The instruments sent to Edmonton by ground transportation were supposed to arrive Thursday, in advance of the orchestra, but there was a snafu. I happened to be in the hotel lobby Friday morning as Tour Manager Beth Anderson, cellist Christina Mahler, and lutenist Lucas Harris were anxiously awaiting their arrival, just then, a day late. There had been no concert the night before, so no disaster on that front, but it is always an uncomfortable feeling to be separated from one’s precious instrument, and one’s pulse rate surges until it is confirmed that it has arrived intact. All are fine, though, and even better in tune than one would expect after such a journey. The setup of the set and projector was also delayed by this, but as usual, our crack tech crew had everything under control by showtime anyway.
The afternoon and evening off in Edmonton is welcome, as we have performed every day so far. People are enjoying the warm weather and the laundry machines, although a play date is still held at the hotel that afternoon. I, however, choose to take a few hours off from the violin, my personal electronic devices, and even my “buddy” – meaning my little Leipzig and Damascus memorization book – and take a good, long walk. When I return to each of them, I discover that the world has not ended, so I stand by my decision.
A notice that the hotel fire alarms will be tested is a strong incentive not to be there at that particular time. Since the Winspear Centre, home of the Edmonton Symphony, is not far away, I decide to photograph its stage door for Will’s collection, even though we are not playing there this time. Our venue will be a church, which may not have a stage entrance as such.
The Robertson-Wesley church turns out to have very good acoustics, much more like playing at home than most of the theatres on this trip, and it means narrator Blair Williams can deliver crystal clear text without the use of a microphone. This is preferable, being more harmonious with the music, which is strictly acoustic. There is, however, less stage space to work with than usual, so we carefully work through all of the movement in the show to avoid collisions, bumps on the head (some us need to sit directly under the screen in this venue), and to make sure people can see who they need to see at any given moment.
Saturday begins with a bus ride through the prairies to Calgary, a less dramatic backdrop than the mountains of B.C., but nonetheless compelling in its own way. We arrive at the Hotel Alma, conveniently next to the performance space on the campus of the University of Calgary. Two players are soon whisked off for educational/outreach activities: Julia Wedman for a masterclass for students at the university, and Tricia Ahern to coach an amateur group called the Blue Arch Strings.
As a Mahlerite, I am amused by the card on the coffee machine that says “Wake up with Alma” and the guest comments card that says, “Tell us how you feel about Alma.” It is tempting to fill it out in Gustav’s voice, writing something like: “To live for her, to die for her! Have a nice day :)” but I resist.
We are performing at the Eckhardt-Gramatté Hall, which also has a beautiful acoustic, so again no mic is needed, and it is more straightforward for the motion than the last venue. We have a brief meet-and-greet with audience members after the concert, and I am very touched to meet two gentlemen attending together who announced that they were celebrating seven years cancer-free. It seems they met each other during chemotherapy, where they used to listen to Tafelmusik CDs. It is a great way to finish this Western tour.
We do have one more performance of House of Dreams in Kingston, Ontario, on Tuesday. This will be at the Isabel Bader Centre, which is run by our former Managing Director, Tricia Baldwin, and will be both another great reunion and our debut as an orchestra in that venue. A few of us went as a chamber group last spring and found it to be excellent. We will also be preparing and premiering our next multimedia project, Tales of Two Cities: The Leipzig-Damascus Coffee House, there in May. (Readers of this blog will know that memorization is already well underway for that project.) Tricia’s vision is to unite the different artistic departments of Queen’s University under this one roof, and our projects of this type seem a beautiful example of that vision, mirrored in the beautiful contemporary description of Joseph Smith’s Venetian villa from House of Dreams as “the perfect union of all the arts.”
Christopher Verrette, violin