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V for Victory

PEI Symphony Orchestra - Vivaldi 4 Beethoven 5

Review by Ivy Wigmore

The final performance of the PEI Symphony Orchestra started out with Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. As the first familiar notes sounded, I thought to myself: No surprises here. However, much of the power of music derives from expectation and subversion of that expectation. And in this case, my expectations were way off the mark. Although I may have heard the concertos a time or two before, the performance was positively thrilling, seeming infused with the same awesome creative force that drives the seasons themselves.

Concertmaster Hok Kwan soloed and conducted simultaneously, the latter task apparently accomplished mainly through the subtle side-on lift of an eyebrow or twitch of a shoulder blade. Fortunately, the orchestra didn’t seem to need much in the way of instruction. Kwan and orchestra were fabulous.

After intermission, we were treated to Jim O’Leary’s “Three Studies for orchestra,” each of which is in the style of a different masterwork. The first movement was inspired by Bela Bartok’s “The Miraculous Mandarin.” O’Leary says that he wanted to recreate “the relentless energy” of Bartok’s work and he definitely succeeded—by the end of this study, we were wide awake and ready for the intense listening that the second piece required. Inspired by Olivier Messiaen’s “Et Exspecto Resurrectionem Mortuorum” (I Await the Resurrection of the Dead), the second study did seem to speak of anticipation—clearly, something was happening. The third study, inspired by Charles Ive’s “The Unanswered Question,” was fascinating and suitably mysterious. A piccolo and oboe echoed what the orchestra was playing from offstage. I loved “Three Studies.” I find myself going to O’Leary’s website and listening to the excerpts available there to remind myself of the experience.

The end piece for the concert and the season was Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. Another very familiar work, No. 5 starts off with the repeated “short-short-short-long” sequence popularly considered to refer to the knock of fate at the door. During WWII, the BBC introduced its news broadcasts with the sequence because they correlate to Morse code for the letter V, for victory. Throughout the symphony, the four notes are repeated to varied effect, expressing everything from joy to a bittersweet melancholy to foreboding. The orchestra was, at least to my ear, spot-on throughout. How wonderful it is to hear such music performed live, and performed so beautifully.

I found myself reminded that music, like all sensory input, is information. I thought back to a time, a few years back when my grandson was a toddler. My husband, Douglas, and I had put a classical disc on and were settling back with the Saturday papers while Noah built various Lego constructions on the carpet. Time to relax. However, as the music progressed, construction projects fell by the wayside. Noah came charging over to us, seemingly galvanized. His eyes popped wide and pudgy hands flew up in amazement. Preverbal at that point, he was nevertheless driven to try to communicate about his visceral experience of the music: This is incredible! Are you hearing this? Are you feeling this?

How often, as an adult, do you ever get to have an experience like that? Not often enough, to be sure, but I think many of us did on April 5, at the PEISO’s Vivaldi 4 Beethoven 5 performance.

Sensual Music

Between Sun and Snow

Review by Ivy Wigmore

Between Sun and Snow, the third of the PEI Symphony Orchestra’s performances this season, offered an unusually spicy mixture, thoughtfully blended up to combat those long-winter blues, reassuring us that there’s warmth in our future. Perhaps even some heat.

First on the program was the world premiere of Antoine Ouellette’s “Perce-Neige.” In this piece, we heard the tension between winter and spring: the tentative thrills of ice melting and birds singing against the sombre background of ongoing—or returning—winter. In fact, there were quite likely specific birds represented: Ouellette is a biologist as well as a composer and musicologist and has published scholarly works about bird song. “Perce-Neige” is French for snowdrop, one of the first flowers to appear in spring. Although snow falls and cold winds put up a fight against the longer days and warmer rays, that first brave shoot and sweet white flower will inevitably break through.

Guest soloist Teresa Doyle sang sassy jazz tunes from her new CD, Late Night Parlour, including both original songs like “You’re My Cup of Tea” (written for husband Brett Bunson) and “Dance Me Outside” (written for her parents and dedicated to her mother) as well as compatible covers like “Comes Love (Nothing Can Be Done).” And when I say she sang them, what I mean to say is she sang the heck out of them. As is her wont.

Doyle’s one foray out of the jazz she does so well was from Orrachan, her recording of sacred medieval Irish music. Her rendition of a Gaelic song based on the seven sorrows of the Virgin Mary was very stirring—Doyle really has a remarkable voice. I’ve heard her sing “The Seven Sorrows” before but never with the power and emotional impact of this performance.

After intermission we were back to swing-y jazz and a good time was had by all. Doyle, for one, was clearly enjoying herself, smiling hugely and exclaiming exuberantly, at one point, “This is as much fun as it gets!”

Ferde Grofé wrote the five movements of The Grand Canyon Suite between 1929 and 1931. Grofé was inspired by a trip he and friends had taken across the Arizona desert in 1916 to see sunrise over the Grand Canyon. Forty years later, in a radio interview, Grofé said that he’d written the Suite because what he experienced was beyond what could be expressed in words. And that’s where the first movement begins, at sunrise. Through out, we’re led through the day that follows.

Conductor James Mark spoke of the visual quality of the work, Grofé’s ability to paint a picture in music. No kidding. It’s bad form to quote from program notes, but in this case, I can’t resist (although I’ll admit I didn’t try very hard): “…a lone cowboy rides into the picture, passes a waterfall and closes in on a solitary cabin housing a music box. The cowboy gallops out of the picture and the sun sets, leaving the canyon in darkness. The music comes to an end with a cloudburst, then the moon.” I swear, I saw every item. Not to mention the donkey… And to think it was all done with music.

Passionate Classics

PEI Symphony opens season with familiar works

Review by Ivy Wigmore

On Sunday, October 19th, the PEI Symphony Orchestra kicked off its 41st season with “Passionate Classics,” an eclectic program of music spanning several countries and centuries. The entire afternoon was a joy: the selections were perfect; the orchestra was spot-on throughout, and the performance of Lysa Choi, the sixteen-year-old guest solo violinist, was little short of incendiary.

First up was Beethoven’s “Overture to Egmont,” written as part of a series of incidental pieces for Goethe’s play about Count Egmont. The composer wrote the music, like the play, as political art illuminating the heroism of the Count who fought to liberate his country, the Netherlands and was executed for his efforts. The music is said to be a précis of the play and, as such, is extremely stirring. Although Egmont’s death may be relayed through the piece, it finishes triumphantly, portraying the subsequent uprising of the people.

Lysa Choi performed with the orchestra for Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto in D Major. Shortly after she began to play, you could see audience members turning to each other wide-eyed. Her performance was incredibly accomplished, nuanced and emotionally mature. When the concerto was finished, a moment or two of silence was followed by a chorus of “`Wow!” on all sides. The man to my left turned to me and said, “Whew. That was exhausting.” He meant for the audience, who might not have been able to take much more. In fact, we just managed the strength to leap to our feet for an extended ovation. After the concert, there was much talk of the young violinist, speculations that we were very lucky to see her at this point in her career because she was clearly headed for stardom.

The next piece, Samuel Barber’s “Adagio for Strings,” is officially the saddest music in the world, as attested to by a BBC Today poll. Elegant, evocative and elegiac, the Adagio was performed at the funerals of Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Prince Rainier of Monaco and, again, in 2001 at the World Trade Center, in a ceremony for the victims of the September 11 attacks. It may be the saddest music in the world; it’s certainly among the most beautiful, lending sorrow dignity and sanctity.

Haydn wrote his Symphony 94, The Surprise Symphony, in 1792. It was, at least partially, written as part of a friendly competition between the composer and a former pupil. At that time, a single chord in the symphony excited a lot of public comment and a compliment from Haydn’s student. According to conductor James Marks, the symphony was written with tongue firmly in cheek. In this vein, the famous (although, to the modern ear barely detectable) chord was part of the composer’s toying with audience expectations throughout. Which is, of course, where the symphony got its nickname.

What a wonderful way to spend a Sunday afternoon. If you missed this one, I recommend that you watch for upcoming performances. The next concert, November 23rd, will be “Fun for All Ages.”

Ghost Story

Sounds in the night

by Ivy Wigmore

Louise Lalonde once lived on the Hopeton Road in Bunbury in a 100-year-old house that had been known as the George Dewar House.

The house retained the antique charm of its period, having escaped typical remodelings of the last century. When I visited there, even the wallpaper was vintage. The house had a nice feel, even a nice smell: old wood and polish, a faint scent of apples. Along with its character, the house had a few unusual features. In the parlour was an untuned piano. Downstairs in the cellar was a cement slab and a sink, as if people had been embalmed down there. Louise assumed that those were relics of the days when Dr. Dewar had his offices in the house.

From her first days there, Louise never felt alone in the house. She and her sister Claude, who sometimes stayed with her, often heard footsteps through the house, boards creaking as if someone was walking down the stairs and into the room. But no one appeared. Or they’d hear the sound of piano music drifting through the house, although the piano was not playable and there was no one there to play it if it had been. Items would disappear, only to reappear at some later date in a place that had already been searched. People would hear their names called when they were alone in the house.

One night in particular, Louise woke to a strong feeling of a presence in her room. She got up, saw it was 3:30 am and went back to sleep. The next morning, the sisters met in the kitchen. “How’d you sleep?” Louise asked Claude. “Oh,” came the response, “I woke up at half-past three because I felt someone in the room with me. Someone sat on the bed.” It seems that someone had stopped by the rooms of both women, almost like a mother looking in on her children before bed.

There was an upstairs room that had a different feel to it. One morning Louise was walking down the upstairs hall. As she passed the doorway, she looked in and found herself eye-to-eye with a woman sitting in the room, dressed in the fashion of the late sixties or early seventies, in a green and orange plaid mini.

Louise was not uncomfortable sharing her house with the spirit and came to refer to her as “Sheila.” A visiting psychic told Louise that there was the spirit of a woman, probably in her forties, upstairs and that of an elderly man downstairs.

The young son of a visitor one time suddenly said “Ghost!” and said that he’d seen a “purple thing” go into the room. Given Sheila’s taste in clothing, Louise thought that was likely who he'd seen.

At one point, Louise was running a bed and breakfast in the house and often rented rooms out to bands that were playing in town. She’d moved the piano into her room because it was so badly out of tune that it was not really playable. One morning, the bass player of a band that was staying there said “Who the HELL was playing that out-of-tune piano in the middle of the night?”

Louise, who’d been sleeping next to the piano, assured him that the piano had not been played in a very long time, definitely not the previous night.

Louise sold the house a few years ago but she sometimes wonders if the current owners ever hear mysterious music or maybe see, out of the corner of their eyes, a fleeting glimpse of green and orange plaid.

Got a ghost story? Call Ivy Wigmore at 902-367-2372, email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Career Recognition

Teresa Doyle receives Canada Council award for her music

by Ivy Wigmore

Teresa DoyleOn October 3rd, the Canada Council announced the 2007 winners of Victor Martyn Lynch-Staunton Awards. Annually, the Awards recognize outstanding mid-career artists. A single Canadian artist in each of seven disciplines is named as recipient of the $15,000 prize. When Teresa Doyle heard that she’d won for music, she went through a number of emotions. Her first reaction was shock—she had no idea she’d even been nominated. Once the idea that she’d won began to settle, she started thinking of all the people that should have won rather than her, beginning with her producer, Oliver Schroer. Coming happily to terms with the fact that she was the chosen recipient, however, Doyle started to have extravagant ideas about uses for the cash. (I believe a wood shed was mentioned.)

Finally, Doyle was left with a feeling of affirmation that her meandering artistic path had led her to this recognition. She has sometimes worried that her fickle nature might be bad for her career. Having done Celtic music, Renaissance music and jazz—for starters, Doyle thought perhaps she might get somewhere faster if she just picked a genre and stuck with it. There’s a philosophical theory, known as the principle of obliquity, that seems to be in play here. According to this theory, the fastest path to success is not typically the most direct one. For example, individuals who are most concerned with their own happiness are not typically very happy and companies that value profit more highly than integrity or service are not typically the most profitable. In Teresa Doyle’s case, obliquity translates to success as an artist resulting from following her interest wherever it takes her, both musically and geographically, rather than plugging doggedly away at whatever seems most likely to lead to success.

A good deal of Doyle’s energy also goes into teaching music and the administration of the Rock Barra artists’ retreat. For the past year or so, she’s been teaching her own blend of sound yoga (which combines chants and vocal exercises with gentle postures and movements) integrated with classical and world folk music. Doyle’s system may not be traditional but I can vouch for the results. I swear, leaving sound yoga is the only time in my life I ever felt like the song “Walking on Sunshine” could be my soundtrack. In fact, it’s the only time I’ve ever come close to getting the concept. A friend once told Doyle that he could tell which people walking down Queen were coming from her sound yoga class by the spring in their steps and the smiles on their faces.

When Doyle was interviewed about the Award for the CBC, she was asked how she copes with being so busy. And she is busy, no mistake, said Doyle. But she’s busy running from one thing that she loves to something else that she loves. The path may not be straight but the journey is happy and, as demonstrated by this award, is going somewhere good.

Ravish My Heart

musica intima

Review by Ivy Wigmore

This review is going to be (almost) a rave. Musica intima, an enormously talented vocal chamber ensemble from Vancouver, delighted the audience at St. Mary’s Church on July 15th. From the opening song, “You Have Ravished My Heart,” they had the likewise-ravished crowd eating from their hands. As I looked around the church, I saw people turning to their companions, wide-eyed and grinning, obviously thrilled by the performance.

Because the evening was (almost) entirely wonderful, I’d hate to end this review on a sour note. So I want to get this exception out of the way immediately: The group finished off an evening of classical songs and folk from a variety of traditions with a jazzy, upbeat gospel tune, “If We Ever Needed The Lord Before.” From my perspective, it just didn’t work. I could be wrong, but I don’t think an audience out for a concert of choral master works and world folk music (or opera or any classical music, for that matter) necessarily wants to see the vocal ensemble transformed into a finger-snappin’ religious pop group, circa 1960. And guess which song from the concert is still bouncing around in my head? I want it out.

That said, the rest of the selections were well-chosen and flawlessly performed. In particular, Arvo Part’s “Magnificat” seemed a perfect fit for the group’s purity of sound and precision. The Estonian composer is considered a pioneer of a school known as mystic or sacred minimalism, a very appropriate style for the spare but powerful presentation of musica intima.

The group of twelve (six of one, half a dozen of the other) performs a cappella and is self-directed, depending on each other for cues and signals. The singers changed positions frequently throughout for specific audio effects. The most striking example was for “Inuit Hunting Song.” In this, the women remained onstage weaving fluid harmonies while the men positioned themselves at various stations throughout the church. In keeping with traditional Inuit singing, the men created the sounds of a far northern hunt. They began quietly: The sound of the wind, cold and unimpeded by buildings or trees, the sounds of sled runners on ice, distant wolves howling, ice cracking… The surround effect of the various sounds, coming as they did from a number of places in the church, was eerie and amazing. I’m not sure what all the sounds were but layered against the backdrop of the ongoing hunting song, all combined to evoke a long trek through the frozen north country.

Besides the hunting song, selections in this mixed bag of a category included some from “Chansons Francaise” by Francis Poulenc, Edward Elgar’s “My Love Dwelt in a Northern Land,” Stan Rogers’ “Northwest Passage” and the well-loved Scottish traditional, “Loch Lomond.”

During the introduction to the concert, the announcement was made that Indian River had been named the best classical music festival in Canada. Nice—but no surprise. When you take St. Mary’s acoustics, and add performers of this calibre, well…magic happens.

Flesh and Blood

Salt-Water Moon

Review by Ivy Wigmore

A soft summer night; a full moon; a boy and a girl. In David French’s Salt-Water Moon, the essential elements are all in place from the start—and set against the backdrop of a tragic accident. The wake for the victim brings gives estranged couple Mary Snow and Jacob Mercer a rare opportunity to spend the evening together. So there you have it: sex and death, the directive to gather rosebuds while we may.

The play moves right along with actors Mary Ashton and Brendon Murray holding the stage admirably. The story in a nutshell: Jacob left, a year ago, too distraught to say goodbye to Mary. She was devastated but eventually took up with a schoolmaster, son of a merchant who had mistreated and humiliated Jacob’s father. On this evening in August, Jacob has returned and stops in to see Mary at the house where she is in service to a local dignitary.

The language, the history and the Newfoundland humor all ring true throughout the play, despite the fact that French’s family moved from Coley’s Point (where the play is also set) to Toronto when David was a small child. However, although his parents took the boy out of Newfoundland, it seems that Newfoundland was nevertheless nurtured within the boy: “I absorbed (the language) through some process of osmosis. Through my family. When I was growing up it was like Grand Central Station in my house—Newfoundlanders coming through all the time, sitting around, smoking cigarettes and telling stories.” (from an interview in the Halifax Herald, Nov. 2, 1999)

French’s depictions of historical events have not a whiff of dust to them. Jacob describes the slaughter of Newfoundland soldiers who signed on for the dollar a day offered them because it was more than they could make fishing. When he talks about the way those soldiers marched unflinchingly into certain death, Jacob is so passionate the audience experiences what it would be like to know men who died in that battle, women left widowed from it and children left fatherless. In “Requiem for a Nun,” William Faulkner wrote that ‘The past is never dead; it's not even past.’ In this play, history seems not only alive but clothed in flesh and blood. We learn about poverty and desperation, the hard bargains struck by those with few options.

When at last Mary relents and the inevitable happy ending is in sight, it’s not indicated by any flowery declarations of love. No, in keeping with the spirit of the play and the characters, Mary’s surrender takes the form of a stern and humorous admonition: Jacob is made to understand that if he ever brings up the name of a (probably fictional) girl in Toronto again, he’ll wish he hadn’t.

Salt-Water Moon is one of a series of five semi-autobiographical plays about the Mercer family. In subsequent plays in the series, such as Leaving Home, we see Jacob and Mary later in life. Hmmm… I wonder where that’s playing?

Are You Sleeping?

Alanna Jankov photography exhibit “2:00 to 7:00 / while you sleep

by Ivy Wigmore

In the wee hours after midnight, most of us are tucked into bed. Those of us in the mainstream, working our day jobs, are resting up from the day before and in preparation for the day to come. While we sleep, though, the night shift—people working the other side of the clock—ticks on throughout the dark hours. Some, like emergency workers and caregivers, are active in those hours of necessity; others, for a myriad of reasons, are up late or early of their own volition. Alanna Jankov had her own unique reason: between February and September of this year, the Charlottetown photographer often sacrificed those precious last hours of sleep to get a peek into that other world and to capture it in images for her show, “2:00 to 7:00 / while you sleep.”

Through those months, Jankov drove all over the Island to photograph the nocturnal counterpart to our workaday world. Some of the shots portray scenes that would almost have fit into last year's show “Heroes—common people, uncommon acts.” In these, we see the people that work to maintain public health and safety or just doing what needs to be done: a farmer delivering a calf; a police officer struggling to maintain the peace; a sleepy paperboy out predawn; the spouse of an invalid giving care through the night.

Then there’s the other side—people out late for fun. Jankov photographed teenagers just wandering the streets in the quiet hours between midnight and morning, talking and hanging out. She shot the graffiti artist, bandanna in place to protect his identity. Her quest took on an almost spy-like quality at times, notably when she was tracking down and getting access to an all-night rave. Times and locations go online to the cognoscenti only shortly before the events as a means of maintaining secrecy. To no avail in this instance. Jankov was in attendance, minivan parked outside, when the police raided.

One of the more disturbing encounters was with a heroin addict. In one image, head down, he’s intent on the needle in his tattooed arm. Jankov said she felt safe visiting him in his home because, as he said himself, he had his dope in him and was feeling good. An encounter any time earlier in the day or night might have put the photographer at risk: in those hours the addict does “whatever it takes” to get the money he needs for his fix. The picture tells the story: a man, whatever his life was and whatever his life might have been, shrunk to this—a life totally consumed with getting and using heroin.

The image captured, the photographer steps away from that world, her task accomplished. Although she’s seen now what goes on on the other side of the clock, her role in that world is only that: to observe and to document for the rest of us what goes on late at night, while we sleep.

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