Thursday, March 24, 2016

Walking Through Time

I spent the remainder of my time in Calgary taking in some of the buildings that I didn't see of photograph during my previous trip.  Calgary might have a large number of office buildings per square foot of its downtown core but it also sports some wonderful little historic gems as well.  The number of buildings dating from the 1880's up to the end of WWI is actually  quite impressive and I only wish I had had more time to see more of them as I know what little I say only began to scratch the surface.

Knox United Church 1912

Central United Church 1904

Bank of  Nova Scotia 1930

 Imperial Bank of Canada 1886

Bank of Montreal 1932

Alberta Hotel 1886

Historic Stephen Avenue.  I did my best to identify what I could remember.  Generally, most of the buildings  along this stretch were early businesses and remain so to this day.  The building on the far right is the Jacques Jewellery Store, dating from 1893. Next to it sits the Merchants Bank Building, 1889, the white building just past the lamp post I believe was a Bank of Nova Scotia (1904), now unfortunately covered in metal siding.  The building past that is the Calgary Herald block, built in 1887.

Starting from the right, we have the Calgary Herald Block, 1887, Lineham Block (2nd from right), 1889, and the MacNaghten Block (3rd from right), 1888

More historic gems.  Not the best lighting or angle which makes identifying individual structures a bit tricky.  The first structure is the old Imperial bank shown identified above.

Molson's Bank 1911

Grain Exchange Building 1910

Palace Theatre, 1921

Inside the Palliser Hotel, 1914

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Walk in the Park

The weather a bit cooler this past weekend in Calgary compared to the weekend previously but with the better part of a day to kill I wasn't about to let that stop me from enjoying some otherwise clear skies.  My initial plan was to wander down along the Elbow River but I found myself instead at Prince's Island Park.  I hadn't initially planned to do any birdwatching this time around since I had just been here a week previously and didn't have any expectations.  The park has a number of small stands of trees so I wandered about rather aimlessly on the odd chance I might find something interesting.  Appropriately, enough I caught my first glimpses of Pine Siskins in some of the pine trees.  Another species for my life list.  


Down by the river I saw my first Red-breasted nuthatch.  While we do get them here in Fort McMurray, particularly along the Birchwood Trails, this particular bird has been a bit of a nemesis bird for me.   It was nice to finally be able to add this one to my life list.  I also got a sighting of a Junco which I have yet to spot here so far this year.  All in all, not a bad last couple of outings for exploring such a small area.  Four new species for my life list in just under a month.  Thanks Calgary.

This statue commemorating the 500th anniversary of the birth of Nicholas Copernicus seemed a bit out of place and more in line with what I might see during my last trip to Europe but it did mark pretty close to the spot where I sighted the Pine Siskins.

Monday, March 21, 2016


I had the opportunity to see another amazing concert this past weekend courtesy of the Calgary Philharmonic. It will be the last one I will be able to get to for a few weeks now and as always, it was outstanding.

Featured on the program was Sibelius's "Finlandia", the Grieg Piano Concerto and a Symphony by Danish composer Carl Nielsen.  The guest conductor, Rune Bergmann, hails from Norway, making the evening a truly nordic affair.

The Grieg Piano Concerto easily ranks among my favourites piano concertos.  Written in the same key as the Schuman Piano Concerto that I saw last month, the two are often paired together on recordings and indeed these two pieces were among the first that I ever owned on an old LP.    Having the opportunity to see both of these works performed live was definitely one for the "bucket list" for me.

All of 21 years old, the soloist, Conrad Tao, was absolutely brilliant.  It's a rare treat to hear such a technically outstanding performers at such an age.  He had me at the piano's opening flourish and I was left with the impression that an alien has descended from the sky.  It was one of those rare performances that leave you breathless and wondering how playing as he did is even humanly possible.   He played with great power and emotional depth.  The finale bordered on the transcendent.

The final piece was a work by Nielsen, his Symphony #4, titled "Inextinguishable".  Written against the back drop of WWI, it a powerful piece indeed.   It contrasts themes of good and evil and human struggle, much in the vein of Beethoven.  The finale features 2 sets of tympani which engage in an epic battle mimicking the sounds of competing artillery.

While dark and chaotic at times, this is a work that is ultimately life-affirming.  In a note attached to the score, Nielsen wrote, "The composer has tried to indicate with a single word that which only the music itself has the power to express fully: the elementary will to live.  Music is life, and like life, inextinguishable."

Jack Singer Hall, home of the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Fort Calgary

After finishing up my bird-watching stroll I mentioned in my previous post I found myself down at the confluence of the Bow and Elbow Rivers and Fort Calgary.  I had initially planned to check out Fort Calgary during a later trip but since I found myself here....

The original rail line ran along this berm past the fort and paralleled 9th Avenue before reaching the train station.

The Elbow River.

The Elbow feeds in to the Bow just to the east of the old fort.  It's hard to believe that the sunny peaceful view was such a scene of chaos during the 2013 floods.

The Fort's barracks (or at least a modern replica of it) along with a statue of James MacLeod, the Fort's first commanding officer.

I only dabbled in early fur trading history in university and western Canadian history along with that of the RCMP was never my forte either so I found the grounds and the exhibits in the museum quite fascinating.

Stone marker commemorating the fort as a National Historic Site.

This stone marks the site of the original barracks which I believer burned down in 1888, if I recall correctly.

The grounds weren't completely open yet as the ground was still pretty sodden but it was definitely a place I wouldn't mind returning to and exploring further.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Birding on the Bow

I hadn't initially planned to do any bird watching when I was in Calgary but hearing the mercury was going to reach the mid-teens and having a good chunk of free time before seeing the symphony, I decided I'd bring along my field guide and binoculars and have a go.  I wasn't really sure what I might see but on my two previous trips to Calgary I didn't get a chance to check out along the river this past Friday seemed as good a time as ever.  As it turned out, the weather made if absolutely fantastic and I ended up walking all the way from 11th Street to the confluence with the Elbow River.

If memory serves me correctly, this is the Peace Bridge.

After crossing and re-crossing the river without seeing too much I found myself at Prince's Island Park.  Up to this point I had seen a lot of Canada Geese and well as some Mallards that I could add to my year list, but nothing earth-shattering.  I did spot a few fast moving white-breasted nuthatches which I had seen last time I was done there.

Past this stand of tall trees and found myself among some pines and came across my first Brown Creeper.  My guide book mentioned that these are incredibly difficult to spot and it definitely wasn't kidding.  Take a small, well-camoflaged brown bird throw in some thick dark pines and a lot of glare from the sun and you have a very big challenge trying to get a solid identification.

I love the way the skyline stands out against the surrounding parkland.

The one thing that caught me completely by surprise was the marsh area down by Prince's Island.  While at the time there were only Canada Geese and Mallards for the most part, there were A LOT of them.  It has me interested in seeing what else you could find there a little later on in the season.

My list for the morning ended up being 10 specie sightings, not too shabby for the time of year and considering I hadn't initially planned to see the place.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Tour de Force

Friday's concert with the Calgary Philharmonic involved another Beethoven Piano Concerto, his second, (boy, I'm getting spoiled) and some Rachmaninoff.  Two great orchestrators performed by a wonderful symphony.  I had heard in the pre-concert talk that the CPO was fast becoming one of the great performers of Beethoven in Canada and it really did show.   I'm hesitant to compare the contrast the CPO with the Edmonton Symphony after seeing two back-to-back Beethoven works.  I'm actually much more familiar with the Piano Concerto 4 than the number 2 and they are very different from each other (in my mind at least).  Having said that though I felt that both were performed much the way I always imagined they should be.  The number 4 has a bit more power and intensity to it but then, it IS a later work.  As far as the second concerto goes, I'm best familiar with the last movement and hearing the CPO play it was an absolute joy.

The second half of the program was given over to Rachmaninoff's Symphonic Dances.  Like Beethoven, Rachmaninoff was an amazing orchestrator. (If I had to add a third person to create a triumvirate, I would most likely pick Berlioz).  This work was a definite "tour de force"....big orchestra, 5 percussionists, and instruments such as the harp, bass clarinet, english horn (which was actually French) and contrabassoon, that don't often make an appearance on stage.  The first movement even featured a saxophone solo.  While very avant garde for its time (it's premiere received a very negative reception), the piece is actually based in part on a very old medieval plainchant Mass for the Dead, the "Dies irae".  This is a piece that would definitely fit in well on a Hallowe'en night.

Jack Singer Concert Hall, a true gem of a concert venue.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Beethoven in the Big City

Last Wednesday's concert in Edmonton with the ESO was noteworthy for many reasons and one I had been looking forward to for some time.  Beyond the obvious of including one of my favourite Beethoven piano concertos, it was to be played by a Canadian pianist, Janina Fialkowska, whom I had seen in concert before, back in my university days.  It was also the first time I had chance to see the Edmonton Symphony led by its regular conductor, William Eddins, as well.  My previous two concerts involved guest conductors.  This was also to be the last of the three ESO concerts that I will be able to fit in to my days off this concert season.  Interestingly, the featured piece, Beethoven's 4th piano concerto, was also the last piece that he performed in public.  The piece was premiered in 1808 along with his 5th and 6th symphonies.  What a concert THAT would have been.

In keeping with Beethoven's revolutionary-like composing,  this concerto features some unique harmonies and an opening that has the piano state the opening theme by itself rather than behaving like a typical concerto where the orchestra starts with the main idea to be picked up later by the soloist when it enters.  Absolutely loved it and Fialkowska plays Beethoven wonderfully.

Also on the program was Beethoven's Egmont Overture, a piece I've known forever it seems but had never heard performed live.  It's one of my favourite orchestral pieces by Beethoven that isn't either a symphony or a concerto.  This piece, based on a Schiller play revolving around a 16th century Flemish resistance leader was intended to be part of an opera Beethoven had planned.  Unfortunately, Beethoven's timing with this work was a bit off.  It probably isn't a good idea to debut a piece calling for resistance against tyranny a few days after your city is occupied by Napoleon.

There was a also a Haydn Symphony on the program.  His Symphony 101 "The Clock".  The nickname comes from some pizzicato accompaniment in the strings during the symphony's second movement.   It's hard to go wrong with Haydn because.....well, it just is.  Every symphony is different and has some unique feature or innovation.  In his own words, "Cut off from the rest of the world, I was forced to become an original."

As I mentioned earlier, this was my last ESO concert of the season but I was able to get a taste of next season's offerings and very much look forward to returning in the fall.  Hopefully my work schedule syncs up well with the concert season and I get an opportunity to see some more nice little gems.

I followed this concert up with a second one in Calgary (which I will be posting about shortly) a couple days later.  With an empty day between my two concerts I was only in Edmonton for one night before heading off to Calgary.  I did have a bit of time the morning before I left to take a nice morning walk down to the river valley and the legislature.

A couple photos from my hotel window.

The Alberta legislature was very quiet.  I was hard to believe that there had been a very noisy protest here just 24 hours before.

While the weather was pretty decent temperature-wise, the overcast skies made it seem a bit gloomier than it was.  I took a few photos of the river valley though it was pretty dark.  These two were the best of the bunch.

If I'm not mistaken, that would be the 105 St bridge on the left and the High Level Bridge on the right.