Mixing Kids and Touring

This week marks our saying good-bye to our caregiver Ginny of 15 years as our youngest child also turns 12. Some reflections on touring as Duo Concertante while trying to raise two kids seemed timely somehow.

In 1998 we’d just gotten our first agent, were starting to do showcase events, had some good reviews in our newly developed press kit. It was an exciting time and we could feel our career gaining momentum. One day that year we also – to our immense surprise – found ourselves to be expecting. Our doctor, the bearer of this shocking and ultimately of course wonderful news, took about an hour to talk through how our lives could work as performers – continue to tour, for example – and have a baby. We basically (and gratefully) followed all her advice, hiring Ginny shortly after our daughter’s arrival.

Until our oldest was five years old, we always toured with our kids. When we could afford it, we took Ginny with us. This helped enormously in terms of being able to practice easily, not worry about the kids while on stage, etc.  We remember a trip to NYC with our baby daughter.   As Nancy warmed up in our hotel room, we recall watching out the window as our daughter and Ginny happily but with some trepidation headed for Macy’s. There were lots of good times touring as a foursome, then as a fivesome – eating good meals together, visiting interesting and beautiful places. But, even with a sitter, touring with young children was difficult.  Sleep was in short supply as both of our kids didn’t sleep through the night until they were 2 and a half (That equals five years of being a zombie. Clara Schumann: how did you do it?). Drinking lots of coke before concerts helped but sometimes it, apparently, wasn’t enough. One reviewer wrote that the violinist “seemed asleep in the first work but woke up for the Bartok.” That was probably an astute comment.

Often it just wasn’t possible financially to take Ginny along and we would make arrangements with local presenters to find us a caregiver. Most times this worked out (as far as we knew!). But once a presenter arranged for herself to be the sitter.  Nancy had described the needs of our baby son over email before we arrived – he was happy if he was pushing his stroller or, when he got tired, being pushed in it at a fairly quick tempo.  The lady over email said that that would be no problem. When we arrived at the church where we were to give the concert, we discovered the presenter/sitter was very elderly and had major mobility challenges.  Her plan was to keep the two kids near us in the church nursery; she assured us that she could push our son around in the stroller.  We played our concert, thankfully (sort of) oblivious to the two hours of howls of a strapped in baby being pushed slowly forward and backwards over just two feet. Obviously he survived.

Of course, travelling with babies and toddlers does throw a wrench in the image of the jet-setting glamorous touring musician.  A trip to BC for just one concert with baby translated into hours of feeding on the plane, much to the exhaustion of Nancy.  The end result was meeting our lovely presenters at the airport, dripping wet with regurgitated sour milk.  Another memory is trying to wash our baby in a Pearson airport sink – his/her (identity withheld) head, tummy, arms, legs, face, you name it, after a massive diaper malfunction.

The most difficult moment in all of this was when we had to start leaving our kids behind with either our parents or with Ginny.  Our first such trip was to China for two weeks when our kids were just two and a half and five.  It was the longest two weeks of our lives and in those first few hours in particular Nancy felt like she’d lost a limb.  The lump in her throat was the size of the grapefruit and during interminable, jetlag induced sleepless nights in a land that felt like another planet we pined for our children. (That lump in the throat is still always there whenever we take that taxi ride to the St John’s airport without our kids.) When you feel this immense internal conflict and miss your family so much, you end up walking on stage telling yourself, “You’d better make this really matter.” Somehow, the music part does really matter. It’s who you are. But you’re never really sure that performing is not a ridiculously selfish act somehow.

Our next blog will be about our tour in England, Scotland, and Germany. Happily, our kids are along for this one.

Recapitulation and Prelude (2013 and 2014)

There are some things we’re always going to remember about 2013:

- The thrill of playing in Carnegie Hall and the hair-raising few days before! (Read bottom of our blog for the blow by blow if you haven’t already). We know we’ll never forget that!

- Releasing the Beethoven album. Of course, we’ve written about this already but as part of saying good-bye to 2013 we want to thank the team that made this album possible – David Jaeger, producer; Dennis Patterson, engineer; Francine Labelle, publicist; and Earl Rosen and Dinah Hoyle at Marquis. We owe them much. We also want to share a lovely review we’ve gotten since the album’s European release in September– from the Wiener Zeitung.

- Premiering Vince Ho’s Maples and the Stream at the Ottawa International Chamber Music Festival. Evelyn Hart was truly extraordinary. She memorized the entire 30 minutes of text, always knew exactly how it fit with the complex score (what a musician she is!), staged and directed the entire piece, and ultimately mesmerized the audience with her intensity, energy and authenticity. Vince’s evocative and masterful score communicated the depth, subtlety and subtext of the words by Lein Chao, but also provided a large-scale structural arc to her seven lyrical poems. Audiences both in Ottawa and Barrie were transfixed.

Maples and the Stream at the Colours of Music Festival in Barrie, Ontario

Maples and the Stream at the Colours of Music Festival in Barrie, Ontario

- Creating some new videos. Thanks to Rich Blenkinsopp and the School of Music at Memorial University for their expertise and assistance in this. We’re especially proud of the Bach Sonata no. 4, Sicilienne. (I first studied this with my wonderful teacher and the great violinist Masuko Ushioda, who, I am very sad to say, passed away in May. Playing it always makes me think of her.)

- Playing double concertos. We got the chance to play the Andrew MacDonald Concerto and the Mendelssohn Double. Always a thrill to solo with an orchestra. Here we are before and after the performance of the Mendelssohn with the NSO.

Walking on stage in St. John's to perform the Mendelssohn Double.

Walking on stage in St. John’s to perform the Mendelssohn Double.

With Marc David.  The final chord!

With Marc David. The final chord!

Which leads me to the Prelude section of this entry, or, what we’re looking forward to in 2014:

- Recording the MacDonald and Mendelssohn concertos! This was supposed to take place in December 2013 but our engineer unfortunately broke his hand! The sessions will take place in September 2014, and we expect the disc to be ready by Feb. 2014.

- Playing concerts in Germany, England and Scotland. Between April 26 and May 12 we’ll be touring in Europe, playing as a Duo but also as a trio with cellist Heather Tuach of the Fitzwilliam String Quartet. In addition to the regular evening concerts, we have school concerts in Germany, which we’re excited about too!

- Learning and performing all the Schubert violin and piano works. Our next big project starts next fall with concerts featuring the 3 Sonatinas, the Duo, Fantasy and Rondo.

- A new commission or two… more adventures with Evelyn… another recording (Bach Sonatas)… but we’ll leave these for another entry!

June and Beyond….

Being part of a larger creative team is wonderful. June began with a three-day workshop in Toronto of the new work Maples and the Stream with composer, Vince Ho and narrator Evelyn Hart. Vince has created a moving, dynamic, and intense 30-minute work and which embodies and enlightens the dramatic narrative arc of Lien Chao’s beautiful text. Together, the music and lyrical poetry trace one woman’s journey from China to Canada over four decades and her struggle and search for freedom and for free artistic expression. Evelyn Hart is an immense creative force who performs with such passion, conviction and honesty. Her musicianship and timing astound us every time we work with her. It was an inspiring 3 days and we look forward to the world premiere on August 3 at the Ottawa International Chamber Music Festival. Here are some shots by the gifted photographer Christopher Manson from the sessions:

Evelyn Hart

Evelyn Hart


Nancy, Vince, and Tim

Nancy, Vince, and Tim


"This is where things begin to unravel," says Nancy, "in the second bar!"

“This is where things begin to unravel,” says Nancy, “right here in the second bar!”


"You're pretty good, Tim," says Evelyn.  "You must have had lessons as a kid!"

“You’re pretty good, Tim,” says Evelyn. “You must have had lessons as a kid!”


Back in St. John’s we started work on a video project for our Youtube channel. We decided to record and shoot two of our favourite movements – the Sicilienne from Bach’s Sonata in c minor and the Presto finale from the Beethoven “Kreutzer” Sonata. Thanks to Rich Blenkinsopp and his team at Memorial University for their hard work on these so far. The videos should be completed in a couple of month. In the meantime, here is a still of Nancy from the shoot:
Video still of Nancy

We look forward to the summer for many reasons. One of the most meaningful of these is the chance to work and play with exciting young talent at various festivals, concerts and workshops. First in July, Nancy goes off to Domaine Forget for a week of teaching (July 14-20). Following the Ottawa Festival where we play 3 concerts and give a master class (August 2-4th), we go straight into our Tuckamore Festival (August 5-19th). This year there will be 21 young artists from across Canada and the US studying and performing chamber music by Shostakovich, Smetana, Brahms, Beethoven, Schumann and Dvorak. They will be joined by two emerging composers who will take part in the festival’s newly added Young Composers program under the mentorship of award-winning Andrew Staniland. Following Tuckamore, we perform and give masterclasses at the Indian River Festival in Prince Edward Island (August 23rd and 24th). At the end of August we are thrilled to be soloists with the Nova Scotia Youth Orchestra (one of the country’s very best young orchestras!) in Andrew P. MacDonald’s wonderful Double Concerto under the direction of Dinuk Wijeratne. Concerts are in Lunenburg (August 29) and Halifax (August 30th). Good times!

Beethoven Album Launched!

We really enjoyed seeing many friends, supporters, former students and some of their parents at our CD launch celebration/performance at Gallery 345 on April 22nd. We were delighted to receive several very positive reviews of the album. Here are some excerpts:

“The recording made at the Glenn Gould Studio last year is so good right down to the tiniest of details that it deserves to be called a reference in the contemporary performance of these 10 great pieces.” – John Terauds, Musical Toronto

“Their musical devotion to ‘two equal and dynamic voices’ is perfectly highlighted in this superb new recording. Very highly recommended.” – Anthony Kershaw, Audiophilia

“Their expressive performances have a refreshing clarity and feel for the symmetry of the music that is a joyous experience to hear. Nowhere have I heard a more detailed refinement in these sonatas. There is as much put into the lesser known works as those more well known.” – Classical-Modern Music Review

And we also had a lovely feature/interview in Digital Journal.

Many thanks to Francine Labelle, our publicist, for all your hard work, and to Ed Epstein at Gallery 345 for hosting a wonderful event!

April 24th and 26th saw us in Kitchener-Waterloo for two concerts which marked the first time the Duo played all the six Bach sonatas in close proximity. We paired these with two new Bach-inspired works – Comme de longs echoes by Cliff Crawley and Petrichor by Jocelyn Morlock. It was interesting to see how differently these two wonderful composers approached the task of creating a Bach-influenced piece. Cliff drew upon a number of famous Bach fragments, the notes of Bach’s name [B (B-flat), A , C, H (B natural)], modern dance rhythms, and he used a rich chromatic and contrapuntal texture to create a charming, whimsical, clever, and humorous piece.

Jocelyn attended the premiere of her piece and we were really glad to work with her prior to the performance. The word “petrichor” is defined as “the distinctive scent which accompanies the first rain after a long warm dry spell,” and the piece really conveys the restrained then increasingly ecstatic joy that rain can bring after a draught. (Jocelyn is now a Vancouverite but she was born and raised in Manitoba. She knows of what she writes!) The Bachian elements used here were a fragment from the first movement of the sixth sonata (down a seventh up a step), various trills and Baroque-like improvised-sounding melodic figures. Somehow — even though most of the Bach connections in the two pieces are quite hidden — these both work beautifully as companions to the set of six magical sonatas. Thank you Jocelyn and Cliff! (The audiences loved them too.) We feel the concept of programming Bach alongside new works works really well; we’ll be doing a similar program at the Ottawa International Chamber Music Festival on August 4th.

April 27th took us back to Toronto where we were happy to be a part of a CMC fundraising concert. Here we are being interviewed by David Jaeger alongside Jocelyn Morlock. This concert featured Morlock, Jaeger, Schafer and Gougeon.

CMC fundraiser

In Lunenburg Nova Scotia (Nancy’s hometown) the very next evening, we worked with Peggy Hemsworth, a producer for the CBC, who recorded this concert for the Musique Royale series for an upcoming radio broadcast. (A bit of a digression now follows…)
Turns out Peggy and a preteen Nancy were both members of the South Shore Concert Orchestra (imagine the Portsmouth Symphony times 2). This orchestra was Nancy’s first orchestral experience (she started private violin lesson at 10) and talking to Peggy sure brought back memories! In the late 1970, early 80s this community group had a total of eight violins, no violas, 1 cello, no bass. Some of the wind players doubled on two instruments; for example, a clever doctor managed to go between the French horn and clarinet depending on which part was most needed. The one section Nancy recalls being competent and well-fortified was the percussion section (which is where Peggy was playing timpani). However, the most vivid memories for Nancy revolve around her 93-year-old stand partner in the back of the second violins. Each rehearsal, Ruby would be led into the rehearsal by the arm by another member of the orchestra who also carried her violin. Once helped into her chair, she would be given her violin. Ruby never tuned her violin; in fact, her bow never made contact with the strings, ever. She would “airbow” over the string like a windshield wiper for the entire rehearsal. For two years, Nancy turned pages for Ruby (meaning that at the page turn, Nancy would stop playing to turn and their stand then produced no sound). On one fateful and momentous evening concert, in an arrangement of the Waltz of the Flowers by J Strauss (or something similar) and during a GRAND PAUSE: Ruby made contact with the strings in a big way .. it was quite the sound!

Anyway –

Now on to learning a major new work by Vince Ho, text by Lien Chao which will be narrated by the wonderful Evelyn Hart. We start work shopping the piece in a few weeks in Toronto and will premiere it on August 3rd at the Ottawa International Chamber Music Festival!

In Praise of Preparations, Premieres and the Unexpected

These first few weeks of April mark the end of the semester at Memorial University where we both teach. There are many juries and recitals to help prepare our students for, and many of these recitals are the first outings of this magnitude for some of them. Through extra lesson, dress rehearsals, etc., we do our best to help “prepare them for the unexpected,” knowing of course that, in a live performance, anything can happen. (For example, when Nancy was an undergrad, she miraculously moved her bridge a centimeter to the left during vigourous up bow in a thankfully not-too-public performance of the Tchaikovsky concerto.) This universal truth –that anything can happen at a performance– was shown to be true in a unique way during a grad student’s recent recital. During the final bow (it was a lovely recital, btw), the student’s boyfriend strode onstage, flowers in hand, got down on one knee, produced a ring and – yes, you guessed it – proposed in front of the entire audience. This was definitely a first in the history of our School of Music! (She did say yes…)

Our own slightly less glamorous preparations are underway too – for five concerts coming up in the 3rd and 4th weeks of April. We are practicing a number of different programs which encompass the six violin and keyboard sonatas by Bach, a Beethoven sonata, and new Canadian works by Gougeon, Crawley, Schafer, Morlock and David Jaeger. The Morlock and Jaeger are new to us. Living composers are generally awe-inspiring and, as performers, we are especially grateful for the really good ones! Jocelyn’s Petrichor came to us a couple weeks ago (its premiere will be on April 26 at the Kitchener-Waterloo Chamber Music Society, and we will play it again on April 27th at the Canadian Music Centre in Toronto), and it is beautiful – well-crafted and elegantly, idiomatically written for the instruments (always appreciated, though not totally necessary). Jocelyn really has a unique harmonic language and sincere musical voice. The soul/message of this piece spoke to us immediately and becomes clearer to us each time we rehearse it. We are so enjoying the process of learning this work!

We are also enjoying getting to know David Jaeger’s music! As many of you may know, David has been selflessly promoting, championing, supporting, fighting for, etc. other Canadian composers and their music for years and years through his work as a senior producer at the CBC radio. (He “retired” last December.) He made a monumental impact on the careers of young composers and performers in this country through programs such as the Two New Hours (woefully, it is no longer) and the CBC commissioning program to name but a couple. But now we have the pleasure and honour of playing his Sonata Tristan and Isolde at the Canadian Music Centre on April 27th. How many of us even remember that David began his career as a composer? Well, he did, and we’re very excited to play this wonderful piece filled with lyricism, energy and drama. (On our last three recording, we were fortunate to have David as the producer. This includes our new complete Beethoven sonata album. We celebrate its release with a performance at the Gallery 345 in Toronto on Monday April 22 at 8 pm! All are most welcome….)

So, to summarize what we’re gearing up for this month –

Monday, April 22: Performance and Beethoven album release celebration at Gallery 345 in Toronto, 8 pm.

Wednesday, April 24: Kitchener-Waterloo Chamber Music Society, The Music Room, Bach’s Sonatas nos. 1, 5, and 3 for Violin and Keyboard as well as Clifford Crawley’s Bach-inspired Comme de longs echos (2012), 8 pm.

Friday, April 26: Kitchener-Waterloo Chamber Music Society, The Music Room, Bach’s Sonatas nos. 2, 4, and 6 and the world premiere of Jocelyn Morlock’s Petrichor (commissioned with the generous assistance of the Canada Council), 8 pm.

Saturday, April 27: Benefit concert for the CMC at the Canadian Music Centre in Toronto. Works by Gougeon, Morlock, Jaeger, Bach, Beethoven,7:30 pm.

Sunday, April 28: Cecilia by the Sea series, St John’s Anglican Church, Lunenburg NS, 7:30. Concert to be broadcast by CBC on a future In Concert.

How to get to Carnegie Hall: Practice and Bring a Shovel!

In February the Duo played to a full house at Carnegie Hall’s Weill Recital Hall! It was a wonderful, thrilling, and hugely fulfilling experience and one we will always remember. We certainly won’t forget the 4 days beforehand either! If you’re interested in this nerve-wracking tale keep reading:

How do you get to Carnegie Hall? With practice, practice, practice, a lot of luck and a shovel.

On February 7th, along with our two kids, we fly to Nova Scotia for a concert that was to be a sort of pre-Carnegie Hall prep recital. The concert is to take place in Lunenburg at the beautiful, historic St. John’s Anglican Church as part of the St. Cecilia Series (a highly respected, long standing series), and they secured for us a CBC pickup and national broadcast. We purposely leave St John’s a day early knowing we would have more time to practice if we are away from our university and busy regular lives. After looking at the forecast, we decide to switch our rental car at the Halifax airport from a Fiat to an all-wheel drive Jeep Cherokee. We drive the hour and a half to Lunenburg; the day is beautiful, sunny, clear, but very cold. On February 7th the head of the NS series contacts us to say that the concert may need to be cancelled due to the impending winter storm. February 8th: sure enough, we are informed that the NS concert is cancelled because the storm has been upgraded to a severe and long lasting blizzard originating from the eastern seaboard. It’s being called the “storm of the century” by the media there. (Subtext thoughts: Oh NO! NYC! Panic!). We start to consider leaving immediately for NYC. Looking at flights, there was nothing available that would get us to NY before the storm hits. We contemplate flying to Toronto and then staying there until the storm leaves eastern US. No go: Toronto is socked in with a separate and also gigantic snow blast. We consider driving to Halifax and staying with family in order to be closer to the airport. After talking to Nancy’s brother we decide against it: there would be no piano to practice on. (He also put the thought of missing our Carnegie performance in perspective: “At least you’re still a good person and haven’t killed anyone………yet!”)

Many stress-filled hours later and after considering all possible options, we accept there is nothing we can do but hope that the blizzard will be over by the time of our scheduled United flight leaves at 1:00 pm on the 10th. We decide to park our car near the main road (on NS route 3), a ½ km down a hilly dirt road from the house where we are staying.

The evening of the 8th the blizzard hits. The winds are so fierce we can hardly sleep. On the 9th, we practice, listen to the weather reports, practice, worry, practice. It’s an emotional rollercoaster of psyching ourselves up for the concert and thinking about the ramifications if we don’t make it. All day we keep checking outside to see if the storm is letting up. The snow keeps coming: 20 cm… 30 cm…. 40 cm. The neighbour’s truck gets stuck on the dirt road. We go to bed on the 9th with the storm still going strong.

February 10th: we get up at 6 am so that we have lots of time to get to the airport. It’s still snowing but winds are now only gusting to about 60-80 km/hr. At 7 am the four of us, along with Nancy’s 87-year old father, trudge down the hill through drifts that go up over our hips. We drag our suitcases over the snow inside a push-me type shovel. At the bottom of the road we see incredibly that route 3 has been recently ploughed. The car, however, needs a path cleared in order for us to be able to reach to the road. Tim and Clara start frantically shoveling. At 7:23 a truck with a plough attachment happens by and digs us out. By 7:30 we’re on the road. The highways are snow covered and deserted except for a car coming the other direction every 10 miles or so. (We see three separate Aliant vans in the ditch. Guess they don’t budget for snow tires?) The drive, which normally takes one and a half hours, takes 3 hours.

At the United counter we learn the following: 1) our incoming flight is going to try to land (winds still quite strong for the small Bombardier aircraft so it might be diverted), and 2) if we don’t go out on this flight, there is NO WAY to get to NYC before Feb 11th. All flights, all airlines, with any and all conceivable rerouting are booked for 3 days at least. We watch the incoming flight’s progress for three hours. Miraculously, unbelievably, it lands. Our flight is the first flight for 2 days to leave for New York from Halifax.

Yes! We got to Carnegie Hall!
Duo at Weill Recital Hall

Welcome to our New Website!

We’re just days away from wrapping up the Beethoven album of all 10 sonatas for violin and piano!  It’s been an exciting, wonderful, daunting, humbling, massive, incredibly enriching project, which began in June 2011 with the first of three 3-day sessions at the Glenn Gould Studio in Toronto.  (Of course, learning and performing all the sonatas together started considerably earlier!).  Beethoven’s genius is truly astounding – in his mastery of the violin and piano sonata genre and his understanding of the instruments, in the way his style evolved during the course of these works and, of course, in the sheer beauty, drama, and intensity of his music.  We really felt his enormous presence in his music reaching across the centuries; in fact, he’s been living in our house for years now (and boy, he is messy)!!

We are very grateful for the support during this long process of our two encouraging children, wonderful parents, friends, students, Memorial University and the NL Arts Council.  We also want to thank David Jaeger, our producer, editor and friend for his enthusiasm, expertise, warmth and good humour.  We’ll be celebrating the album with a performance in Toronto at Gallery 345 on April 22.   Hope you can join us!

Obviously, we’ll be performing Beethoven for a while now and some upcoming concerts  — in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia on Feb. 9 (which will be broadcast nationally on CBC radio), Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall in NYC on Feb 11th, and Regina’s St Cecilia series on March 23 will feature the “Kreutzer”.  But we are also really focused now Bach’s Six Sonatas for violin and keyboard.  These works illuminate what an incredible keyboard player and violinist Bach must have been.  The physical flexibility and dexterity that these works require have expanded both our technical ease and fluidity.  The music is also astounding in it’s pure emotional depth and expressiveness, without ever sounding sentimental or romantic.  In October of 2012 we presented the first of 2 concerts where he present Sonatas 1, 3, and 5 alongside a Bach-inspired world premiere by Cliff Crawley.  On March 3 “we’ll be Bach” to do the other 3 in St John’s.  Then on April 24 and 26, for the Kitchener Waterloo Chamber Music Society, we’ll present all six  sonatas alongside the Crawley with another new Bach influenced work, this time by Jocelyn Morlock (commissioned with the generous assistance of the Canada Council).