When the first stages of this global pandemic began to rear its ugly head, my wife, Carol, and I were in the northern part of Argentina looking forward to a flight south to visit a bucket-list area in Patagonia. Instead, we were saddled with scrambling to find air tickets to get us back to Vancouver substantially sooner than we expected. After an exhaustive scramble and help from our son with Global Affairs in Ottawa, we did indeed get home.
While flying back I began outlining what a 14 day quarantine would look like. Before we left for Argentina, I had been in the final stages of voicing and regulating a new French Harpsichord. My quarantine period would involve completing the project; painting, gilding, fabricating the brass hooks and levers and generally looking after the remaining details to get the instrument ready for shipment to its new home in Toronto. In fact, my days under quarantine for the most part turned out to be no different from my regular work-weeks. Luckily, I have my harpsichord workshop on the same property as our home, in a quiet corner of West Vancouver.
Whenever I embark on what amounts to be an eight month harpsichord project, that is; building either two French ‘doubles’ or three Italian ‘singles’, I will gravitate towards a specific piece of music that sets a theme and helps me through the project. This is something substantially more than just ‘background’ music that I play through the workshop’s sound system. Over the many years of building, one piece of music has stood out and has become my go-to recording. The recording is the iconic Orlando by Handel that was recorded by our own Alexander Weimann and Pacific Baroque Orchestra. It is a brute of a piece that encompasses so many vocal and orchestral emotions, feelings and colours that transport me to a different world as I work.
Throughout the oratorio there are many vocal/harpsichord recitatives masterfully accompanied by Alex and the fact that they are played on two of my French harpsichords gives me an immediate justification to what I have, what I am building, and why I do what I do.
I recently had a conversation with Early Music Vancouver’s Artistic and Executive Director, Matthew White. I expressed to him my overwhelming feeling that when the pandemic is over and we have redefined how we can gather, the audiences will indeed return to hear the music. One thing that I have learned throughout this reflective time is that there is no substitute for the ‘live’ experience that concert series such as EMV’s have brought us. So many of us for so long have taken it for granted that treasures like Early Music Vancouver would always be there, providing these little concert gems that we can take away and add to our own treasure chests.