Summer music

July 23, 2007

The Chamberfest 2007 is upon us and Chris and I each have a Festival Pass, so you can guess what the next few blogs will be about.

Two of Sunday’s concerts took place, with free admission, in the grounds of Rideau Hall. The grass being damp from our recent downpours (yes, it has rained here too), people brought canvas chairs to sit on, mostly in the shade of the maple trees, but a few of the audience chose to dance to the music on the sunny patches of lawn. A civilised way to hear divertimenti, even though the music had to contend with the buzzing of cicadas and the shouts from the nearby cricket match, not to mention the shouts of the sentries at the Changing of the Guard.

Norteño (Spanish for “people of the North”—on violin, bandoneon, electric guitar, double bass and piano, respectively) entertained us for the first hour playing tango nueovo music by Piazzolla, the like of which I have heard before. I sat beside Vija and Rolf; Rolf, from Germany, told me that the bandoneon was the equivalent of what he would call “ein Schifferklavier,” the sort of thing a crew member would have played on a Tall Ship in the old days. Anyway, according to the Wikipedia there’s more than one name for this sort of instrument:

Es gibt eine Reihe von regionalen Bezeichnungen für das Akkordeon oder spezielle Bauformen, wie Handharmonika, Ziehharmonika, Ziehorgel, Handorgel, Riemenorgel, Quetschkommode, Zerrwanst, Schifferklavier oder auch einfach Harmonika.

Norteño have just released their second CD, calling it Last Tango in Montreal, nothing to do with Last Tango in Paris, I presume. Talking of The Tango, by the way, when we flew to Kingston on Saturday we had an excellent lunch in the restaurant there that goes by that name.

But I mustn’t get side-tracked. At 4p.m. a second concert began with diverse contributions from an operatic soprano accompanied by a harpist, a marimba player and a Russian pianist. We also heard the glamorous Similia twins, playing their flute and guitar.

The Ottawa Chamber Music Festival is a marathon for its regulars. In the evening we were off again, walking into town for the Yegor Dyachkov and Jean Saulnier concert, the ‘cellist ad libbing his introductions to each item on the programme, though the music itself was very well prepared indeed. As he talked to us it seemed to occur to him there and then that the concert was really a tribute to the late Rostropovich, for each item had something to do with him. They played Rostropovich’s transcription of two excerpts from Prokofiev’s ballet Cinderella as well as his arrangement of the theme from The Love for Three Oranges, as an encore. The main item in the first half of the evening’s concert was Schubert’s melodious Arpeggione Sonata, unfortunately unplayable on the instrument for which it was written, as these instruments are now extinct. After the interval (or intermission, as they say in N America) we heard a contemporary work inspired by the letters Galileo Galilei exchanged with his daughter—the nun, Maria Celeste (otherwise known as Virginia). The four movement piece by a German-Canadian composer, Michael Oesterle, reminiscent of the music of Marais in places, I thought, was called The Agate Rosary— written in memory of Rostropovich. Finally the two performers launched into Benjamin Britten’s Cello Sonata in C for Cello and Piano, written as a result of Britten’s meeting Rostropovich as a young man at the Aldeburgh Festival. Despite their different temperaments (Britten shy and complex, the ‘cellist an extravert) and their lack of a language in common, they apparently took to each other at once, communicating in a unique language Rostropovich called Aldeburgh Deutsch. Last night’s performance of the Britten was a resounding success and Chris felt that the pianist‘s page-turner ought to be applauded too, for her attractiveness. “She can come and turn my pages, any time,” he said.

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