantic-era chamber music as today’s addictivepop” and the project succeeds, with catchy melodies and warmharmonic writing. While it certainly doesn’t push any boundaries ofnew classical vocabulary it will open the ears of people who don’tnormally have occasion to listen to string quartets or thoughtfulinstrumental music. The overall feeling of the disc is surprisinglylaid-back, with only three of the twelve tracks proceeding atanything faster than a moderato pace, but this makes for a sense ofcontinuity throughout. The titles are playful, including clever wordplayas in Prelude to a Feud, Freudian Slippers, and Green’s Leaves.One surprise is a slightly melancholy piece called Odessa, dedicatedto the Ukrainian-born Russian composer Reinhold Glière. Another isa haunting vocal ballad, Myth Me, the earworm which concludes thedisc. Concert Note: Chilly Gonzales and the Kaiser Quartett perform atKoerner Hall on April 21.Another album with a somewhat similar feel comes from renownedthewholenote.com April 1 - May 7, 2015 | 65

Volume 26 (2020- )

Volume 26 Issue 1 - September 2020
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