Incarnation CD coverOur newest CD – Incarnation – comes out in May and contains five pieces written especially for us by Chan Ka Nan, Denis Gougeon, Alice Ho, Jocelyn Morlock and Andrew Staniland. Tim and I are extremely proud of this disc and I’d like to try to put in words some of why that is.

As a student I was fascinated by the connections between some of my favourite composers and the first performers of their pieces. Bartok, for example, had special relationships with three wonderful Hungarian violinists – Joseph Szigeti, Zoltan Szekely, Jelly d’Aranyi – and these friendships (and, in the case of d’Aranyi, infatuation) inspired bold, original, and canonical works: the Rhapsodies, Contrasts, the magnificent Violin Concerto and Two Sonatas for Violin and Piano. Likewise, Prokofiev and Shostakovich had their violin muse in the great David Oistrahk who was a first performer and/or inspiration for Prokofiev’s two violin sonatas and Shostakovich’s two violin concertos as well as his only violin sonata. Perhaps the greatest example of a fruitful composer/performer relationship was that of Brahms and Joseph Joachim. Joachim, who inspired and helped revise some of Brahms’ sublime Violin Concerto and was also the impetus for the Brahms double concerto, was also the dedicatee of the Bruch, Dvorak, and Schumann concertos!

When I think about a great piece of music, it seems as though it was always there – a basic necessity that acts as a catalyst, deepening my connection to life. Can a violinist imagine the world without the Brahms Concerto, for example? How could it never be there? Of course, there was a time when these great works did not exist. Indeed, without the role that performers played in the creation of these works, we would likely have no Brahms, Bartok, Shostakovich, Dvorak, or Bruch concertos!

Each of the new works on Incarnation started out as “Wouldn’t it be great to commission so-and-so?” followed shortly thereafter by planning the premiere performance, applying for funding, brainstorming other performance opportunities , thinking of how to tie it into larger programs or connect it to other repertoire. Eventually, when the anticipated piece arrives (hopefully with enough time to learn it well), the time consuming, technically challenging, experimental, but extremely interesting process of bringing it to life begins. (A whole other blog entry could be written on this process.) The final result – a premier performance where we hope to give a convincing and true performance of our courageous and immensely creative composer’s new work, and that we safely deliver into the world a creation that will live long past our time.

While we are under no delusions about our musical skills in relation to the above-mentioned great players, we would like to hope that we share a similar devotion to the music of our time. Of the 25 new works Duo Concertante have commissioned and premiered so far, a number are getting performed over and over by other players. And there are others we think will find their place in the sonata repertoire over time. It is wonderful to be a part of this legacy.


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