Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Musical Alzheimer's Tribute: Victoria, British Columbia

From the Times-Columnist:

Symphony starts the year with 'bigger bag of tricks'

PREVIEW What: Victoria Symphony with clarinetist Simon Aldrich When and Where: 7:30 p.m., Jan. 5 at the Mary Winspear Centre in Sidney; 2:30 p.m., Jan. 6 and 8 p.m., Jan. 7 at the Royal Theatre Tickets: For the Sidney concert, tickets are $26/29, available at the box office (656-0275). For the Victoria concerts, tickets are $13.50 to $27.25, available at the box office (385-6515). For more information, visit:

Sarah Petrescu , Times Colonist
Published: Thursday, January 03, 2008

When Victoria Symphony Maestra Tania Miller and her team plan a season of concerts, they are driven by the artists, pieces and instruments they want to shine the spotlight on.

This year, Miller wanted to highlight a wind instrument. She chose contemporary composer John Adams's piece Gnarly Buttons, "a phenomenally challenging, funky piece," she says, and recruited Montreal clarinetist Simon Aldrich to tackle it.
"He's incredibly talented and has worked with Tim many times," Miller says, referring to guest conductor Timothy Vernon.

Vernon will conduct the orchestra's first concerts of 2008 in Sidney and Victoria this week. They feature the debut of new concertmaster Terence Tam and a 200th-anniversary performance of Ludwig van Beethoven's Symphony No. 5.

Aldrich performed Gnarly Buttons with Vernon six years ago in London, Ont., where he grew up. Vernon is music director and principal conductor of Orchestra London, in addition to his role as artistic director of Pacific Opera Victoria.

"It's one of my favourite pieces, very eclectic," says Aldrich, 42. "I feel connected to it on many levels."

Part of that connection, Aldrich says, comes from the way Adams shared his inspiration for the piece: His father's battle with Alzheimer's disease.

"It's his most biographical piece, a tribute to his father," Aldrich says. "John Adams, as a clarinetist, wrote it to be difficult to play -- and it is."

In his note about the piece, Adams writes about how his father taught him to play clarinet. When his father fell victim to Alzheimer's he became obsessed with his clarinets. Convinced someone was trying to break into their New Hampshire home to steal them, he hid them in the laundry hamper. Not long after, Adams's mother sent the instruments to him, where they collected dust until long after his father's death. Adams was nearing 50 when he composed this piece, his first for clarinet.

"The three movements are very different," Aldrich says. "The first has that Benny Goodman and Mozart influence [favourites of the elder Adams]."

The second movement, Hoe-down (Mad Cow), calls for banjo and has a western feel.

"Adams premiered the piece at the height of Mad Cow in England, so there's a bitter twist there," Aldrich says.

The third movement, Put Your Loving Arms Around Me, reflects the degenerating effects of Alzheimer's.

Aldrich says contemporary music makes up a large part of his career as a solo clarinetist. He splits his time between solo work and playing with the Montreal Metropolitan Orchestra.

"The clarinet repertoire picks up in the contemporary period and includes a lot of elements like jazz and extended techniques," Aldrich says. "This is why contemporary composers like to write for the clarinet; it can go from the range of a flute down to an organ. We have a bigger bag of tricks."

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