‘Tis the Season

We got a lovely Holiday surprise when our all-Canadian CD Incarnation was recently picked by CBC as one of the top 10 Classical Album of 2017! We are delighted beyond words! Thanks to the composers – Chan Ka Nin, Alice Ho, Andrew Staniland, Denis Gougeon and Jocelyn Morlock – for writing us such fabulous pieces and to the recording team of David Jaeger and Dennis Patterson for their amazing work in the booth.

As 2017 comes to a close we’re so pleased to share our newest CD – Perfect Light – a collection of original holiday arrangements written especially for us – and clarinettist Christine Carter who joins us on five tracks – by Clifford Crawley. Creating this CD was an extraordinarily meaningful experience as it was the last project Cliff worked on before he passed away in February of 2016.

We developed a special friendship with Cliff over the ten plus years he lived in St. John’s. He had retired from teaching composition at Queen’s University and followed his wife, renowned ethnomusicologist Bev Diamond, when she joined the Memorial University faculty. Cliff took no time in becoming a vital part of his new home, embracing opportunities to write for numerous St. John’s musicians with vigor, skill, and great generosity. The Duo’s first collaboration with Cliff was It Takes Two – an encore CD designed to showcase both the violin and piano equality. Cliff seemed to effortlessly produce these 14 wonderful and witty arrangements of opera arias, jazz tunes, musical numbers, and classical hits, recasting these well-known pieces in a fresh and imaginative way. More requests followed – ballet arrangements, original pieces – all produced with speed, enthusiasm, tremendous creativity, and big-heartedness.

Clifford Crawley 1929 – 2016
Our final requests of Cliff turned out to be these Christmas arrangements. It is not an easy task to arrange vocal music, where the text can change with each verse, for instruments only. Yet Cliff found a way to bring these tunes alive with just violin, piano, and, now and then, a clarinet. Often using the song as merely a starting point for an original fantasia, he cast new light on these old favorites. He worked on these up to the end of his life, completing them all but for “In the Bleak Midwinter”, which we recorded as a fragment only.

We are ever grateful for his treasured presence that lives on in our hearts through all these works, and we will always remember his kindness, wit, wisdom, talent, and generosity. This CD is dedicated to his memory.



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.