Monday, October 26, 2015

The Fruit of the Soul

Rain streaks the windscreen of the Chevy Cavalier as we make our way from Victoria to Nanaimo, en route to Vancouver for the next part of our journey. The violin is snug in the back seat between my suitcase and I. My partner and his mother chat in the front seats. The forests are misty swathes of blue-green and grey peppered with bursts of copper and gold.

Art is the path of a lifetime, it doesn’t happen overnight.

Whether or not we are artists, we are creative beings. We are telling the stories of our lives and finding meaning in the mundane and sublime. It delights me that the audience for Paganini’s Shadow this past Saturday night included children as young as age seven, and the elderly. Nine-year-old George was overheard begging his mother to be allowed to stay for the second half of the show, past his bedtime.

The arts should be inclusive, accessible and universal. The myth of exclusivity, so prevalent in perceptions of western classical music, serves only to restrict and confine, not nurture. The penguin suit is just another costume for the traveling minstrel – Le Bateleur, in the Marseille Tarot. When we recognize true creativity in a performance on the stage before us, the spirit within us responds and expands to meet it.

What started out as a solo show (Paganini’s Shadow) presented alongside an independent work of puppetry by Tim Gosley (exploring the life of poet Robin Skelton), evolved through the rehearsal process to adapt to present conditions and resources. We found unexpected resonance between the cards of the tarot and the alphabet cards created by Tim for his performance. We discovered an ability to tell a story through music, words and images, in a way that altered our expectations of what each element could do.

Tim Gosley in rehearsal last week in Fairfield, Victoria
At the Q&A following Paganini’s Shadow, someone asked me what it had been like turning pages for Robert Holliston’s 60th birthday celebration concert on Sunday October 16th, at the Victoria Conservatory of Music. Powerhouse violinist Gwen Thompson and celebrated soprano Nancy Argenta were among the artists sharing the stage that afternoon. I replied that it was like being swept up in a vortex of creative energy. I recalled that pianist Tzenka Dianova had said, “You were so good, I didn’t know you were there.”

As a page-turner, you contribute by doing as little as possible, at just the right moment. You do this by tuning in, listening deeply, and aligning your energy with what’s going on. You become the music. As Pacific Opera Victoria’s General Manager Patrick Corrigan told me last night (after a few Scotches) at the closing party for Otello, creativity – the path of the artist – is a lifelong path. There is no listener and no performer. We are all travelers in the stream of love.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Tai Chi at the Chateau Victoria

One week in Victoria, and I feel as though I’ve lived here my whole life. It must have something to do with growing up in England. The land is green and carpeted with moss, the sea is never too far, the skies are moody. The main difference is the sub-tropical flora, the towering proportions of the trees that make my heart brim with awe. It’s hard not to feel alive here.

This photo was taken on the Tsawwassen ferry to Swartz Bay, en route to Victoria. A chance meeting with a couple of Celtic musicians led to an impromptu photoshoot on deck. The violin glowed under the caress of the sea breeze, turning a honeyed amber in the sunlight as we sang to the passing islands. The pegs untuned themselves spontaneously in the saturated air, playfully instigating experimental improvisation.

That day we were setting off on our honeymoon, my violin and I. One week later, after hours of practice in a suite at the Chateau Victoria, what began as a crush is now a full-blown romance. It hasn’t been easy, getting to know the vagaries of a new instrument. I’ve found myself seeking fluidity and balance like a Tai Chi game of “push hands”. The violin reminds me that it has a voice of its own. I am only its partner in a dance with the breath.

I now know that purchasing a new instrument – after playing on the same violin for the past two decades – is an important rite of passage that I can’t put off any longer. I hope my upcoming performances will help raise the necessary funds. Tim Gosley and Petra Kixmöller, my hosts for my début performance of Paganini’s Shadow on October 24th, have generously declared the evening a fundraiser in support of my dream: to purchase the John Young violin currently on loan to me from the Israelievitch family.

Fundraising is only one obstacle I’ll face before a purchase agreement can be successfully negotiated. I’m reminded of the Buddhist wisdom that nothing truly belongs to us – we’re simply custodians along the way. The beauty of this violin, like the beauty of nature, reminds me of another dream, abandoned years ago: to move to the west coast and live here year-round.

Already my partner and I are talking of returning next year, to escape the Toronto winter. As with the purchase of a new violin, there will be many rivers to cross. It’s so easy to get caught up in the distant future, projecting our hopes and desires, overlooking what’s right in front of us. Then glorious nature pulls me back to the present, reminding me that I have much to be thankful for. Right here, right now, I’m living the dream in Victoria.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

New Beginnings

Jacques Israelievitch after receiving the Order of Canada at home on 14 August 2015 - the day of the new moon in Leo!

One week from now, I’ll be leaving my Annex apartment for the last time, en route to beautiful Victoria and the start of my Fall 2015 West Coast Tour. Earlier this week, in anticipation, my partner Alex and I started cramming our belongings into a rented storage locker. When we come back, we hope our new house will finally be ready, after months of intense renovation, to become our new sanctuary. 

I’ll miss living two blocks away from Bloor Street West and Mariko, our favorite spot for cheap vegan sushi! It feels like yesterday that we moved in to our one-bedroom apartment, this past January, with a couple of suitcases and no furniture, ready to start our life in Toronto. Thanks to this city’s fertile arts scene, these past nine months have been a crash course in cross-pollination and collaborative projects. 

I’ve enjoyed stints stage directing and assisting for groups like the innovative Bicycle Opera Project. I’m looking forward to creating new work with composers Alice Ho and Anna Höstman for the Talisker Players and Continuum Contemporary Music, respectively. But most exciting of all is my newest collaboration, with a beautiful 2007 violin made by John Young of Salt Lake City – a violin that belonged to my colleague, mentor and friend, the late Jacques Israelievitch. 

If you don’t know the name, stop reading this and go read his Wikipedia page. The man was beyond accomplished and erudite. He seemed to vibrate on a higher level of love for all things artistic, from poetry to nature to ceramics, and the love of his life was his vibrant and vivacious wife Gabrielle. It’s thanks to her that I’m traveling west with this very special violin as my guide, companion, and co-creator as I embark on a tour of my new solo multidisciplinary show, Paganini’s Shadow. 

Paganini’s Shadow takes as its inspiration the eponymous legend of the music world. Yet it’s the man behind the myth that fascinates me, the humanity behind the public image. As I explore Paganini’s world through poetry and music, I’m beginning to sense the universal nature of his very personal path. Through the rituals of practice and performance, the humbling and sublime nature of our innate creativity is revealed. 

Paganini was a technical wizard with a light touch, known for his imaginative coloration and showmanship – qualities that are inseparable from the name Jacques Israelievitch. Though Jacques passed away on September 5, 2015, his energy resonates with startling clarity in his violin – even before a single note is played. Again and again, the interconnectedness of all things takes my breath away. Who is the artist and who is the audience? Where does inspiration come from? When we tell a story, is it truly ours, or the story of all creation? 

Among the countless lives that Jacques touched and continues to touch, I’m grateful for his inspiration that reaches me like stardust as I compose, write, and pack my bags for Victoria. Violin in hand, I’m looking forward to new adventures. Thank you, Gabrielle and Jacques!