Remembering my Mom

This summer was difficult, exhausting, heart breaking but also deeply intense, almost magical. Tim and I spent much of it in Nova Scotia with my mother who was very ill with congestive heart failure. Throughout I tried to keep practicing – often in hospital chapels or boardrooms – because we had a recording of new Canadian music at the Glenn Gould Studio in early July and then about eight other pieces to learn for the Tuckamore Festival in early August and other performances throughout the summer. We were also scheduled to teach at Domaine Forget in mid July but I was granted leave and stayed behind in order to be with my mom. On August 1st she died. I’d like to write a bit about how she helped me become a musician.

Nancy (age 13) with her Mom

Nancy (age 13) with her Mom

My mother loved music and was a pretty good amateur cellist. An ideal day for her would include a couple hours of cello practicing, working in her gardens, swimming in the lake on their property in rural Nova Scotia, reading, having a lively/heated/well-informed conversation about the state of world and the sundry characters in government, and playing Scrabble. She had a deep appreciation for the beauty and miracle of the natural world and it somehow seemed intrinsically connected to her love of the arts – music, literature, and poetry in particular.

As a kid she took me to many concerts, plays, and to the ballet when it came through Halifax. I treasure the memories of being “dragged” to concerts, like when I heard the Beethoven Violin Concerto live for the first time at age eleven (Afterwards Mom let me stay up practicing until 1:00 am). For years she would drive me to lessons 100+kms away in all kinds of weather so I could have excellent violin and piano teaching. When I practiced she would often listen, and this kept me focused – there were many “discussions” about whether a certain passage was actually really in tune or not! I loved that she would encourage me to skip school if there was a trivial class scheduled (like Home Ec.) so I could play music or just do something more interesting at home.

I remember many beautiful summer days when we would walk together through the woods in Nova Scotia and she would point out things– “star flower,” “lady slipper,” “pitcher plant,” “listen: the sound of the loons.” She loved ordering her seeds every January in anticipation of another growing season (she grew almost all their food for the year). The miracle – of these tiny seeds yielding a bountiful harvest months later – never ceased to delight her. Today if I start to worry in the middle of the night I summon a feeling I had as a kid: lying in a field on my back next to her, looking up at the clouds and feeling the warm summer wind on my face. If I have the ability to appreciate –even a little – the tremendous gifts that are the natural world and music, I owe this to her.

When my mother was sick in the hospital for much of July, I would lie next to her in her hospital bed and we would listen to music together, one earphone in my ear, and one in hers. In the midst of the mix on the IPod was the slow movement of Mahler’s 5th symphony – probably the most beautiful orchestral piece ever written, a sonic representation of the most tender, deep, unabashed, and purest love. I will always remember holding her hand as we listened to this together – ever grateful for it and for her.

The day after she died, I was practicing in the comforting surroundings of her bedroom, trying to prepare for Tuckamore, which started 3 days later. At one point, for some reason, I stopped playing and opened a drawer in her bureau. There inside lay a cassette labeled “Music to be performed at my memorial as people assemble.” Mom had likely made the tape at least five years prior (when her double cassette player still worked). My father and I had not known of the tape’s existence. After tracking down a cassette player, I listened to the music she picked. One of the pieces was what I was just practicing – the exquisite slow movement of Beethoven’s Harp quartet, which I would perform 9 days later. Another was the Bach’s Erbarme Dich from St. Matthew’s Passion which Bach paraphrased in his Violin and Keyboard Sonata in C minor. At her memorial, Tim and I played this for her; our children played Saint-Saens’ The Swan with Sasha using her cello. It was a small testament to the legacy of her love of music and our immense gratitude for her and the lives she led us to.

J. S. Bach and Germany

We’re thrilled to celebrate the official release of our new CD J.S. Bach: Six Sonatas for Violin and Keyboard. This is tremendously beautiful music and recording these sonatas was both a richly rewarding process and a somewhat daunting one – the enormity of a genius such as Bach tends to do that!

We’ve put together a short video trailer that tells a bit about our journey with beloved Bach and these six pieces. Our sincere thanks and admiration to Rich Blenkinsopp at Memorial University for his technical and artistic expertise in creating this video. The recording is available through Amazon and ArchivMusik among others.

We’ve just returned from concert tours of the UK and Germany. We played in scenic Wales for the first time and returned to Cambridge University for two concerts. In Germany we played six concerts and logged 2500+ km of driving, which took us from the Cologne area to Leipzig and Dresden, then to Bavaria, and finally ending in Mönchengladbach, north of Düsseldorf. It is always so exciting to play for German audiences because they have such a deep appreciation for and sense of ownership of this music – their music!

Some press quote for the Duo recent Germany tour:
“In Johann Sebastian Bach’s E major Sonata Duo Concertante found a beautiful balance in the slow movements – on one hand not too romantic, on the other not too austere. Their fast movements were performed with ease, lightness and naturalness. Following a very lively performance of the G Major Sonata of Beethoven (op. 96), and after much enthusiastic applause, the audience was treated to two encores: a rousing, spirited and virtuosic rendition of Aram Khachaturian’s “Sabre Dance” and the first movement of the A major sonata by Johann Sebastian Bach.
Rheinische Post (Mönchengladbach)

“Duo Concertante impresses with their technical brilliance, but their musicality is even more special. They play the works of Beethoven, Bach and Schubert with complete clarity … [and] often begin passages as if from nothing and grow to explosive climaxes. The Schubert in particular unfolded as if from within a vast orchestral soundscape. This recital was a highpoint of the Pianoforte series. “ Rheinische Post (Xanten)

“The Duo captures extreme changes in mood – from despondency to joyousness – with vitality, and always in synchronicity. As an encore the Duo presented a spirited, vigorous and wild Khachaturian’s Sabre Dance, precise down to the last note. There was tremendous applause for the inspired playing of these two artists of international stature.” Augsburger Allgemeine

Nancy dancing in the rain in Xanten.

Nancy dancing in the rain in Xanten


Double Concerto CD is here! (And a bit about how it all came to pass…)

We’re excited to announce the release of our new CD of Double Concertos by Andrew P. MacDonald and Mendelssohn, with the Newfoundland Symphony Orchestra and Marc David! Some of the highlights on the rather long journey to making this disc:

– Over 15 years ago: After hearing Andrew MacDonald’s JUNO award winning and beautiful violin concerto, we decide to commission a double concerto by this amazing composer. So, we do, with the help of the Canada Council for the Arts and the enthusiasm of the NSO, with whom we premiere the work in St. John’s.

– 2001- 2013: Numerous performances of Andrew’s Double Concerto as well as the Mendelssohn with various orchestras in NS, PEI, and ON help us to feel like we really “know” these pieces.

– About 5 years ago: We start thinking, ”Wouldn’t it be great to make a recording which shows off some of the classical music talent in Newfoundland and Labrador?” (The NSO has grown under Marc’s leadership and they have never made a commercial recording.)

– 2011-2014: Finding the $$$. Numerous grant applications (Tim spent hours figuring out FACTOR) and other ideas – some successful, some not – finally enable us to fund this ambitious project. We’re grateful for the support of FACTOR, the Newfoundland Labrador Arts Council, Memorial University, the NSO Foundation Inc., and numerous private donors (many through a Kickstarter campaign).

– 2013: The engineer we line up for the project — multi award winning producer/engineer Carl Talbot — breaks his hand. We need to completely reschedule the recording sessions and release plan. The project is delayed 10 months. Finding synergy in the schedules of conductor, producer, 60 players, and hall is no small feat! On top of all of this, there is still a lot of financial uncertainty. Our friend, Tom Gordon, tells us to persevere.

– September 2014: Three intense days of recording finally take place at the DF Cook Hall. Somehow we fit 60+ musicians on the relatively small stage, plus a grand piano. Andrew and Carl Talbot fly in from QC. Carl, who does a fabulous job, turns out to be more than worth the rescheduling hassles!

– December 2014 – March 2015: Final editing choices (hours of listening), reports to grant agencies (more hours trying to decipher FACTOR budgets), writing liner notes – but the end is in site!

– May 2015: The CD is released on the excellent Marquis Classics label! We did it!

This recording is dedicated to the memory of Gerry Germain, a great supporter of the arts in Newfoundland and Labrador, and in particular the Newfoundland Symphony Orchestra and the Tuckamore Festival. He is dearly missed.

Duo Concertante also wishes to acknowledge the support of Timothy Brennan, Alice Collins, Margery and Raymond Dahn, Angela Dawe, Deborah Glassman, Terry Goldie, Adam Gravelle, Carolyn Jones, and Chris Ryan and our other Kickstarter campaign backers. We also wish to extend a special thank you to Lynn Kuo, guest concertmaster for the recording, and to Heather McKinnon, chair of the NSO, whose strong commitment to this project was critical.