Piano Hands

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Cannons and Solstices
Piano Hands
Ahhh, the Labour Day Cannons. This will be my last Blogging Under the Sky post of this year (thanks for the nice little blurb, Phil!), since today was the last concert of Symphony Under the Sky. How bittersweet... I wish that this concert series would go on all year, but sadly - contrary to what our guest artists have had to say about our weather! - the Edmonton winters just won't have it.

Anyways, for me, hearing the 1812 Overture played by the ESO and the 20th Field Regiment of the Royal Canadian Artillery on Labour Day is the best signifier of the end of summer, more so than the beginning of the school year, or the technical end of summer, on the solstice. (And how fitting that the Young Composer's Project piece this year was named for the solstice! I'll get to that in a minute.)

Guys, Jens Lindemann is one more example of a guy who can be a brilliant musician without being a total stuffed shirt, and without being afraid to look like he enjoys what he's doing. I talked about this on Friday night when I mentioned how refreshing it was that Maestro Bill Eddins played the Gershwin concerto in a hockey jersey, and bounced along to the music on the bench when he wasn't playing. I don't know if I've mentioned it this year or not, but Maestro Bob Bernhardt is the same way - he's the perfect guy to conduct our festival. He's got the musical knowledge and ability to lead the orchestra through all the different styles of music they played this weekend, and commands the respect he needs from the orchestra in order to get out of them all they can give. (It's very apparent when the orchestra doesn't feel that way about their conductor. You can just hear it.) He is that kind of musician, but he's unafraid to make stupid jokes and poke fun at himself while on the podium. That's so refreshing! As I've said before - Edmonton, you have it pretty darn good here.

Anyways back to Jens Lindemann - what a pleasure to listen to. I played trumpet all through junior high and high school, and for a year in the MacEwan/U of A jazz band. So much of a part of trumpet culture (as I know it) is how high you can play. Just the range - you get cool points if you can hit "high C" or "double C" or "super G" or whatever. I was never good at that. I could play nice phrases, I had good tone, I could play a jazz solo, I could sight-read, but I could never play very high. So I wasn't cool (as a trumpet player. I like to think I'm super cool now since I'm a pianist, 'cause we're just the best!) That was fine with me. I don't play much trumpet anymore anyhow. What I noticed, too, especially as a young trumpet player who searched all over the internet message boards for other trumpet players, was that this obsession with range became this holy-grail like quest that people aspired to - at the expense of the rest of trumpet technique and musicianship. Granted, not all trumpet players were like this. Lots had aspirations to be good, well-rounded musicians. But lots didn't. And lots seem to have made careers out of playing high notes, and playing only high notes. And there's a market for this! I mean, sure, if you can find the market and can play to the market, then more power to you, but I don't get it. And I don't have to! Especially not when I can listen to a player like Jens Lindemann who has it all. Great technique, musicianship, phrasing, tone... all the things that those players who follow the holy grail of high range fail to get. An the best thing is, Mr. Lindemann has the range! And he's not a jerk about it. And the high notes just sound better when they're played with a gorgeous tone with good technique and musicianship. It was a pleasure to listen to Mr. Lindemann today, and so heartwarming to see him play with his two old teachers! I can't imagine what coming back to Edmonton must feel like for him... though I hope it's as excellent as he says it is so he keeps coming back :)

A highlight of the entire festival for me is always the Young Composer Project. I admit, this particular project has a soft spot in my heart because I was fortunate enough to be the "young composer" in 2002/03, when the ESO played my piece. I can't tell you how exhilarating it was to hear a professional orchestra play a piece I'd worked on for an entire year, under the mentorship of Allan Gilliland. But enough about me - this year it was all about Jia Jia Yong. I loved this piece! I've noticed that lots of the young composers over the years - myself included! - have seemed to feel that they needed, in one six-minute piece, to use every orchestral texture and dynamic they could possibly use. Okay, maybe not that intense. But I do remember hearing lots of pieces with some very wide extremes - very loud and dense sections, and very soft and tender sections in the same piece (mine included!). Don't get me wrong, there are composers young and old who do this skillfully, and composers will continue to do it until the end of time. But as young musicians excited at the fact that we get a whole entire orchestra at our disposal (!!!!!), we forget that not all orchestral music has to be enormous-sounding in order to be good. So much of the most beautiful orchestral music is quiet and subdued - think of that Hansel und Gretel piece we heard today! It makes me cry in the best of ways. Ms. Yong remembered this, and wrote a powerfully musical piece without calling in the "big guns". I was so impressed! It was about the music, rather than about the tools. Ms. Yong, if you are reading this, congratulations!!! You did a phenomenal job, and I really hope that you keep writing.

A quick note (including my unsolicited opinion!) to the people selecting the program order on the Young Composer day: okay, so Ms. Yong's piece was on the program with Jens Lindemann and the 1812 Overture. That is a huge honour! And a really great program choice - clearly, lots of people will come out to that show, and will get to hear the piece. However, I'd like to offer my (unsolicited) opinion about the order of the show: I think, next time, the Young Composer piece should go right before the intermission. Why? Well... she needs to have her moment. When Mr. Lindemann and the 1812 Overture came right after her piece, I feel like she didn't get her moment because they overshadowed her right away. And not at ALL to say anything bad about her piece - but it's hard for anyone to compete with one of the world's greatest trumpet players' homecoming concerts, and OMG CANNONS. If you put her right before the intermission, people have the chance to let that piece sit in their minds, and find her during intermission and congratulate her. It's not as though Lindemann or the cannons will be losing their moments because of her... the entire show was really their moments, and the 1812 is played every year, and Mr. Lindemann plays all over the world! And I feel like (having been in this situation before myself!) this day would probably be a bigger deal to her than it would be to Mr. Lindemann or the 20th Regiment. Anyways, like I said - just my unsolicited opinion :)

And cannons! The 1812 is always an enjoyable piece to listen to - I've heard it so many times, I've just about got it memorized. It's exciting for me and my mom to watch the percussionists in this piece - Court Laslop is a good friend of mine from our MacEwan College days, and was playing the chimes today (when we were all ringing our bells). Darren Salyn is a friend of my old piano teacher, and was cuing the cannons today - I think that has to be the best job. I want to do that job. I surely don't have to know how to play the drums to do that, do I...? Wouldn't any old instrument do...? Anyways, I'm not sure whether it was Mr. Salyn or the 20th Regiment, but the cannons sounded extra good today, did you notice? There are (I believe) four shots in a row in both the places the cannons are fired, and often it seems like the first cannon just can't get reloaded fast enough to get the fourth shot in. (The Boston Symphony Orchestra gets four cannons when they perform it on July 4th - but listening to the 1812 at that time in that place is just wrong for me, so even if their cannons are perfectly in time, it won't register). Today, they seemed to get reloaded and fired more quickly than they have in previous years. It sounded great! And even the last shot, which often turns into three last shots, was as close to unison as I've heard it in a LONG time. So, nice work 20th Regiment and Mr. Salyn!

And... that's it for the Symphony Under the Sky. Let the autumn begin!

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Love the post Erin! I'm sorry I didn't run into you at the festival!

I know, that would have been fun! I feel like I haven't seen you in forever, probably because it's true :)

Maestro Bill Eddins played the Gershwin concerto in a hockey jersey
Haha, wow, that's different!

This Jens Lindemann fellow sounds great! Is he from BCM as well?

Nope, he's from my hometown, Edmonton, Canada. Studied at McGill and Juilliard, played with the Canadian Brass, and now is one of the world's best trumpet players and teaches at UCLA. Check him out here and here. Edmonton is very proud to call him one of our own :)

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