Interviews & Videos


West Coast Chamber Music live in concert, 2012. Roger Mangas, viola | Holly Duff, piano | Michelle Anderson, clarinet

Interview with Canadian composer Christine Donkin

Her piece Trio for flute, cello and piano was featured in West Coast Chamber Music's program, Flute, Strings Piano Potpourri on March 12, 2017.

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An Interview with Oboist, Emma Ringrose

In concert with West Coast Chamber Music on February 28, 2016
Winds Extravaganza

KV: What is unique to playing and maintaining a double-reed instrument?

ER: The oboe reed consists of a metal tube (the bottom half covered in cork) and two pieces of cane (which are tied onto the outside of the tube) sitting above that. The two pieces of cane vibrate when you blow into them (the cane needs to have been soaked in water) causing the sound to be made. The process of making reeds is incredibly time consuming, starting off with pieces of bamboo (I get mine from the South of France) and staples. After gouging, shaping and scraping I finally get a finished product. Each reed probably takes me on average about 2 to 3 hours from start to finish; this includes time that you need to ‘blow it in’ or to make it pliable enough to perform on.

Not every reed works well enough to play on, unfortunately you don’t tend to find this out until the end of the process! Reeds affect everything: sound quality, intonation and the way the oboe speaks, so they need to be of a high standard. They change throughout their life, going from lively, new and slightly hard to work with, to being a little easier to deal with but maybe not quite as responsive as when they are first made. You will often hear oboists saying mournfully ‘my reed has died’ whilst desperately searching through their reed case for something that might work! A sudden change in the weather or a flight can change the humidity level in the cane making your whole box of reeds suddenly feel awful. That’s not fun when you are touring and flying between different cities.

Oboists use different reeds for different types of pieces and also for playing with different players so that you can blend with their sound.  Reeds can sound different in every hall that you play in, so there is no guarantee that the reed you play in the Orpheum will work in the opera pit. You also have the slight stress of a reed suddenly not working, it could be that a small piece of food gets stuck down the reed (most oboists brush their teeth before playing to avoid this) or it could be that you misjudge where your teeth are and hit the very delicate tip of the reed against them (very frustrating when that occurs, and it’s always when you’re playing your best reed!) As a result I tend to have a second reed ready to go for each performance. Each instrument in the oboe family, oboe d’amore, English horn and the bass oboe all have different reeds that need to be made. Part of the difficulty of playing an instrument like the English horn is that you can sit there for the majority of the concert and not play a note until you have a big solo. Dvorak’s New World symphony is an example. The English horn plays the solo in the second movement, and nothing else. It takes experience to be able to judge what is needed to make the reed play perfectly when you have been sitting there for a while. As every reed plays slightly differently, it’s also an ever changing experience.

It may come as no surprise to you that in the music world oboists are considered to be slightly neurotic! 

KV: How did you become interested in playing such a difficult instrument?

ER: My Mum suggested that I might like to play the oboe (nobody had told her about the reed situation then!). I was very lucky to have a fantastic oboe teacher, Janet Baldwin, before I went to music college. She had many oboe pupils in and around Gloucestershire and did a huge amount to make it fun for everyone. Every June there was a ‘Double Reed day’ where everyone got together to have master classes with a professional and to play chamber music etc. It still happens today. 

KV: We’re looking forward to hearing you play the Poulenc in the February 28 concert. Where else can we hear your playing soon?

ER: I’m playing in ‘Madam Butterfly’ with Vancouver Opera. It will be the third time I have played it. It’s a wonderful opera to play so I’m thoroughly looking forward to it! 

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An Interview with Bassoonist, Ingrid Chiang

In concert with West Coast Chamber Music on February 28, 2016
Winds Extravaganza

KV: You also play a double-reed instrument! What is the experience like for you?

IC: It is time-consuming, sometimes downright frustrating. There are some days I even have a ‘bad reed day’.
But over the years I learned to accept that the reed making is just part of mastering the bassoon playing. I usually make as many as I can when I have time, for example during summer vacation, then fix and use them as the season gets going.
Sometimes I even buy reeds from professional players in town, ones that I know make great reeds and sell them as a business.

KV: What influenced you to take up your instrument?

IC: My mom suggested that I play bassoon when I was 12. I guess Mom knows the best.
I started to play piano when I was five, and still do. I think piano is a great instrument for any musician.
Then when the time came to choose a second instrument for the orchestra, I tried both violin and viola, but my parents couldn’t stand the ‘beginner’ sound I made, so mom said, “Try bassoon.”  I did and fell in love right away with the deep and warm sound.
I guess compared to oboe, bassoon is a little easier to play as a beginner, because the reed is a little bigger and more forgiving, but because of the size, most kids have to wait till they are tall enough, or at least the hand and fingers can reach the keys.

KV: What other concerts are you currently participating in?

IC: I am playing all over town, and have many different projects throughout the season. The very next show will be ‘Madam Butterfly’ with the Vancouver Opera.
Then, I will be playing a Bassoon concerto with string orchestra and two horns by Wolf-Ferrari with the Vancouver Metropolitan Orchestra in November, 2016.

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An Interview with pianist, Monica Pfau

In concert with West Coast Chamber Music on May 17, 2015
Romantic Russian Trios

KV: How do you feel about performing chamber music?

MP: I love performing chamber music not only because it requires such spontaneity & flexibility, but also because it is tremendous fun! With good chamber music, be it in rehearsal or in concert, the performers will inspire one another with their individual musical passions & thoughts. It’s great fun discussing ideas & shaping musical concepts together, seeing how they evolve in the course of rehearsals & eventually gel into a fun & hopefully cohesive performance. It’s all about maintaining your own integrity while still being adaptable at incorporating the musical ideas of your colleagues.

KV: Any memorable moments in performance that you’d like to share with us?

MP: One of my most memorable moments in chamber music was on the stage of the Banff Centre, performing the Dvorak Piano Quintet with the Fine Arts Quartet. I was a young student at the time and had been selected to join this eminent ensemble on the Faculty Series, which was quite a daunting prospect. A few minutes into the first rehearsal I began to realize, in spite of the number of times this ensemble must have already performed this repertoire on stages all over the world, how
“alive” and fresh they were making the music during their time with me. It was all about exchanging ideas & making beautiful music together. I immediately relaxed & have never forgotten the spontaneity with which the quartet’s first violinist, Ralph Evans, performed, or the incredible warmth, inspiration & on-stage support from their wonderful cellist, Wolfgang (“Wolfie”) Laufer.

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An Interview with WCCM Directors Holly Duff & Alan Crane

In concert with West Coast Chamber Music on April 12 @ 3:00 PM. 2015, Music for the Soul,
and at the Langley Community Music School on their Café Classico series: April 19, 2015: Coffee & Commentary @ 2:30, Concert @ 3:30.

LCMS: How and why did you choose the repertoire you will be performing on this concert?

HD & AC: We always love playing early Beethoven, and this piece, Piano Trio in C minor, Op.1, No.3, has particularly fresh exuberant ideas, eloquence, and unbelievable energy. It has also been one of the mandates of our series, to present and champion the works of women composers. Therefore, we will be performing a beautiful early work of French composer Cecile Chaminade, Piano Trio in G minor, Op.11, a glorious piece of the romantic period, which deserves recognition.

LCMS: You are the Artistic Directors of West Coast Chamber Music. How do you choose the repertoire in general for your concert series?

HD & AC: As pianists ourselves, we tend to program mostly piano based chamber music so we get a chance to play! Then in consultation with our other fellow musicians, we try to present a balanced mix of well known masterworks along with works by women composers and other worthy lesser known pieces.

LCMS: What do you enjoy about the piano trio repertoire in particular?

HD & AC: The Piano Trio (piano, violin, cello) is one of the most written for combination of instruments in all the chamber music literature. The repertoire is vast, excellent, and hugely varied and gives us much scope to choose from. It’s rewarding playing as three. Each instrument has its own unique voice and each player has plenty opportunity to offer their two cents worth to the collaborative process in this intimate ensemble.

LCMS: You’ve had a 22 year history as a concert series in Vancouver. What has been your most interesting or fun experience, or what has been the most meaningful?

HD & AC: Well the most amazing moment occurred many years ago when we were playing an evocative piano duet by Debussy called Pour remercier la pluie au matin, when just as we began to play, the heavens opened and there began a noisy torrential rain shower (la pluie) on the skylights of the Unitarian church where we hold our concerts. We and the audience all started to laugh, the timing was so perfect!

The meaning comes from the fulfillment offered in getting to play such wonderful music, but also from the public themselves and the stories we’ve heard from audience members about how the music enriches their lives. A particularly moving moment occurred not at the concert itself, but at a rehearsal. The Ravel Piano Trio was being rehearsed, and the studio window was open to the evening air, when I noticed a man loitering underneath the window. I went out to see who it was, and found our neighbour who was listening with rapt attention, tears coursing down his cheeks. He had only just learned that he had been diagnosed with a terminal cancer and somehow the music helped him remember all that was important about life.

LCMS: You are both faculty members at LCMS, what do you enjoy about teaching at LCMS?

HD & AC: We both enjoy the many performing opportunities and activities available for our piano students, the collegial atmosphere between faculty and the music school’s particular support of Canadian music and composers.

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An Interview with flautist, Brenda Fedoruk

- In concert with West Coast Chamber Music on February 22, 2015 – The World of the Flute

KV: You have performed in a variety of settings, including opera and ballet orchestra, radio orchestra, and recording for film and television. How does performing in a chamber music ensemble compare with other types of performance?

BF: Chamber music involves more mental telepathy, and a greater degree of trust than any other genre of music. There is no conductor to “direct traffic” or to determine the shape and pacing of a piece. The details are determined by discussion, intuition, and opening yourself to the ideas of your colleagues. Great chamber music works a little like a great pot luck dinner…everyone contributes their best dish, and somehow a great meal, and a good time shared with friends happens!

KV: Can you share one or two especially rewarding experiences in your life as a teacher?

BF: As a teacher you never quite realize what kind of an impact you have on the lives of your students. Recently I reconnected with a young woman who studied with me only very briefly as a university student many years ago. Our time together was really very short, and to be honest, I barely remembered her. We exchanged pleasantries, I asked how she was doing, and enquired as to her present circumstances. After getting caught up on each other’s lives I was astonished and unprepared to hear the phrase “you changed my life”. During one of her lessons I had asked a simple question, “Why are you doing this?” Apparently that simple question had been the catalyst for much soul searching and many positive changes in her life. This has been a great reminder to me–choose your words kindly and carefully–a simple phrase could be remembered for a lifetime.

KV: Tell us a little about the experience of recording your first CD, I Remember, with mezzo-soprano Sarah Fryer.

BF: The CD project was a great milestone in my life.  It was inspired by I Remember, written by New York composer, Michael Cohen–a work written for mezzo soprano, flute, cello and harp, with text based on the diary entries of Anne Frank, the young Jewish woman who along with her family went into hiding from the Nazi regime.  My colleagues and I gave the Canadian premier of this work, and subsequently also recorded it for broadcast on CBC Radio.

As a Christmas gift, a dear friend commissioned the composer Michael Cohen to write a new piece for me.  We decided on a companion piece–a work that could be performed on the same program with the same instrumentation as I RememberFrom the Wall, was the lovely result of this commission.  The text–three simple, and very moving sentences–were found scratched into the wall of a building bombed during WW II.  These two works gave shape and tone to the project.  We decided to choose repertoire that had a connection to matters of the spirit.  The next work we programmed was The Deepest Desire by San Francisco composer Jake Heggie.  This piece portrays the life and struggles of Sister Helen Prejean whose work with death row prisoners was also the inspiration behind the film Dead Man Walking.   A second commission, this time of Vancouver composer Owen Underhill, added the lovely work Remember to our project.   The text, a reflection on loss and grief, comes from a poem written by Christina Rossetti and is scored as a duet for alto flute and mezzo.  Rounding out our project are two lovely, sensual, short songs for alto flute, piano and mezzo written by Andre Previn.  Previn chose texts from 13th and 18th century German women poets.

We settled on two recording sessions for the project, one in January, and one later in June, to accommodate the schedule of one of our players.  In January, we coped with noisy garbage trucks driving by, and the noise produced by a sudden wind and hailstorm.  Our June session was scheduled right after Ryerson Church (our recording venue) had sanded and re-varnished the floors of their sanctuary and had installed new carpeting.  I was nervous that the dust from the construction project would prove to be problematic for Sarah Fryer, the mezzo soprano, who was just recovering from a nasty cold.  She was a trouper and coped admirably with the challenge.  The biggest “oh no” moment came when we began warming up for our June recording session.  The new carpeting in the sanctuary had changed the acoustics of the hall.  The warm, resonant tone we produced in January was suddenly gone.  After a short discussion, we sent someone to a local building supply store to purchase several large sheets of plywood. We placed the sheets of plywood all around the musicians, and presto, the sound was restored and we were able to complete our project. I have heard that those sheets of plywood are still used at concerts held at Ryerson United Church!

It was wonderful to have a hand in every aspect of this project, and to bring such wonderful unknown repertoire to a wider audience.

Visit Brenda Fedoruk’s Website

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An Interview with cellist, Rebecca Wenham

- In concert with West Coast Chamber Music on Jan.18, Feb.22, April 12, May 17, 2015

KV: What is it about your instrument that you love the most and why?

RW: Well, since the cello is the BEST instrument, this should be easy to answer. As a cellist, I get to wear many musical hats, and it is fun to change hats often. Traditionally, the cello was used as a bass instrument, but players got better and better and composers began to think: “Let’s turn this music on its ear. I will make the cello play low, and then very high, then make it blend into the texture. Then I will make it sing like a bird and bark like a dog.” And the cello can do all these things because it has such a huge range. Sadly, it is large and does not travel well on the bus.

KV: How is the experience of playing chamber music different from other forms of performance?

RW: I like playing in orchestras because it’s neat to get up on stage and be swept along with 80 other great musicians. With all those instruments, the potential for variety of sound is huge, and the potential for VOLUME is also huge. But when you play in an orchestra, the maestro drives the bus. The trouble is, I like to drive too. As chamber musicians, we have more opportunities to express our personal musical ideas, and we get to drive the bus.

KV: What do you think of the present state of support for music education in the public school system?

RW: There is never enough support for music education, and arts funding in general is always the first to go. We need to make cuts? Well, let’s cut this school music program. It’s not good for much, is it? This is sad to me, since the benefits of a music education go so far beyond simply learning to play an instrument. Kids who study music are successful in many other areas of their lives. They learn valuable skills like problem solving and communication, and as a bonus, they can form lasting friendships as well. I’m lucky I come from a family of people who consider a career of music to be of value, since both of my parents are musicians.

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WCCM concert, May 4, 2014: Poetry and Music

Program notes by G.A. Cooper

Dmitry Shostakovich (1809-1847)
Piano Trio in E minor, Opus 67

At the time this Trio had been completed, the tide of war had swung, and Shostakovich’s music had become an embodiment of the pain and emotions of Russia at war. Like everyone else, the composer suffered the loss of friends, in particular his very close friend Sollertinsky. In addition the extent of the Holocaust was beginning to be revealed. Shostakovich for the first time incorporates Jewish styles.

The first movement is ostensibly in the minor. But right from the beginning it has a positive trend, becoming more and more positive until it is almost dancing. To me this is the story of Russia desolated by war and recovering by the indomitable spirit of her people. It starts very quietly with high harmonics on muted cello painting hope rising over desolation. Gradually the mood changes. The beat picks up, the mutes are taken off, the mood is more emphatic, and the tempo and overall confidence increase still more. The movement ends with the return of high harmonics and a touch of pessimism.

The Scherzo is a frenetic, sardonic and rhythmically relentless dance whose central section is occupied by a folk tune embellished with plucky grace notes from the violin. Put your own interpretation on the repeated oo-ah string sounds. Jeers? Grunts?

In a complete change of mood, a funereal procession and lament are presented in passacaglia form. The repeated staccato notes of the piano lead us directly into the finale, a quasi rondo into which are incorporated reminiscences of the themes from the opening movement and the passacaglia. The finale movement is strongly influenced by the quirky melodies and fiery rhythms of Jewish music. With insistent rhythms and accents, and savage repetitive explosions, we hear the rage at all violence and brutality. Only in a dream-like melody reminiscent of the first movement the memory of peace remains, and the staccato folk melody dies away. © GAC

Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847)
Piano Trio in D minor

It would be hard to overstate the importance of Mendelssohn in the development of music: not just his piano virtuosity, or his compositions, either of which would have earned him a lasting name; but for his revival of Bach’s works, his support of contemporary musicians, his pioneer work in establishing and setting the standards at the Leipzig Music Academy, and above all for single-handedly creating the model in the Gewandhaus for the modern professional orchestra and the role of the Music Director.

This gem was written in 1839, at the height of his powers. It is a tour de force for the piano, but the other two instruments are the woof of the work.

The Allegro agitato is in D minor, but that is just to remind us that life is stern and life is short. Mostly it is just plain exuberant pleasure in musical sound, and the skill to create and perform it. It overflows with melody. Actually just two melodies, but both are in two parts and both are continuously presented and extended in new ways; and, at the end of the development, played together. The noble first tune is sung in the minor key first by the cello and then the violin. Most of the main sections are marked by piano fantasias. The happy dancing second tune grows gradually after the first fantasia.

Another gorgeous, extended song forms the base for the tranquil Andante. A lot of notes, beautifully put together, and just before the end, a tiny hint of his wedding march. (He married two years earlier.) And then a gossamer fairy dance as only Mendelssohn wrote: light and fast, running, twisting, turning, almost out of control, quick contrasts between quiet and loud, a more graceful idea interjected twice but to no avail, and finally climbing a moonbeam to the stars.

Mendelssohn marks the Finale both appassionato and tranquillo. A mix of major and minor; driving, busy and unsettled. The movement is centered on the dancing main tune, in constantly shifting guise, and with constantly increasing demands on the piano. After extended treatment, a short diminuendo and ritardando preface a beautiful song from the cello. Is this Mendelssohn’s wife, contrasted to Mendelssohn’s view of himself in the main tune? It returns with the piano part growing in complexity. A sudden hush brings a brief return of the second melody and some wonderful interplay between the two tunes and all three instruments before the final flourish. © GAC

G.A. Cooper

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An Interview with Pianist, Amanda Chan

- in concert on January 19 @ 3:00 P.M., 2014 An Afternoon in France

AmandaChan-photo

KV: How did you arrive at pursuing a career in music?

AC: Music has been a part of my life since I can remember and the most comfortable chair in the room for me has always been the piano bench. I recently found small notebooks of my crude 7 year old handwriting delivering stern criticisms to my older brother during mock piano lessons! Even during the time of the inevitable rebellion against a career in music, I never stopped playing or teaching piano. This will of course sound cliché, but music chooses you, not the other way around. When you find something you can do as easily as breathing, there is no way or reason you should be doing anything else. It is an honour and a blessing to be able to live life as a musician and I can think of no better or beautiful way to be.
KV: Can you tell us about your first experience performing in public?

AC: I grew up performing in public constantly. Because of this, I don’t think I ever learned what nerves or stage fright was. I still remember once, when I was probably 8 years old and near delirium with high fever, I had to play in a local competition against about 30 other kids. I remember sleeping before and after my performance on my mother’s lap, but because I knew the piece so well, I won first place. Through the years, it was not uncommon for me to learn big works in a very short amount of time for performance or competition and be perfectly calm and capable. When I look back at some of the things I did, I get nervous now and marvel at how I was able to accomplish the things I did so successfully!

KV: What do you feel is most important in communicating with an audience as a musician?

AC: Above all else, I want people to be moved by my playing. It can be as simple as being reminded of a past or current emotion in their lives. We cannot relive the past, but we can certainly relive the memory. Young and old, we have all had experiences that brought us extreme joy or pain. Even in our most bittersweet moments, we should realize that feeling such emotion is beauty in itself.

KV: You chose the program for this concert. What is it about these pieces that attracted you as an artist?

AC: It’s always important when choosing a program to find a good balance of repertoire that will both challenge and attract a mixed audience. The Ravel trio is one of the great masterpieces of the 20th century and challenges the listener (and performers) in nuances of sound, color and technique. It is one of the most difficult pieces in the chamber music repertoire and a thrill to learn and perform. A great moment in music is at the end of the work when playing it makes me feel as triumphant as though I had achieved victory in a hard battle! The Saint-Saens trio is lighter and emotionally less demanding of the listener. It is meant to charm and delight! The Debussy Violin sonata in contrast, has the two instruments challenging one another and the listener is the innocent bystander. It is Debussy’s final work before his death and has elements of both freshness and nostalgia written in a fantastic and free style. Although I have performed it many times, it is the kind of piece where each time has been different and magical in its own way.

KV: It’s an all French program. What makes French music special for you?

AC: I think there is a shared fascination with the French culture and fashion with its seemingly unattainable allure. The complexity of a french wine, the delicate nature of a french dessert, the beautiful way a french woman can wear a simple scarf…playing french music allows me to experience these magical undefinable je ne sais quoi!

KV: Outside your work as a musician, what are some your favourite activities?

AC: I really enjoy getting to know people young and old, so teaching is an absolute joy where I feel I can make a close connection on an individual basis. Outside of music, I enjoy golf, travel, friends and family.

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WCCM concert, May 6, 2012: An Afternoon with Clarinet, Viola and Piano

Program notes by G.A. Cooper

E, von Dohnanyi (1877-1960)
Serenade for Violin, Viola and Cello in C Major, Opus 10

Dohnanyi was a major musical figure of the twentieth century – virtuoso pianist, Director of the Budapest Academy, Chief Conductor of the Budapest Philharmonic, Musical Director of Hungarian Radio – but he was slandered by petty politics and then displaced by the Nazis. This early work (1902) is his first in what became his recognizable style: fluent, operatic music in classical form. It also reveals he was an inveterate comedian. We should be hearing more of Dohnanyi’s fine music.

This is a Serenade in the sense of being light, entertaining, music, but it is in fact quite complex and extremely well put together. A fanfare is heard with troops assembling and marching off. They are heard in the distance, then return and are put through their maneuvers. The cello sings out a warning cry, which is taken up by the other two voices and developed at some length. The fanfare returns for the emphatic ending.

The viola opens the Romanza with two gorgeous melodies. The mood changes abruptly as the violin and cello interject a passionate animato. The storm passes and the gentle melodies return and die away.

The Scherzo is a quick-stepping witch’s dance. By turns they chase each other, dance alone, in pairs and together. The dance becomes more and more furious, rising to a clashing forte. The sun breaks through, the witches disappear, and are replaced by three sweet and innocent maidens. The witches return and compete against the maidens before the highest voice witch dances a solo. The maidens are routed and the witches have a final fling in the bright sunshine.

Next comes a languorous theme and five variations, played without pause. The theme is in the form of a modern popular song: refrain-refrain-contrast-refrain, all led by the violin. The viola takes over the tune for the first variation while the other two voices take turns with arpeggios. In the second variation, the tune is again in the violin, but now modified a bit, and a little sadder. The cello seems to have forgotten that it’s a four-bar tune, and experiments with three-bar and two-bar versions.

For the third variation, the tune is modified a little more, and stretched out. It is sung in a lovely duet by the violin and viola, to the accompaniment of the cello. The fourth is still quiet but a little more animated. The violin and cello play two duets on the modified theme. The movement ends progressively quieter and sadder, led by the expressive voice of the viola.

Dohnanyi calls the last movement a Rondo, but it is quite unique. The violin and viola jump right in, each playing a slightly different version of a lively rondo theme, with the cello joining in five bars later. A contrasting section is followed by a repeat of the opening and then a second contrasting section. At this point, Dohnanyi interrupts the Rondo to develop the two contrasting sections. A short rhapsodic flight on the violin leads to the reprise of the theme and the two contrasting sections. But that’s not all. The fanfare from the first movement returns with great force, followed by the maneuvers, which gradually die away.

Gabriel Fauré (1845-1924)
Quartet in C minor, No.1, Opus 15

At age nine Fauré was sent to Paris to train as a church organist and choir master. Fortune shone on him in the form of Saint Saens who came to Fauré’s school to teach piano and composition, and later helped him get established in Parisian musical life. All this time Fauré was composing – and latterly falling (unsuccessfully) in love.

His first quartet may reflect that experience. He jumps right in with a dancing yet somewhat brooding main theme. This lightens up a bit and leads to the lovely second theme first heard in the viola and taken up in turn by all. Faure weaves these two ideas masterfully through emotions from wistful to pleasant to sweet and tranquil, but with periods of stress before resolving peacefully.

The light and wispy but brilliantly conceived Scherzo alternates ragged and smooth variations of a four bar theme. A pseudo march step and bugle call introduce a delightful, whisper-quiet trio. The sweet sadness of the Adagio builds on a short, dotted-rhythm phrase. But life goes on. The rhythm smoothes out with beautiful memories heard over the (irregular) heartbeat of the piano. Towards the end, the heartbeat quickens with the recall of both sadness and beauty.

Quiet but urgent passion returns in the final Allegro, expressed in a dotted rhythm of many guises. A plaintive response is met with a brief return of the passion, but perseveres, sweetly, expressively and at some length before growing to a climax. The opening material returns, but it’s alone. Only the memories remain.

G.A. Cooper

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WCCM concert, April 1, 2012: Three Plus One, A Beautiful Mix

Program notes by G.A. Cooper

E, von Dohnanyi (1877-1960)
Serenade for Violin, Viola and Cello in C Major, Opus 10

Dohnanyi was a major musical figure of the twentieth century – virtuoso pianist, Director of the Budapest Academy, Chief Conductor of the Budapest Philharmonic, Musical Director of Hungarian Radio – but he was slandered by petty politics and then displaced by the Nazis. This early work (1902) is his first in what became his recognizable style: fluent, operatic music in classical form. It also reveals he was an inveterate comedian. We should be hearing more of Dohnanyi’s fine music.

This is a Serenade in the sense of being light, entertaining, music, but it is in fact quite complex and extremely well put together. A fanfare is heard with troops assembling and marching off. They are heard in the distance, then return and are put through their maneuvers. The cello sings out a warning cry, which is taken up by the other two voices and developed at some length. The fanfare returns for the emphatic ending.

The viola opens the Romanza with two gorgeous melodies. The mood changes abruptly as the violin and cello interject a passionate animato. The storm passes and the gentle melodies return and die away.

The Scherzo is a quick-stepping witch’s dance. By turns they chase each other, dance alone, in pairs and together. The dance becomes more and more furious, rising to a clashing forte. The sun breaks through, the witches disappear, and are replaced by three sweet and innocent maidens. The witches return and compete against the maidens before the highest voice witch dances a solo. The maidens are routed and the witches have a final fling in the bright sunshine.

Next comes a languorous theme and five variations, played without pause. The theme is in the form of a modern popular song: refrain-refrain-contrast-refrain, all led by the violin. The viola takes over the tune for the first variation while the other two voices take turns with arpeggios. In the second variation, the tune is again in the violin, but now modified a bit, and a little sadder. The cello seems to have forgotten that it’s a four-bar tune, and experiments with three-bar and two-bar versions.

For the third variation, the tune is modified a little more, and stretched out. It is sung in a lovely duet by the violin and viola, to the accompaniment of the cello. The fourth is still quiet but a little more animated. The violin and cello play two duets on the modified theme. The movement ends progressively quieter and sadder, led by the expressive voice of the viola.

Dohnanyi calls the last movement a Rondo, but it is quite unique. The violin and viola jump right in, each playing a slightly different version of a lively rondo theme, with the cello joining in five bars later. A contrasting section is followed by a repeat of the opening and then a second contrasting section. At this point, Dohnanyi interrupts the Rondo to develop the two contrasting sections. A short rhapsodic flight on the violin leads to the reprise of the theme and the two contrasting sections. But that’s not all. The fanfare from the first movement returns with great force, followed by the maneuvers, which gradually die away.

Gabriel Fauré (1845-1924)
Quartet in C minor, No.1, Opus 15

At age nine Fauré was sent to Paris to train as a church organist and choir master. Fortune shone on him in the form of Saint Saens who came to Fauré’s school to teach piano and composition, and later helped him get established in Parisian musical life. All this time Fauré was composing – and latterly falling (unsuccessfully) in love.

His first quartet may reflect that experience. He jumps right in with a dancing yet somewhat brooding main theme. This lightens up a bit and leads to the lovely second theme first heard in the viola and taken up in turn by all. Faure weaves these two ideas masterfully through emotions from wistful to pleasant to sweet and tranquil, but with periods of stress before resolving peacefully.

The light and wispy but brilliantly conceived Scherzo alternates ragged and smooth variations of a four bar theme. A pseudo march step and bugle call introduce a delightful, whisper-quiet trio. The sweet sadness of the Adagio builds on a short, dotted-rhythm phrase. But life goes on. The rhythm smoothes out with beautiful memories heard over the (irregular) heartbeat of the piano. Towards the end, the heartbeat quickens with the recall of both sadness and beauty.

Quiet but urgent passion returns in the final Allegro, expressed in a dotted rhythm of many guises. A plaintive response is met with a brief return of the passion, but perseveres, sweetly, expressively and at some length before growing to a climax. The opening material returns, but it’s alone. Only the memories remain.

G.A. Cooper

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Interview with Brandon Konoval sponsor of the March 20, 2011 Concert: A Journey Through Three Eras

WCCM: Why is it important to you to sponsor a concert? What would you like to say about Brahms?

BK: We were particularly interested in this concert because it features three composers that we especially love, and the Brahms trio is an old favorite. It’s not easy to find opportunities to hear such wonderful music, and we’d really like Vancouver audiences to have the chance to hear performances of it by such excellent and enthusiastic performers.

WCCM: What is special about chamber music, how it’s performed and shared by performers and audience?

BK: I know that it’s a bit of a cliché to talk about the ‘intimacy’ of a chamber music concert, but it really is something distinctive that is difficult to describe in any other way. I love going to the symphony when I can, and I get a genuine thrill out of hearing a big orchestra; but when I go to a chamber music concert, I have much more of a sense of the actual making of the music, as though I am somehow a part of it. For the performers, there is such excitement being in the midst of a Brahms trio as it is brought to life, and that creative thrill is something that can reach audiences of any size.

WCCM: Any thoughts on state of support (especially financial) for music and the arts in general? Why is it important?

BK: Vancouver has enjoyed the pursuit of international prestige over the past couple of years, and has been able with governmental support to put on the kind of large-scale spectacles and projects that attract such attention. Music and the arts in general can be a dynamic part of the spectacular, and we are happy to see such contributions from the arts supported in their turn; at the same time, there is so much more to be experienced in music that we consider no less significant to the life of our community. We’d like to try to help those performers and performances that can be overlooked when funding priorities are directed elsewhere, and to encourage others to join us in supporting such tremendous artistic initiatives.

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An Interview with violinist Domagoj Ivanovic

Domagoj_Ivanovic2Domagoj Ivanovic performed in the January 23, 2011 concert entitled “An Afternoon with Schumann & Schubert”.

WCCM: What would you like to say about the music you’ll be performing on the January 23 concert?

DI: Chamber music works by Schubert and Schumann are, in my opinion, true jewels of chamber music repertoire. They are like those special treats you had this past holiday season. Being able to perform them is a privilege for every musician.

WCCM: In your experience, what is unique about the experience of performing and listening to chamber music?

DI: I find that performing chamber music is a real “artist’s refuge” in today’s lifestyle. We get a chance to perform ingenious music on our own terms – it doesn’t happen very often any more! “We are here to entertain”, a conductor said at the most recent New Year’s Concert. True, but playing chamber music gives us a chance to do not only that – it gives us a chance to enlighten both ourselves and the audience.

WCCM: How do you feel about the current state of support for the arts, in terms of cuts to funding for example?

DI: I have had the good fortune of being able to live in several countries over the past 15 years and I can say that the arts funding has been a problem in all of them. Often I have asked myself what I could do as a musician to help – I’ve realized that complaining about it only gets me depressed. Instead, I believe that the best thing we can do as musicians is give our absolute best in communicating the value of the music to the audience and make sure every audience member always leaves feeling fulfilled and enlightened. That way they will always come back. They have come back. On the concert that’s coming up, we’ll be playing music that was composed almost two hundred years ago and already performed thousands of times! Ever watch a rerun of a football game?

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