O, Canada – part 1: Edmonton

I’m not too sure that there is a better job than being a composer; sure, it has its challenges (these are more often than not fun, anyway) but they are far outweighed by the positives – of which, I find anyway, there are many.

I have just returned from spending the best part of 2 weeks in Canada in two cities (Edmonton and Saskatoon) that, chances are, if it were not for being a composer I wouldn’t have visited.

But I would have missed out.

The journey out there was a nightmare – I will not be flying Lufthansa again. The famous German precision was replaced by delays and bad customer service. But I made it (after 23 hours!) and was greeted by a pint of Canadian beer (thankfully not a Labatts in sight!), a club sandwich and a trumpeter – not bad by all accounts! – called Jens Lindemann!

(Seriously – if you haven’t heard him play, you haven’t lived! Buy his latest CD…it may also have a recording of my concerto on it…)

Jens - I think he plays a Yamaha if anyone was wondering...

My main reason for the visit was to hear Jens perform my trumpet concerto, Apophenia, with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra. Jens has already recorded it with brass band(with Fodens Band – what a recording!), but these were the premiere performances with symphony orchestra…more of that in a moment.

Shortly after the sandwich and beer (okay, two beers) we both headed off to a rehearsal of the combined forces of a couple of Edmonton’s brass bands. Jens was guest soloist in a concert with them and I was fighting jet lag, so staying at the hotel would have been a bad idea (I needed to push through until a decent time to sleep!). This evening was to finish in the Sherlock Holmes (a “British style pub”) – a friendly bar that served some great beer. It was the only night that the evening’s proceedings finished there – so much so that some of the bar staff ended up coming to the concerts!

Thursday saw another first for me – a BBQ in winter! Edmonton was not the warmest place on earth (it was -30c the day I left!), but it didn’t matter – the winter dry atmosphere and the cold clear sky (and a jumper!) made a strange combination for enjoying food and drink outdoors, but it worked perfectly.

Jens drove us to his parent’s house, where I got to meet the lovely Herr and Frau Lindemann (the Chef at said BBQ).  Not only was their food beautiful, but they were great company. It was very interesting to hear their stories about Germany of old, and specifically about those Germans who were executed for opposing Hitler. It’s perhaps something that is very easy to forget for the British – it shouldn’t be.

So to the performances…

Bill Eddins - stunningly good conductor, who has the town in his hands. And, as this picture shows, is a World champion of the dry butterfly stroke discipline!

Simply put, Friday was brilliant. Jens blew everyone away with his performance (and it should be said that Brian Thurgood on kit was spectacular in both performances) – the reception was fantastic. The orchestra, who are very good, are conducted by Bill Eddins – who is a total inspiration: to the musicians and, it was clear, to the city. The panel for the post-concert discussion (yes – hundreds of people stay behind on a Friday night, after the concert) included myself, Bill and Jens, and was fun and lively – but the truth is that the sizeable amount of people who had stayed behind hung on every word from their city’s maestro, and it wasn’t too hard to see that Jens was one of their favourite sons too!

If Friday was brilliant, I guess the only word for Saturday is blistering. Bill and the ESO were in sparkling form, but Jens was on a different planet to Friday – it was just about the best live playing I have ever heard from anyone. Forget all the technique stuff (unbelievably impressive as it was) this was pure musicianship on demonstration coupled with an amazing ability to captivate and entertain an audience. The only time I have really seen anything like this was at a concert featuring Nigel Kennedy as soloist – he has the same ability. And this piece is not easy – but that is all part of it; great performers, in music or in sport, deliver their best game when on the biggest stage. When the adrenalin is pumping, when the risky line between failure and and success is wafer thin – that is when this kind of person takes care of business. Jens is that kind of person.

It received a standing ovation – no doubt all were standing for the incredible performance.  But what was nice was the amount of audience members who took the time to come and talk to me about the piece, discuss the performance and wish me well for my travels – Canada was full of lovely people.

I was lucky enough to meet many people in Edmonton, although perhaps my favourite story came from a friend of Jens’.  Mike, a car enthusiast and musician, sings in the Swiss male voice choir based in Edmonton – although it’s how the choir describes itself that appealed most to me: “a drinking group with a singing problem”! Brilliant!

I also met a member of the board of the ESO – who told me that the Winspear Centre (the home of the orchestra) was built by the city for the city, even local builders worked overtime for free in order to finish the concert hall. Such investment (personal, as opposed to financial) is probably the reason for this:

The Winspear Centre: Like Rome, not built in a day - but importantly, was built by Edmonton.

The concert hall was pretty much sold out both nights – it holds around 2000 people. It was the same programme, featuring 2 premieres, that is, pieces that the audience hadn’t heard before, and it still sold out. So it was not a “bums on seats” mentality.

Literally hundreds of people turned up for the post concert talk on Friday – after a long day, a substantial concert: and the audience still wanted to hear more. A similar number turned up for the pre-concert talk on Saturday. Maybe the orchestra too have seen that risky fine line, paid it due respect, before saying “thanks, but no thanks”.

I don’t pretend to know what is wrong with music and programming in the UK (although it is clear that there is a problem), but am pretty sure that we can only dream about such an audience for a similar concert, given twice.

Like I say, I’m not sure there are any better jobs than being a composer – and Saturday night’s concert, where I can honestly say I received the best performance of any work of mine, was a perfect demonstration as to why.

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