Mercoledi Musicale

Going to the Drive-In

Been hit by a touch of “block” but this too shall pass as the actress said of her kidney stone. This post was meant to be finished and posted last Tuesday but a few things got in the way. Just a tad late but ….

First an explanation for the one or two younger readers of this blog who are puzzled by the sub-title: a drive-in is an outdoor movie theatre that you can visit without leaving your car. Perhaps your mother and father may vaguely remember them – they lost popularity in the last year’s of the 20th century. (The drive-ins not your mother and father!) And there is a chance the odd grand parents’ wedding day may have been motivated by a visit to a drive-in; but that’s another story.

They were very much a 50s phenomena and were popular with growing baby boom families. Cars were big, Gas was cheap, they were great for the whole family, and the perfect date night destination that certainly allowed more privacy than your parent’s rec room. However with the oil crisis in the 1970s gas became expensive, cars became smaller and less comfortable, a home VCR was more convenient, and, particularly here in Canada, business was seasonal and dependent of the weather. Attendance dropped and to make up for lost revenue, drive-ins began losing their family-friendly image by showing exploitation films as well as more adult content. And as communities grew the 15 acres occupied in the suburbs by a drive-in was just what developers wanted for their town houses and monster homes. So the drive-ins went the way of all flesh. Though not everywhere!

One of two screens at the Brackley Drive-In at Brackley Beach – a 20 minutes drive from town.

Where once there were over 600 drive-in theatres in Canada there are now 38 – one of which is here in PEI: the Brackley Drive-In. And it has been a busy place during the pandemic. As well as feature films the Brackley has hosted graduations, weddings, and concerts – mostly of the country/pop/folk variety. On Labour Day Monday night the place went classical – a first for Brackley, certainly for the PEI Symphony Orchestra and perhaps for any symphony orchestra in Canada if not the world.

The last time I was at a drive-in would have been Labour Day weekend in 1970 with Vicki, Charlie and a few others. It was one of those all-night (or at least until 1:00 am) multi-film horror shows and the main feature was Wait Until Dark with Audrey Hepburn. I had seen the play on Broadway with Lee Remick a few years before so was prepared for the big scare. However there had been an electric storm brewing and Mom Nature had an added effect on hand. At the truly frightening climactic moment (no spoiler here) there was a bolt of lightening and a crack of thunder that had me screaming with everyone else in the car/drive-in.

Quel surprise!, I digress.

So a week this past Monday evening we piled into Cathleen’s SUV along with our friend Nora, bowls of popcorn, cans of pop, boxes of smarties, Kitkat bars, pillows, blankets and at least one of us in jammies*, and headed up to Brackley. It was a beautiful evening with a clear sky that became a blanket of stars (Jupiter has been particularly bright this summer) the perfect background for a mix of the classical and the pop.

Tara MacLean – she was nervous about the evening but had no reason to be. Atlantic Blue is a great show and Tara is a great entertainer.

Every year the PEISO presents one “Roots” concert where a Maritime “pop” singer or group joins us. The first half is normally of a classical nature while the second half features the artist with the Symphony as back-up band. This year’s concert has been in the works for almost two years – singer/songwriter Tara MacLean and the Symphony had commissioned the very talented Natalie Williams Calhoun to orchestrate Tara’s popular Atlantic Blue for symphony orchestra. However the plans for this season ground to a halt and there was general disappointment from all corners. Then someone came up with a brilliant idea: as EastLink had intended to film the concert for future broadcast why not go ahead with it and show it at the drive-in? It meant downsizing the orchestra to 22 socially-distanced musicians, no audience, changing the original classical pairing and some major personnel adjustments. Fortunately Magdalena von Eccher, one of Canada’s finest pianists, has recently moved to the Island and was available to perform two pieces – Star Burning Blue, a virtuosic solo piano piece by Canadian composer Kelly-Marie Murphy , and as soloist in the lyrical largo from Bach’s Keyboard Concerto in F Minor. No surprise that her performances of both were brilliant. The first half ended with the perfect music for a star-lit Island night – Mozart’s Eine kleine nachtmusik. I might modestly add that the programme notes for the evening were written by yours truly.

In those programme notes I wrote of Tara MacLean’s Atlantic Blue :
She takes us on a journey into the past, telling a tale of how music arrived and thrived on the East Coast. And any journey into East Coast music had to include the music of Rita MacNeil.

Though I love this version I found that Natalie’s orchestration gave a new richness and depth to one of Rita’s best know songs. Hopefully one of these days we’ll get to the chance to see Atlantic Blue in Concert live and share Tara’s great love for the incredible people who make and made Maritime music.

*No it was not I – the world was spared the sight of me in my bedtime wear. However the jammies in question were very elegant and worn very elegantly by the lady in question.

The word for September 15th is:
Maritime /ˈmerəˌtīm/: [adjective]
1. Connected with the sea, especially in relation to seaborne trade or naval matters.
1.1 Living or found in or near the sea.
1.2 Bordering on the sea.
1.3 Moist and temperate owing to the influence of the sea.
Mid 16th century from Latin maritimus, from mare ‘sea’.

Mercoledi Musicale

I’m currently in the process of compiling the programme notes for the March 1st concert by our Symphony. It’s an all Canadian programme conducted by Mélanie Léonard, a rising young conductor known for her advocacy of Canadian composers. Serendipitously Jubilation of Spring, the section I’m working on today, is a celebration of the Spring Festival or Lunar New Year.

Alice Ping Yee Ho originally composed the piece in 1991 for the Toronto Chinese Youth Orchestra and expanded it for the Montréal Chamber Orchestra in 2014. I was fortunate to find a SoundCloud recording of the premiere performance of the expanded work at the Montréal Museum of Fine Arts.

Though the blowing snow and dipping temperatures belie the advent of a season hope does spring (excuse the pun) eternal for an early Spring!

The word for January 29th is:
Mumpish /ˈməmpiSH/ /ˈməmpɪʃ/: [Adjective]
Sullen, surly
Early 18th century from the now obsolete noun/verb Mump – a grimace or a miserable countenance/to make a grimace or miserable face.
If this weather doesn’t improve I’ll be reviving the word in action if not in chatter.

Mercoledi Musicale

I’ve mentioned before that I compile the programme notes for concerts by our PEI Symphony Orchestra. In the printed programme I’m limited to 500 to 600 words about composers and works for the entire concert. Online I’m limited to what the attention span of the average internet surfer is – so I’m figuring 100 to 200 words max!

Programme cover designed by Maggie Lillo at Ruby Square Graphics.

Okay I’m being snarky there – imagine your surprise! The online notes are much longer than that and I wonder, as I do of these posts, as to how much people do read of them. However to be honest, as with these posts, my programme notes are written more for my own pleasure than anything else. And I’ve discovered much about composers that I thought I knew, become reacquainted with works that were known and pieces discovered for the first time. Research is a great adventure but it can be a challenge not to get distracted and get entangled in that infamous web.

For this month’s concert I’ve been working on Jean Sibelius and his 4th Symphony, Maurice Ravel and his Ma mère Oye Suite and a new Trumpet Concert by Canadian composer John Estacio that our orchestra co-commissioned. I’ve come to quite dislike Sibelius while still admiring his music; Mr Estacio being a living composer I go with the official biography but he seems an admirable man as well as an exceptional composer.

Now Maurice Ravel – that’s another story! I’ve come to adore the man as much as I do his music. Now I’m sure he had flaws but I’ll be darned if I can find any at the moment – nor am I looking for any. And I’ve listened to the Mother Goose Suite in myriad incarnations including guitar and harp! It’s a work I’ve heard so often that perhaps I only listen to it with half-an-ear in the past while. I have a new appreciation of it now.

Normally I would be posting a video of the piece however I came across a version by the Scott Brothers Piano Duo on their website that includes animations by Tom Scott. As well as the music and animations there are brief notes on each movement. A left click on the screen shot below will take you to the page. It may take 15 minutes to view the five videos but the music is magic and the animations capture a good bit of that magic.

October 9th is International Day for Natural Disaster Reduction ???? Hey I don’t make these things up okay!

This, That, and the Other Thing

It’s been a few weeks since I’ve brought the world in general and both my faithful readers up to date with events at the corner of Water and Prince. I’m sure breathes have been baited and anticipations run highish so without further palavers here’s a few tidbits of news.

It’s called “groaking” and these two have it down to a science.

Starting as always with the Hounds from Hell – I know what’s important and what people really care about. Nicky and Nora have had their yearly check-ups and great was the surprise when the 4th year vet student was told they were 10 years old. Nora seems to have rebounded from her back problems however I’ve noticed she has moments when she slows down – for her! Now that spring is here and her friends Steve, Jerry, Sarah and Cathy from the Parks Department are back in their orange vests (pockets brimming with treats) she wants her two or three long walks and is most indignant when they are cut short. We are trying, often unsuccessfully, to keep the running, jumping and tussling to a minimum.

What’s your problem? The mat say “HOME” and we’re making ourselves “at HOME”.

Nicky’s main pursuit is the sun; his motto is “there is sun then it must be basked in”. Forget that it is still only in the one digits there are rays to be caught! And don’t forget to leave the door open and if the humans are cold they can put their sweaters on.

Holland America’s Zaandam is small cruise ship as cruise ships go these days however May 1st it still brings almost 2000 people (passengers and crew) into Port each visit.

The arrival of HAL’s Zaandam in port on May 1st signalled the beginning of cruise ship season. During the summer the Zaandam’s in almost every week alternating Tuesdays and Wednesdays depending on where the journey began, Montreal or Boston. Over June, July and August five or six other ships will visit town irregularly however come September through October there will be ships in port almost every day – on at least five days there will be three ships visiting. And on one day mid-September there will be four cruise ships disgorging upwards of 5000 passengers onto our fair shores. Let’s hope that lessons learned last year will bear results this year but just in case I think we will get the hell out of town that day.

Already this cruise ship season Nicky and Nora have had their pictures taken five times. I am tempted to buy them little straw hats with red pigtails and tell people they are Anne’s dogs. I figure $10.00 a photo should help pay some of those vet bills??

Lillian Roth in 1971 during the recording of the original cast album of her last Broadway appearance in 70, Girls, 70.

In my surfing for bits and pieces about Lillian Roth earlier this week I came across a reference to her grave marker at Mount Pleasant Cemetery in West Chester County, New York. It came as no surprise when I read that is simply gives her name, dates and this comment on her life:

As bad as it was it was good.

A welcome sign of the season on Peake’s Quay is Carron’s little red Chip Shack. The self-proclaimed – and rightly to my mind – Queen of Fries she has the best French Fries on the Island if not in Canada. Fresh cut PEI potatoes, double fried to a nice crispy brown-gold outside and butter soft inside. We were in line on the 7th when she was up and floating by the dock and had our first “small” bag of chips of the season.

Another sure, if not necessarily all that welcome, sign that spring – and tourist season – is here would be the blue awning up on the terrace at Peake’s Quay. Which means that Friday and Saturday nights on Water Street will be “festive”, yes I think that’s the word they want us to us “festive” until the wee hours of the morning. Ah well we choose to live in tourist central so suck it up buttercup!

Happy to say it was an almost capacity and very enthusiastic house for the performance of Mahler’s Symphony No. 3 by the PEI Symphony Orchestra on April 14. Photograph by Darrell Theriault for the PEISO.

You may recall that a great deal of my month of April was taken up with Gustav Mahler in preparation for the performance of his Symphony No. 3 by our PEI Symphony Orchestra. With all the build up there was a chance that the performance itself could be a bit of a let down however Maestro Mark Shapiro, the orchestra and choruses met the challenge of both the work and the anticipation. The horn section – sometimes I think Mahler had it in for the brass players – shone in some of the most difficult passages in the brass repertoire. My friend David had mentioned that he hoped the string section was up to that heart-breakingly beautiful final movement and I assure him they were. It was a remarkably fine performance and made at least one audience member very proud to be involved howbeit tangentially.

The children and women’s choruses along with the hard-working horn section waiting for the downbeat at the beginning of the 4th movement. Photograph by Darrell Theriault for the PEISO.

As remarkable as the performance was the audience reaction and involvement. In his brief remarks Maestro Shapiro observed that we were about to climb a mountain – audience, orchestra and chorus. And this audience was very much involved in that climb. During the interval after that lengthy first movement the talk was mostly about what had just been heard and more than one person remarked to me in passing that they were eager to hear what was to come. The reaction at the end went beyond the now de rigeur standing applause – there were whoops, whistles and some good old fashioned foot stomping. We had reached the summit of that mountain – perhaps a little flushed and winded but definitely triumphantly there.

I don’t know how I missed it but yesterdays was Lost Sock Memorial Day! And today is Clean Up Your Room Day; don’t know about you but I think they should be reversed.

This, That, and the Other Thing

Nicky (left) shows an (unusual) bit of affection for our Nora. Nothing that boy likes more than a sunbeam.

As I have in the past I’ll start with the Nora report. Well things have improved greatly and our Nora is spending less time in her kennel though she is still on medication and will be for a while yet. However the task of stopping her from running, jumping, and generally living life to the fullest is proving a major challenge. It means keeping an constant eye on her – she can go from peacefully sleeping on your lap to the front door at mach 10 and frankly it’s dangerous (for her) to stop her in mid-flight. Nicky has been even suckier than normal. He did not take kindly to us leaving him for a few days and has been keeping a close eye on the comings and goings to make sure no bags are involved.

There is nothing our Nicky loves more than the sun – well okay maybe bacon.. and cheese… and carrot… and … well okay probably food comes #1 but the sun is definitely #2. And though it is still hovering around 8c he insists on being outside on the deck. He also firmly believes that if you stare long and hard enough at the door knob someone will come and turn it. He’s right. And not only that someone will lift you up onto a chair in the sunshine.

I’m not sure if John O’Brien was listening to Mahler’s Symphony No. 3 when he did this New Yorker cover but if not he should have been.

There is a reason that I have made very few appearances here in Blogdom over the past two weeks: Gustav Mahler!

Our PEI Symphony is performing his Symphony No. 3 this coming Sunday under the baton of our wonderful music director Mark Shapiro. It’s a mammoth undertaking involving 67 musicians, a women’s and chidren’s chorus of 86, an alto soloist and four – count them – four timpani. If it’s not the biggest thing we’ve ever done it’s pretty darn close. And we are doing a reduction of the original score by Yoon Jae Lee. Maestro Lee is a New York based conductor/arranger who is adapting all of Mahler’s symphonies including Das Leid von der Erde so that they are accessible to smaller orchestras and ensembles.

I’m responsible for the notes in both the printed programme and online. By necessity the paper version is limited (I am normally given 500-600 words to write about the entire programme) so we are now posting extensive notes on our website. There is certain advantage having them online – you can include video, audio, and links to other websites. But it can prove both a boon and a bane, particularly in the case of Mahler. There is so damned much out there. Largely unappreciated as a composer during his lifetime he has become one of the most performed and recorded composer in the late 20th and early 21st centuries.

So for the past two weeks I’ve been wading through documentaries, commentaries, other programme notes, recordings, and performances. And the more I discover the more I am fascinated by the man, his world, and his music. And I’ve become seriously skeptical of earlier views that were largely based on the memories of his wife Alma. It becomes more and more apparent, to me at least, that she was selective and self-aggrandizing in her writings. A recent biography suggests that contrary to her version she was not the long-suffering one in any of her three marriages. I am also to the point of challenging the view that the Mahler Renaissance was solely the work of Leonard Bernstein. Never known for a lack of ego this was a view that was often expressed by Bernstein himself. There is little doubt that he and his New York Philharmonic were instrumental* in restoring Mahler to prominence in North America but Bruno Walter, Felix Prohaska, Otto Klemperer, and John Barbirolli were performing and championing Mahler’s works when little Lenny had to use a booster seat at the podium. Though I have to admit that as much as I love Abbado’s Mahler -any of Abbado’s Mahler – the 1961 recording of Symphony No. 3 by Bernstein and his NY crew is beyond reproach.

Having said all this I’m happy to say that my online notes are up and available for the world to see – or at least hopefully the audience that will be attending Sunday’s performance. Should you want to take a look they are available at: PEI Symphony Orchestra – The World of Mahler No. 3.

*I know – bad pun.

A few years ago I signed up for a site called “Asking Canadians” which offered Aeroplan points for participating in online consumer surveys. Prior to taking the survey you answer tombstone questions and if you are vetted in and complete the survey between 50 and 200 points are added to your account. If you are eliminated in the “pre-screening” then you get 5 points as a token. For several years I racked up points which actually got us a few flights however in the past two years there has been a change. On almost every survey it would appear that they have sufficient data from 73 year old, retired, white males from PEI.

It is starting to happen with such frequency that I am beginning to suspect that they really don’t want input from old white guys from the Island.

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