Monday, March 29, 2010

The most fun ballet title to say ever: Petroushka!

This past Friday brought with it another Master's Series concert with the ESO, and therefore another delightful night of music. Otherwise, it was a pretty ordinary night. We ate dinner at home and walked down the Winspear, with just enough time to hand in our subscription renewal for next year before taking our seats. Since I'll be returning to full time work in May, we ordered several other sets of tickets as well, which I mentioned in my last ESO concert post. When it comes time to leave Edmonton, I hope we will find ourselves in a city with another good symphony orchestra as I very much enjoy our regular attendance of live classical music. I think it good chance we'll be able to meet this condition where ever we go next, as KW, Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal are on the top of the list.

Friday's featured musician was a classical guitarist by the name of Manuel Barrueco, who according to the program is "recognized internationally as one of the must important guitarists of our time." Sadly, I can't say I'd heard of this fellow before, although there's a good chance I've probably heard him in a recording on the CBC. There's no denying that Mr. Barrueco is a gifted musician...but let me get to that in a moment.

The first selection of the evening was Ancient Airs and Dances, Suite No. 2 by Respighi. Almost the full orchestra participated the Ancient Airs and Dances, including 4 hands at the harpsichord, with the occasional spell off of one of the musicians to the celesta (featured prominently in the last performance). This was quite an interesting piece in that, although premiered in 1924, the first movement was written in a baroque-style with lots of short, pizzicato notes; however, by the time the fourth came around, the rhythms were syncopated and the playing more legato. Interestingly, Andrew preferred the first movement, while I enjoyed the fourth the best. Overall, it was a delightful selection and my knee was bouncing throughout to the light, dancing music.

Once the Respighi was complete, most of the orchestra left the stage, leaving a small selection of strings and the harpsichord. Vivaldi's Guitar Concerto in D Major, RV 93, originally began as a piece of chamber music, hence why the small ensemble. Mr. Barrueco, joined the ESO for this selection, and as I noted above, was simply wonderful. The second movement is perhaps the best known of this Concerto, and I certainly recognized it within a few bars. The Concerto was a lovely piece and over far too quickly (it's only 11 minutes in length). After much applause from the audience, a scene change was made to add more orchestra members for the final piece of the first half, Folias by Roberto Sierra, a present day composer. Actually, Folias, was written for Mr. Barrueco and was only premiered in 2002. To be honest, I liked the Latin flavour of the guitar part, but I didn't much care for the underlying orchestration. I felt at times like the composer wasn't too sure what kind of sound he was trying to create with the orchestra and I thought it detracted from the music. Regardless I still appreciated and enjoyed the playing of Mr. Barrueco.

The second half of concert was taken up by a performance of Petroushka by Stravinsky. Again, a huge orchestra was required for this work, including 2 tubas, several trombones, a bass bassoon (at least that it was I'm assuming it was), a piccolo and a small army of percussionists. I was rather excited to see Petroushka on the program as I have a copy of it on CD (I think it may have actually been one of my first classical music CDs). This ballet is full of sound bursting from the orchestra. It's bright and exciting, and Bill (as Andrew and I like to refer to conductor William Eddins--as if we knew him) was all over the conductor's stand coaxing the orchestra through the dance. At the end he leaned back against the rail of the stand as if exhausted. We learned later that this was his first time conducting Petroushka. I would love to see the ballet if the chance arose. I saw Firebirds several years ago performed by the National Ballet and recall the costuming was full of colour. I imagine that Petroushka would be much the same.

All in all, another wonderful night at the ESO. Our next outing isn't until May, after our trip.



Saturday, March 20, 2010

A brief getaway to the island, Elk Island, that is

For several weeks (nay months?) I've been feeling the need to get out of Edmonton. It's not a need to go far, or see exotic things, just a need to get away from my everyday environment. Unfortunately, living in Edmonton is nothing like living in Southwestern Ontario. If I were in Ontario, I could get to a handful of mid-to-large sized cities where I know someone within about 1.5 hours of driving. In Edmonton...well there's pretty much just Edmonton. I suppose I could go to Red Deer (1.5 hours south) but what would I do there? I have no idea. It takes at least 3 hours to get to Calgary, 3 to get to Jasper and more to get to Banff or Lake Louise. In my mind, these are not really day trips. Albertans seem to do it, and I have once done so myself (drive down to Calgary and back), but as far as I'm concerned it's a lot of driving in one day and not worth it. To make matters worse, Andrew's studying for his PhD candidacy right now. This basically means he has no free time until after it's over. That leaves me without a travelling partner, or at least one that I can immediately talk over my plans with and head off.

Yesterday morning I was wondering what I was going to do with myself; homework and other school commitments are winding down and I'm not feeling pressured to spend all day chained to my computer. After ten minutes or so of humming and hawing I decided that it was time for me to go take a hike (quite literally). I pulled myself together as quickly as I could (layering up, finding mittens and scarves, backpacks, and grabbing our small point and shoot camera) and headed down Highway 16, east of Edmonton to Elk Island. After a slight misdirect while trying to figure out how to reach the entrance of the Wood Bison Trail, I parked at around 10:10 a.m. and headed off. I chose this trail as it is one of the longest (16 km) and the only one that Andrew and I hadn't done yet. Thankfully there was only a light layer of snow on the ground and the sun was out in full force.

Elk. This fellow was very patient with me. I noticed him after I walked passed him, he waited for me to retrace my steps and snap a few photos. I saw a few other elk as I tromped through the woods, but none of the stayed long enough for me to get out my camera.
A single bison. I've seen bison before while at Elk Island, and been much closer to these large animals, but today they didn't seem to want to stay put long enough for me to snap a decent picture.
The trail. I was the first human out since it had last snowed. I saw plenty of animal tracks on the path, but no other shoe prints.
What I assumed is a moose antler (although having never seen a live moose I could be wrong--I don't know how big they should be). No hint of moose though.
Me, just to prove I had actually been there.
Over all I enjoyed the day, although toward the end of the hike I had become quite tired and was focused mostly on reaching the end of the trail. To make matters more frustrating, there were no distance markers after I reached the 3 km sign (I walked the trail backwards and had had signs posting the distance from 16 km down to 3 km) and had no firm idea of how much distance I had left to get back to the car. I would definitely enjoy going out again, although perhaps not the day before our long run as was the case this time. My legs are very much in protest after having carried me over 30 km in the last two days.



Sunday, March 14, 2010

Long-term running plans: Marathon

As previously blogged, the damage I sustained to my hip last fall has finally been repaired, and blessedly, the fall I had last week doesn't seem to have caused anything new and unpleasant. I am not yet a true runner. I don't love running. I don't get up on a run morning in anticipation of getting out there and knocking back a few kms before work. I do it because it only costs me a pair a shoes every 12 months or so (it should probably be less than that given how much we run...but it also depends on how my joints are handling the impact of running) and I can run where ever I am. However, I really missed not being able to run, not having the physical capability of being able run without severe pain in my knee caused by the stressed muscles in my hips.

Now that Andrew and I back to running on a regular basis I'm happier, especially now that I'm getting my stamina back. We're slowly increasing our distance back up to our run length from last summer. In fact, next week we'll be back up to what we were running just before I was injured (around 17-18 km on Saturdays). Although our speed seems to be down, which I find disappointing. We ran our half marathon last spring in just under 2 hr (1:57), and I want to run our marathon (I'm getting to that) in 4 hr or less, but considering our time yesterday, we won't achieve that goal. I hope it's because we're still getting back into the swing of things, and that I've still got some residual soreness from my fall last Friday. I hope that switching to fresh runners (which we purchased yesterday) will help us pick things back up. I have goals, and time factors into these.

Goal 1) Run a marathon. Current plans should have Andrew and I running our first full length marathon this October. We had initially thought we might run the Victoria marathon--it's known as a speedy course, and we have family in the area--however, the timing won't work. There's a wedding in Ontario the weekend after the Victoria marathon and our family won't be in town. So we looked to Ontario venues and found an alternate race. The Toronto marathon is held the day after the wedding and so we're aiming to run there instead. The one bummer (other than we'll have to be careful not to drink to much at the wedding) will be that we'll have to hop a flight back to Edmonton only a couple hours after we cross the finish line. Who's going to be dead tired at work the next day? I will.

Goal 2) Run the Boston marathon. The Boston marathon is the crème de la crème of marathons. I think around 10,000 people run the race every year and you have to qualify to be on the starting line. Last I checked I would have to cover the 42.2 km distance in 3.5 hr to be allowed to enter, Andrew only has 3.15 hr. The scary thing (I think) is that the winners will complete the race in little over 2 hr. That means a running speed of around 20 km/hr. I'm tired just thinking about it. The problem, of course, is at present I'm no where near capable of running that time. At least I've got the rest of my life to try, and on the plus side, the qualifying times go up the older you get.



Thursday, March 11, 2010

Mozart and the celesta (i.e. ice cream truck music)

This blog post is a week late, but here it is anyway. I hope I haven't forgotten anything too important.

Last Friday (March 5th) Andrew and I attended our regular Masters series concert at the ESO. At first we weren't entirely sure if we were going to go or not. I had (another) bad fall that morning at skating and was suffering from a sore back, knee, and hip. I'd been taking muscle relaxants (which I've never done before) during the afternoon, and alternately heating and cooling my back. I was worried about: a) how well I would sit through the concert; and b) if I would be able to stay awake during the concert (the muscle relaxants I was taking caused drowsiness). We were unable to find anyone to take the tickets on short noticed, and not wanting to let them go to waste, we decided to go.

Since Edmonton has been experiencing moderate, spring-like temperatures as of late we decided to walk to the Winspear (about a 25 to 30 minute trip) and along the way we met one of the members of the ESO. Dressed in black and a instrument case strapped to her back we guessed we were probably heading in the same direction. Andrew, being much more friendly than I, decided to ask if she was indeed a part of the orchestra, and she confirmed she was a part of the viola section (second viola as we discovered later once we had taken our seats). We had a nice chat as the three of us walked downtown, until Andrew and I departed to take care of a couple of quick errands at the City Centre Mall.

The evening's programme was filled with Mozart. Two of his better known, with two of his lesser known pieces. To confess, I am more of a Beethoven, than a Mozart fan, but I enjoyed the concert all the same. The first piece performed, the Fantasy in F Major, had a most fascinating history. What we heard on Friday was in fact a orchestration of Mozart's original composition, which was written to be played on a mechanized organ (supposedly much like a player piano) owned by an eccentric German collector. Although Mozart reportedly felt the piece sounded tinny, it has since been recognized that the Fantasy contains once of his best fugues. The first half of the evening was rounded out with Symphony No. 40. At first I had mistaken this to be his Jupiter Symphony, but have since determined that that was actually Symphony 41. Regardless, No. 40 is still an easily recognizable piece for classical music lovers, and one of the last Mozart wrote.

Having learned our lesson at our last ESO concert, Andrew and I took the opportunity the intermission afforded us to stand, and stretch our legs and back. Thankfully, I wasn't in much pain and I didn't have any difficulty try to stay awake as I had initially feared I would. The second half began with Mozart's Adagio and Rondo, which featured the celesta. The celesta is an intriguing key-board instrument, which produces a ring/chime sort of sound. Mr. Eddins (ESO conductor) noted it unfortunately sounded a great deal like an ice cream truck and confessed later during the after thoughts that he hoped he would never conduct from the celesta again, as he had that night. Interestingly, the Adagio and Rondo was actually written for the glass harmonica, an instrument something akin to playing water glasses. The final piece of the evening was the Piano Concerto No. 20 in D minor. The piece is only the 2nd of 30 Mozart piano concertos written in a minor key.

Once again, we had a lovely evening at the symphony. As I've expressed before, I always find the ESO performances excellent, and the Winspear Centre a wonderful venue. We received our order form for next year's concerts earlier this week and I can't wait to renuew our tickets. There are a number of additional performances on the list that we hope to attend including the ESO's Gala: Cirque de la Symponie (yes we saw this show a year ago, but Andrew and I both love Cirque), a Bugs Bunny and the orchestra show, Chantel Kreviazuk and the ESO, and if possible a show featuring Tom Allen (a CBC radio host) as narrator. I really do love classical music, and since I will be back to full-time work, as of May, I'm looking forward to supporting my local symphony orchestra.