Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Lifers

With the weather getting colder, I knew that this would likely be my last chance to do any serious birding, at least for places out of town.  So I found myself anxiously watching the weather forecast in the days prior to my trip down to Calgary this past Sunday.  Things didn't look promising as it was cool and overcast in Edmonton and the downright wet and dreary by the time I reached Red Deer.  

Fortune smiled on me and by the time I reached Calgary around the noon hour, while it was still on the cool side at least it looked like the threat of rain was gone.  I checked in to my hotel and found a had a really good view of the Calgary window from my second floor room....


I had a good 3 or 4 hours before I had to be changed and on my way to my concert so I had plenty of time to check out Prince's Island Park.  I had really wanted to explore the Inglewood Bird Sanctuary in Calgary and had plans to do so before the whole evacuation ordeal threw a big wrench in the plan. I have every intention of getting there next spring.  In the mean time, Prince's Island Park certainly wasn't a bad option and it's absolutely gorgeous this time of year with the fall colours.  






I loved how tranquil the place is even though it's smack dab in the middle of Calgary.  There were a couple of wedding parties there as well taking photos.  It certainly makes for a romantic place.  I spent a good couple of hours here just enjoying the colours and the quiet.  Birding-wise, things started out rather slower than I had hoped.  The east side of the island which has a couple of small marsh areas and which I had explored back in the spring, was closed off due to work being down to repair some flood damage.  

For the first half-hour I saw plenty of magpies and chickadees....and squirrels, but nothing particularly interesting until I spotted my first double-crested cormorant.  Another one for the life list!  I reached the western tip of the island and found a park bench off to the side where I thought I could give my legs a rest and started thinking how nice it would be if something really cool just suddenly appeared right in front of me.......and then I spotted a groups of three common mergansers...so another one for the life list.



The photos don't really do the place justice and I found myself wishing I had more time but I'm sure I'll be back on a future date.

By the time I was ready to go I had a list of 12 species, which wasn't too considering the time of year and my skill level.  Here's what I saw....

Canada Goose
Mallard
Blue-winged Teal
Common Merganser
Double-crested Cormorant
Ring-billed Gull
Herring Gull
Rock Pigeon
Black-billed Magpie
American Crow
Common Raven
Black-capped Chickadee

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

A Little Chopin


I left Edmonton this past Saturday morning for a trip down to Edmonton to see my first concert of the season with the Calgary Philharmonic and what a treat it was.  This concert marked the 3rd time I have heard Polish-Canadian pianist Janina Fialkowska perform, the previous occasions being a performance of Beethoven's Piano Concerto #4  back in March in Edmonton and several years ago when I was attending university in Windsor, Ontario.

Fialkowska does have a pretty inspirational back story which made the evening's performance extra special.  Back in 2002, she was diagnosed with a very aggressive form of cancer in her left arm, something that would normally be a career ender for an established concert pianist.  Not only did she best the cancer but she also took a long hiatus from her concert career to rehabilitate her damaged arm.  She did this in part by taking a couple of piano concertos written exclusively for the left hand....and then RE-WRITING them so they could be played with the right hand so that she could continue with some semblance of a concert career while she healed.    I found this very interesting to hear about since when you look at your hands you note right away that you don't have a very big gap between your ring finger and baby finger as you do between your thumb and index finger.  In a sense, by playing with the opposite hand, she had to learn to play backwards in a sense.  But persevere she did and at 65 she is still going strong.

Ms. Fialkowska performed Chopin's Piano Concerto #1 and I don't really have much to say other than I throughly enjoyed it.  I had a excellent seat to the left and the side of the stage so I had a great view of her hands as she played.  This woman is  simply amazing when it comes to Chopin.  I should also mention that present in the concert hall was the Head of Mission for the Polish Consulate in Calgary.

The second half of the concert was taken up with Bruckner's Symphony #4.  Bruckner isn't that familiar with me though I have heard parts some of symphonies from time to time.  I have to say that I absolutely loved this piece.  At 70 minutes, it one of the longer symphonies I've heard, but what a tour de force it was.  Dramatic, an absolute beast.  As a brass player in high school, I really appreciated the brass writing......4 trumpets, 3 trombones and tuba, and they were spot on.  Some very nice moments for the viola section as well as they were given a moment to shine.  If one of the goals of an orchestra (and it should be) is to make you curious to explore other great works you might not know then this performance has really made me curious to check out some of Bruckner's other symphonic works as well.

Finally, I would be remiss if I didn't mention the fact that it halfway through the opening movement when I noticed that Mastro Roberto Minczuk was conducting without a score.  I didn't notice this for the Chopin since the piano was in the way but he wasn't using a score as well that would mean the man basically conducted close to 2 hours' worth of music from memory.  Outstanding memory and musicianship.


Monday, October 3, 2016

Back to the Concert Hall




I had a busy weekend out of town as the concert season is now underway.  I took in a performance Friday evening with the Edmonton Symphony and then headed down to Calgary the following day to take in the Calgary Philharmonic.  These two concerts actually fell in to my schedule at a very opportune moment given that when I start back to work later this week my work schedule will be changing, adding a couple extra days to my shift.  It was nice to have a little R&R before I head back and the weather gets progressively colder.  

It actually turned out to be not too bad of a weekend.  I wasn't keen on the overcast and rainy weather but at least I wasn't stuck working in it.  And I even managed to fit in a little birding, though I'll get to that in a later post.

But first, the ESO...

The evening was an all-Mozart affair featuring a piano concerto, a symphony, an overture and 3 smaller works.  To be honest, I really struggled with what to blog about for while I had been looking forward to this concert for a few months now, I wasn't always keen on the interpretation.  I'll chalk this up partially to the fact that most of these pieces are ones I've heard before (several times, in fact) so I have pretty well-defined ideas what how I feel they should sound.

The evening kicked off with what is probably my favourite of Mozart's overtures, the one for 'The Escape from the Seraglio' and the evenings seemed rather promising.  Also featured were a couple of concert arias which marked the first time I had heard any live vocal works in quite a long time.  It's unfortunate that these aren't performed more often as Mozart wrote 40 or 50 or them with all sorts of combinations of instruments.  I won't pretend to be an expert in 18th century vocal music here but I did find the soprano's voice very impressive and a treat to listen to.  It did seem that the orchestra overpower her voice a little bit at times, to my ears at least.

Another of the smaller works performed was a Violin Rondo, which, while a great little stand-along piece, was originally written as an alternative finale to Mozart's Violin Concerto #1.  Nothing flashy, just well-executed and nice to listen to.  

One of the main works, which closed out the first half of the concert was Mozart's Piano Concerto #21.  Also known as the 'Elvira Madigan', it is probably the best-known of his piano concertos.  Again, I've heard this piece countless times so this likely coloured my judgment of it.  I will say that it was great to see this piece conducted from the keyboard by ESO conductor Bill Eddins, a practice you don't see as often these days, and he wrote his own cadenza which I also rather enjoyed.  Now there were a couple of flubbed notes before the cadenza and I did find the bass section a little overpowering (Five double basses for a Mozart piece).  There was also the little matter of an audience member's cellphone going off just as the first movement ended, something I find extremely annoying, though Mr. Eddins handled it graciously enough and even made a small joke about it afterwards about how the ring tone could have at LEAST been Beethoven.  

And since I've touched on the subject of the audience, I really don't mean to sound like pedant here, but I did want to mention one practice I find highly irritated (other than errant cell phones), specifically applauding between movements, something that also occurred with the symphony that concluded the evening.    It's long been a practice that the only time this is done is after the first movement, particularly for a difficult piece or for a particularly well-done cadenza.  Applauding after every movement is something I find distracting and while normally I wouldn't make a huge deal out of it, when it happens after every single movement, it's a tad frustrating.  Those silences between movements are there for a reason.

The evening concluded with the Symphony #35, the 'Haffner'.  Among his nicknamed symphonies, this is one of favourites (another would be the 'Prague Symphony' which features well in the 1985 movie 'Amadeus')  A well-balanced piece throughout though I found the 3rd movement a tad too fast for my taste but no big deal.  My biggest gripe with the piece was that it was over-conducted....way over-conducted.  I can understand conductors getting in to the moment so to speak but I often wonder if this can be over-used to cover up a poor performance.  I'm not saying this was the case here by any means but I do find it disappointing when I leave a performance hall and overhear people talking about the conductor's antics rather than the music itself.  

So a bit more detail about the concert than what I usually write but I grew up listening to Mozart piano concertos and symphonies and was fortunate to study quite a few of them in university so I suppose I've developed very strong opinions about what I like.  Overall, it was nice to hear Mozart since I didn't have an opportunity to hear any during any of my spring concerts.  While I did appreciate this concert, I do have to admit to being a tad disappointed at times.

Since I really wanted to fit this photo in but really had no good place to mention it, I'll include it here. I had a great view of the recently opened Rogers Centre from the top floor of my hotel across the street.  With luck, I might be able to catch an Oilers game this season.