Three in a Row
We were super surprised – not to mentioned SO delighted – to receive, for the third year running, the 2019 ECMA for Classical Recording of the Year. This special recognition, for our holiday album Perfect Light, was extra meaningful because of Clifford Crawley’s role in the album: he, for no other reason than we asked him to, wrote us an entire CD worth of magical, ingenious, and surprisingly original arrangements. Sadly, these would be the last works he composed before his passing in February 2016; perhaps all too fittingly, the final piece on the record is the fragment of “In the Bleak Midwinter” which Cliff was unable to finish.
“Original arrangements” doesn’t really capture the treatment Cliff gave these Christmas standards. While he used the tune as a starting point, he quickly took the listener to truly unexpected harmonies and styles (a ¾ piece became a rumba, or a single line melody transformed into a canon in a way that seemed pre-ordained).
In addition to his extraordinary creativity, Cliff truly understood the instruments he wrote for and created beautiful and idiomatic material for the violin and piano, and clarinet. Christine Carter deserves recognition for her beautiful playing on five of the tracks. Cliff would always ask, with characteristic humility, if there was anything we’d like him to modify, urging us not to hesitate to make changes ourselves. There never was and we never did.
Cliff’s time in Newfoundland was a gift to many classical musicians in St John’s. (He had followed his wife, the distinguished ethnomusicologist Bev Diamond, when she came to MUN.) His generosity as a composer and arranger resulted in many, many premieres over his 10+ years in NL with new works for solo piano, voice, orchestra, and various chamber ensembles. For Duo Concertante, Cliff wrote over thirty fivepieces. Every time we pull out one of these works and see his distinctive hand-written parts we are especially grateful for and cognizant of his talent, wit, warmth, and generosity. With these parts in front of us and his music in our fingers, we feel him with us still.
Duo Concertante – 20 years, China, Schubert, Commissions and Tuckamore
This New Year newsletter/blog is a bit tardy…. An 8 city China tour in December, immediately followed by the holidays where our expectations as parents kick in, and then concerts in early January with eight major pieces to prepare, distracted us a bit from sending out a timely message!
It’s pretty hard to believe that we officially became Duo Concertante some twenty years ago this season. Here (at left) is one of our very first promo shots taken by Sheilagh O’Leary which we used during our very first tour to ON. We’ve returned to many of these venues over the years, which is always meaningful, and one of these – the Kitchener Waterloo Chamber Music Society – where we’ve played over a dozen time, will see us next week with our clarinettist friend Christine Carter. And we’ve just released with her Invitation, an album of trios by Milhaud, Khachaturian, Cardy and Poulenc which we’re pretty proud of.
So far, it’s been a busy and fun 2018-19 with over 35 recitals throughout Canada, US, Germany, the U.K. and the far east. China was especially memorable with its gigantic cities, lovely halls, (here we are in Beijing) friendly people, and, of course, amazing food. A typical day on the tour was: get up at 6 am, go to the airport, fly 2-4 hours to another major city, go to hotel, go to hall, warm up, play concert, go to hotel, sleep and repeat. (We were a tad worried about the political situation between Canada and China which intensified as we were there (and continues to be heated), but thankfully we made it home. Our wonderful tour manager ran things like clockwork – from planning complicated itineraries to keeping us healthy and fed with fabulous, fresh food.
Since the beginning of Duo C, playing new Canadian music has been a “thing”. This year we commissioned two new pieces – Frisson by Randolph Peters and a major work by Melissa Hui will follow in 2019. These pieces join the 35+ plus works that we’ve commissioned (often with the assistance of the Canada Council) and premiered since 1998. We are thrilled that many of these have become a regular feature of new Canadian violin and piano programs by a younger generation of players.
Over the years, we’ve also loved focusing on complete cycles… first all the Beethoven sonatas, then Bach’s. Recently we’ve been recording the complete works for violin and piano by Schubert. Summer 2018 we put the Fantasy (Is that most difficult but also most beautiful work ever written for violin and piano?), Rondo Brilliante, and D major Sonatina “in the can” and this June we will finish up at the Glenn Gould Studio with the A major Sonata and 2 other Sonatinas. It’s been a super rewarding project and such a treat to play these exquisite pieces.
Another 20thanniversary milestone approaches in a year and a half – that of the Tuckamore Festival where we are Artistic Directors. This festival has grown from a two-week festival of four concerts to one with 30+ summer events and school concerts and other outreach activities that spill into the regular season. With the guidance of a great manager and excellent board, Tuckamore has been able to bring world class artists to audiences in Newfoundland as well as provide exceptional opportunities to over 350 emerging musicians and composers. This summer, as part of Tuckamore, the Duo looks forward to travelling to central Newfoundland with actor/playwright Robert Chafe in a musical dramatic work that celebrates NL’s joining Canada 70 years ago.
The most noticeable change for us after twenty years is that instead of touring with a baby and toddler, we share our lives with two pretty darn awesome almost adults, Clara and Sasha. They’ve always incredibly good sports about tolerating the craziness of our lives and we’re so glad they don’t mind the fact that they are being able to hum every major violin and piano work by heart.
So far we’ve commissioned over 35 new Canadian works and we usually program one of them on every recital we play. We also have recorded 3 CDs devoted entirely to new music written for us. Except for some family members who can be relied upon is to say things like “Are you going to be playing any of that weird music on that concert?”, we’re never quite sure what the reaction will be when we put a new work between some Bach or Beethoven. Ditto for when we make a record of all new Canadian pieces. So we were doubly thrilled when Incarnation was not only selected by CBC as one of the top ten classical albums of the year (and that’s a pretty broad category mind you) but also won Classical Album of the Year at the ECMAs. Thanks goes to the five great composers – Chan Ka Nin, Denis Gougeon, Alice Ho, Jocelyn Morlock and Andrew Staniland – who inspire us with their bravery (yes, bravery. It takes bravery to be a classical composer), imagination, beautiful art, and originality.
We recently added another wonderful new work to our repertoire – Frisson – by Randolph Peters. Usually when we commission a new piece, we’re sent the music and then if we’re lucky the composer might hear it at the premiere. But most times there’s not too much collaboration. This time, however, Randolph and the Duo thought it might be neat to document the process of writing and learning a new piece. We created what we think is an interesting video using material from interviews, the score, a workshop with students at Memorial University, and, of course, the premiere performance. By the way, the word “frisson” means “a sudden strong feeling of excitement or fear” and describes the goosebumps you might feel at a climatic, intense musical moment. Randolph gave himself the challenge of trying to write a piece which causes a frisson moment in the listener. So you know, that is suppose to happen at about 12:17 in the video. And if it didn’t do that for you at this premiere performance, we promise we’ll nail it when we record it on our next all Canadian CD!