Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Exploring Calgary

My weekend in Calgary, aside from giving me a chance to hear some great music, also afforded me a bit of time to see some of the city sights. I will say that growing up in Ontario in the '80's I was accustomed to Calgary being referred to derisively as "Cowtown".  What I found instead was a tidy and modern city with a very walkable downtown area.  Being the large city that it is, I could only see so much in the day-and-a-half that I had but from what I did see, I thoroughly enjoyed. Cowtown no longer.

8th Avenue, one of the city's historic streets was a joy to explore.  I absolutely love how their old sandstone buildings have been preserved.

The Calgary Tower was high on my list of things to see.  The photo turned out a bit dark.  It was still rather overcast by mid-morning Saturday.  On a positive note, it made for a very comfortable +4C.

9th Avenue and Centre Street from about 500 feet up.

With overcast skies, I wasn't very optimistic about getting a decent view of the Rockies, however, fortune smiled on me.

City view to the north-west (more or less).

Brookfield Place under construction.  Upon completion, it will be Calgary's tallest building if I'm not mistaken.

A decent view of the Saddledome.

A view of the Glenblow Museum and Jack Singer Hall, site of my CPO concert .

Once I returned to ground level, I headed off to explore the Glenbow Museum.  I actually spent a lot more time there than I thought I would.  The exhibits on military history and Alberta history alone took up well over an hour explore.  As I read a great deal of history, and in particular, military history, it's wonderful to see some actual artifacts that you read about.

Mewata Armoury anchors the western terminus of 8th Avenue.  I can only imagine how many military parades left the armoury to march down 8th Avenue during the two world wars.

If I'm not mistaken, this is a Sherman Tank sitting out in front of the Armoury.

Of course I was barely able to scratch the surface with what I was able to cram in to my short stay but  with future plans to see more concerts and the weather gradually getting warmer in the Spring, I look forward to seeing more of what Calgary has to offer.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Evening at the Calgary Philharmonic: Overcoming Adversity

I have to say I spent a fantastic weekend down in Calgary hearing the Calgary Philharmonic (as well as checking out the downtown, which I will elaborate on in my next post.)

The underlying theme of the concert seemed to be the idea of overcoming adversity.  Tchaikovsky's Symphony #6 was played in Leningrad during the winter of 1942 (along with many other works) in defiance of the Nazi juggernaut on their doorstep.  The Sibelius Violin Concerto was a flop when it premiered in 1904.  The composer then re-worked it extensively and when it was re-introduced the following year, it was a triumph....and indeed is a staple among the violin repertoire.  It remains one of my personal favourites.

Even the evening's soloist for the Sibelius Concerto, Augustin Hadelich has had to overcome great personal challenges as he suffered horrible burns as a teenager as the result of a house fire.  He had to set aside his violin for over a year while he recovered before picking it up again.  And lucky for us he did, else we would have lost a wonderful musical treasure.  His interpretation held so much feeling and I thought the second movement in particular was just beautiful.  He ended the piece to a well-deserved standing ovation amid cries of "bravo", three curtain calls and a breath-taking encore by Paganini.

The concert was well-worth the long trip down to Calgary and I absolutely can't wait to hear the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto later on in May.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Remembering La Loche

Friday was a travel day for me so after nearly 12 hours on a bus to Calgary I was  a bit blurry-eyed when I checked in to my hotel.  It was there I happened to pass by a television in the hotel lobby and hear about a shooting in Saskatchewan.  Initially, it didn't really register.  After checking in to my room, I returned again to the news and was snapped awake instantly upon hearing that this shooting had taken place in a place I was familiar with.

In the early 2000's I lived in La Loche where I taught grade 6 and while I didn't work at Dene High School, it's a place I had been in many times as I knew quite a few of the staff there.  Events like what Friday really hit me like a cold shower.  Your blood just runs cold.  Automatically I started thinking if it involved anyone I knew.   Given the passage of time since I worked there, I can't answer that question with any degree of certainly.    The students I taught would have long since graduated.  I still keep in touch on Facebook with a handful of former staff I used to work with and sadly, one former colleague of mine did have one of the victims as a student at one point.  Another one of the victims lived a couple of hours away from where I grew up in Ontario.

Some of my best teaching memories are from La Loche.  Unfortunately, due to the actions of one messed up individual an entire community will be painted with the same broad brush.   I've worked in  enough First Nations and Inuit communities to know about the challenges involved.  I've also become too well aware of what some people will no doubt think and say in the aftermath of this tragic event.....and too often it isn't complementary.  And yet, I know how very difficult it can be to truly put in to words what you might feel.  After all, what can you say?

Schools are a place where one should feel safe.  Tragically, four lives ended Friday in a place where they should have felt secure.  It's easy to play the blame game here and I could easily go off on a tangent about my thoughts on why the school system often doesn't live up to students' needs (as those who know me best well know).  This however, is neither the time nor place for that.  I do think that we need a very frank and honest discussion in this country about the role of education in aboriginal communities and I'll leave it at that.

I wish I could say that this is all new to me and that I haven't seen my fair share of tragic events in northern, isolated communities.  So yes, this all hits close to my heart and it does sting.  It can be very difficult to speak out in a small community where everyone knows everyone and news often travels just as fast as on social media.  I don't know how things will turn out or how events will unfold in the coming days but if I've managed to pass along to my students the courage to be true to themselves and to stand up for their community during the time I was there then I know that La Loche will come together during this trying time.  My thoughts and prayers are very much with the victims of this tragedy and the community of La Loche this evening.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Accident at Nexen

The blood pressure always goes up a bit when I catch wind of accidents on site.  Just to alleviate anyone's concerns, I don't work at Nexen, although I've driven by it a few times.  I do know a few people who have worked there though none currently.  We work in an inherently dangerous industry, unfortunately.  That's just the nature of the beast.  I've worked around a coker long enough to know it can be one of the most dangerous parts of a plant.

No doubt, some people will take to social media in order to grind their own personal political axe.  It's apparent that, based on a few comments I've come across, that such people have little understanding of what goes on at such sites.  I hope that rather than clog up the airwaves with their misinformed judgements that they take a minute to realize that this tragedy has affected many people....the families, friends, and co-workers of those involved.

Thursday, January 14, 2016


My concert drought finally ended last night with a wonderful performance of the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra.  It's been well over 6 years since I've been able to see a good concert, the last time being during my trip to Hungary a few years back.  It's been even longer since I've seen an orchestra in Canada....all the way back to my university days.  But let's not dwell on that.

I had hoped to do a quick post before leaving for Edmonton when I assumed my ticket would have arrived in the mail.  I assume it got caught up in the Christmas rush as it never did arrive in time (of course, the bills still did...funny how that works.)  But I was able to get my ticket re-printed at the box office so all turned out well.

I left for Edmonton yesterday morning, saw the concert last night, overnighted and then returned this evening. A lot to fit in to a short period of time and while I was a bit tired, the adrenaline rush brought on by seeing my first concert in far too long kept me going.

Enmax Hall at the Winspear Centre is a wonderful venue and my seat choice made for the perfect acoustical experience.  The only thing I would have changed was perhaps getting a seat in the row in front of where I sat as there was a bit more leg room but in the end this was a very minor issue.  The program was a nice mix of Baroque and Classical, with a modern composer thrown in, although this involved a work written very much in the Classical style.

So what did I see?  First off was the Vivaldi Concerto in B minor for 4 violins, Opus 3, no. 10.  Bach was to take this piece and re-work it for 4 harpsichords, so it is this guise that I know it best.  Hearing the Vivaldi original was a real treat.

Next was the Concertone for 2 violins in C Major, K 190.  Unlike the previous piece this isn't one that I was very familiar with.  (A "concertone" is something like an early version of a concerto.) I'm much more familiar with Mozart's K191, his bassoon concerto, which is better known and more often recorded.  Pure Mozart this was, light and enjoyable at a good tempo.  You hear this piece and can easily anticipate him writing some truly amazing works in his later years, which of course he did.

After the intermission came a piece by the rather awkward-sounding Carl Ditters von Dittersdorf.  (Sinfonia no.1 in C major "The Four Ages of the World").  Dittersdorf, I absolutely love.  The man was a very prolific (he did write  over 120 symphonies) but had the misfortune of languishing, like many other composers of his day, in the shadow of Mozart.

Next was a short symphony by Haydn.  Not Franz Joseph but his brother Michael, who again often finds himself in his older brother's shadow.  His Symphony no. 32 is only 2 movements and, clocking in at around 8 minutes, short and sweet.  Very energetic and dance-like and an interesting glimpse of the symphonic form still very much in its infancy.

The evening closed off with Sergei Prokofiev's Symphony no.1 in D major "The Classical".  Like the opening Vivaldi, this is a piece I absolutely love and was very familiar with.   If this had been the only work on the program, I definitely would have gone just to see it.  Prokofiev died in 1953 but wrote this in the style of Franz Joseph Haydn.  Basically it's something like what Haydn might have written himself had he lived into the 20th century.  If I'm not mistaken, this work was premiered in 1918.  This symphony has enjoyed a long playing life and has been used in a few old Warner Brothers cartoons so that segments of this piece would be familiar to the average person on the street even if it's formal title doesn't exactly bring anything to mind.

So all in all a great orchestral experience.  I just wanted to give a few brief thoughts on what I saw rather than some long-winded analysis.  This was actually the only concert with works from the Baroque/early Classical period that it looks like I will be able to get to without begging for time off of work.  At long last my concert drought is over and this was a pleasant way to do it.  The next performances I hope to get to involve larger Romantic-era performances for the most part, including a few gems that are on my "bucket list".  Great listening times ahead indeed.