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  • 20 Sep 2021 2:22 PM | Rolf Bertsch

    I recently came across this wonderfully written piece on the power of music and the important place it occupies in our lives, from its essential place in films to how it can reflect the deepest feelings we experience...and beyond. This helps describe what brings the musicians of the Calgary Civic Symphony together and, far more importantly, what role music can play in simply underlining our collective humanity.

    Here's wishing that we all show our care for others and embrace the power of music.

    Best wishes,

    Rolf Bertsch - Artistic Director & Conductor




    Music

    by Karl Paulnack


    My parents never wept over a piece of music in their lives. They had no idea what I do, nor why. I wish they could have seen or heard this:

    Welcome address to freshman parents at Boston Conservatory, given by Karl Paulnack, pianist and director of music division at Ithaca College:


    One of my parents' deepest fears, I suspect, is that society would not properly value me as a musician, that I wouldn't be appreciated. I had very good grades in high school, I was good in science and math, and they imagined that as a doctor or a research chemist or an engineer, I might be more appreciated than I would be as a musician. I still remember my mother's remark when I announced my decision to apply to music school-she said, "you're WASTING your SAT scores." On some level, I think, my parents were not sure themselves what the value of music was, what its purpose was. And they LOVED music, they listened to classical music all the time. They just weren't really clear about its function. So let me talk about that a little bit, because we live in a society that puts music in the "arts and entertainment" section of the newspaper, and serious music, the kind your kids are about to engage in, has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with entertainment, in fact it's the opposite of entertainment. Let me talk a little bit about music, and how it works.

    The first people to understand how music really works were the ancient Greeks. And this is going to fascinate you; the Greeks said that music and astronomy were two sides of the same coin. Astronomy was seen as the study of relationships between observable, permanent, external objects, and music was seen as the study of relationships between invisible, internal, hidden objects. Music has a way of finding the big, invisible moving pieces inside our hearts and souls and helping us figure out the position of things inside us. Let me give you some examples of how this works.

    One of the most profound musical compositions of all time is the Quartet for the End of Time written by French composer Olivier Messiaen in 1940. Messiaen was 31 years old when France entered the war against Nazi Germany. He was captured by the Germans in June of 1940, sent across Germany in a cattle car and imprisoned in a concentration camp. He was fortunate to find a sympathetic prison guard who gave him paper and a place to compose. There were three other musicians in the camp, a cellist, a violinist, and a clarinetist, and Messiaen wrote his quartet with these specific players in mind. It was performed in January 1941 for four thousand prisoners and guards in the prison camp. Today it is one of the most famous masterworks in the repertoire.

    Given what we have since learned about life in the concentration camps, why would anyone in his right mind waste time and energy writing or playing music? There was barely enough energy on a good day to find food and water, to avoid a beating, to stay warm, to escape torture - why would anyone bother with music? And yet - from the camps, we have poetry, we have music, we have visual art; it wasn't just this one fanatic Messiaen; many, many people created art.

    Why? Well, in a place where people are only focused on survival, on the bare necessities, the obvious conclusion is that art must be, somehow, essential for life. The camps were without money, without hope, without commerce, without recreation, without basic respect, but they were not without art. Art is part of survival; art is part of the human spirit, an unquenchable expression of who we are. Art is one of the ways in which we say, "I am alive, and my life has meaning."

    On September 12, 2001 I was a resident of Manhattan. That morning I reached a new understanding of my art and its relationship to the world. I sat down at the piano that morning at 10 AM to practice as was my daily routine; I did it by force of habit, without thinking about it. I lifted the cover on the keyboard, and opened my music, and put my hands on the keys and took my hands off the keys. And I sat there and thought, does this even matter? Isn't this completely irrelevant?

    Playing the piano right now, given what happened in this city yesterday, seems silly, absurd, irreverent, pointless. Why am I here? What place has a musician in this moment in time? Who needs a piano player right now? I was completely lost.

    And then I, along with the rest of New York, went through the journey of getting through that week. I did not play the piano that day, and in fact I contemplated briefly whether I would ever want to play the piano again. And then I observed how we got through the day.

    At least in my neighborhood, we didn't shoot hoops or play Scrabble. We didn't play cards to pass the time, we didn't watch TV, we didn't shop, we most certainly did not go to the mall. The first organized activity that I saw in New York, that same day, was singing. People sang. People sang around fire houses, people sang "We Shall Overcome". Lots of people sang America the Beautiful. The first organized public event that I remember was the Brahms German Requiem, later that week, at Lincoln Center, with the New York Philharmonic. 

    The first organized public expression of grief, our first communal response to that historic event, was a concert. That was the beginning of a sense that life might go on. The US Military secured the airspace, but recovery was led by the arts, and by music in particular, that very night.

    From these two experiences, I have come to understand that music is not part of "arts and entertainment" as the newspaper section would have us believe. It's not a luxury, a lavish thing that we fund from leftovers of our budgets, not a plaything or an amusement or a pass time. Music is a basic need of human survival. Music is one of the ways we make sense of our lives, one of the ways in which we express feelings when we have no words, a way for us to understand things with our hearts when we can't with our minds.


    Some of you may know Samuel Barber's heart wrenchingly beautiful piece Adagio for Strings. If you don't know it by that name, then some of you may know it as the background music which accompanied the Oliver Stone movie Platoon, a film about the Vietnam War. If you know that piece of music either way, you know it has the ability to crack your heart open like a walnut; it can make you cry over sadness you didn't know you had. Music can slip beneath our conscious reality to get at what's really going on inside us the way a good therapist does.

    I bet that you have never been to a wedding where there was absolutely no music. There might have been only a little music, there might have been some really bad music, but I bet you there was some music. And something very predictable happens at weddings - people get all pent up with all kinds of emotions, and then there's some musical moment where the action of the wedding stops and someone sings or plays the flute or something. And even if the music is lame, even if the quality isn't good, predictably 30 or 40 percent of the people who are going to cry at a wedding, cry a couple of moments after the music starts. Why? The Greeks. 

    Music allows us to move around those big invisible pieces of ourselves and rearrange our insides so that we can express what we feel even when we can't talk about it. Can you imagine watching Indiana Jones or Superman or Star Wars with the dialogue but no music? What is it about the music swelling up at just the right moment in ET so that all the softies in the audience start crying at exactly the same moment? I guarantee you if you showed the movie with the music stripped out, it wouldn't happen that way.

    The Greeks: Music is the understanding of the relationship between invisible internal objects.

    I'll give you one more example, the story of the most important concert of my life. I must tell you I have played a little less than a thousand concerts in my life so far. I have played in places that I thought were important. I like playing in Carnegie Hall; I enjoyed playing in Paris; it made me very happy to please the critics in St. Petersburg. I have played for people I thought were important; music critics of major newspapers, foreign heads of state. The most important concert of my entire life took place in a nursing home in Fargo, ND, about 4 years ago.

    I was playing with a very dear friend of mine who is a violinist. We began, as we often do, with Aaron Copland's Sonata, which was written during World War II and dedicated to a young friend of Copland's, a young pilot who was shot down during the war. Now we often talk to our audiences about the pieces we are going to play rather than providing them with written program notes. But in this case, because we began the concert with this piece, we decided to talk about the piece later in the program and to just come out and play the music without explanation.

    Midway through the piece, an elderly man seated in a wheelchair near the front of the concert hall began to weep. This man, whom I later met, was clearly a soldier-even in his 70's, it was clear from his buzz-cut hair, square jaw and general demeanor that he had spent a good deal of his life in the military. I thought it a little bit odd that someone would be moved to tears by that particular movement of that particular piece, but it wasn't the first time I've heard crying in a concert and we went on with the concert and finished the piece.

    When we came out to play the next piece on the program, we decided to talk about both the first and second pieces, and we described the circumstances in which the Copland was written and mentioned its dedication to a downed pilot. The man in the front of the audience became so disturbed that he had to leave the auditorium. I honestly figured that we would not see him again, but he did come backstage afterwards, tears and all, to explain himself.

    What he told us was this: "During World War II, I was a pilot, and I was in an aerial combat situation where one of my team's planes was hit. I watched my friend bail out, and watched his parachute open, but the Japanese planes which had engaged us returned and machine gunned across the parachute chords so as to separate the parachute from the pilot, and I watched my friend drop away into the ocean, realizing that he was lost. I have not thought about this for many years, but during that first piece of music you played, this memory returned to me so vividly that it was as though I was reliving it. I didn't understand why this was happening, why now, but then when you came out to explain that this piece of music was written to commemorate a lost pilot, it was a little more than I could handle. How does the music do that? How did it find those feelings and those memories in me?"

    Remember the Greeks: music is the study of invisible relationships between internal objects. This concert in Fargo was the most important work I have ever done. For me to play for this old soldier and help him connect, somehow, with Aaron Copland, and to connect their memories of their lost friends, to help him remember and mourn his friend, this is my work. This is why music matters.

    What follows is part of the talk I will give to this year's freshman class when I welcome them a few days from now. The responsibility I will charge your sons and daughters with is this:

    "If we were a medical school, and you were here as a med student practicing appendectomies, you'd take your work very seriously because you would imagine that some night at two AM someone is going to waltz into your emergency room and you're going to have to save their life. 

    Well, my friends, someday at 8 PM someone is going to walk into your concert hall and bring you a mind that is confused, a heart that is overwhelmed, a soul that is weary. Whether they go out whole again will depend partly on how well you do your craft.

    You're not here to become an entertainer, and you don't have to sell yourself. The truth is you don't have anything to sell; being a musician isn't about dispensing a product, like selling used Chevies. I'm not an entertainer; I'm a lot closer to a paramedic, a firefighter, a rescue worker. You're here to become a sort of therapist for the human soul, a spiritual version of a chiropractor, physical therapist, someone who works with our insides to see if they get things to line up, to see if we can come into harmony with ourselves and be healthy and happy and well.

    Frankly, ladies and gentlemen, I expect you not only to master music; I expect you to save the planet. If there is a future wave of wellness on this planet, of harmony, of peace, of an end to war, of mutual understanding, of equality, of fairness, I don't expect it will come from a government, a military force or a corporation. I no longer even expect it to come from the religions of the world, which together seem to have brought us as much war as they have peace. If there is a future of peace for humankind, if there is to be an understanding of how these invisible, internal things should fit together, I expect it will come from the artists, because that's what we do. As in the concentration camp and the evening of 9/11, the artists are the ones who might be able to help us with our internal, invisible lives."

  • 8 Mar 2021 2:10 PM | Manon Mitchell (Administrator)

    Between Saturday March 6 and Sunday March 7, thirty young musicians performed their hearts out (with masks on) at Michael Lipnicki Fine Pianos. Conducted in a socially distanced manner (with masks and sanitation etc....) this year's Rotary Calgary Concerto Competition (RC3) provided the focus and grounding these young musicians needed to make it through this pandemic year.

    So many parents and music teachers expressed their gratitude for being able to support and encourage their child/student to continue practicing and reach the goal of performing a very difficult work of music by heart.

    These students (18 years and younger) go to school, participate in extra curricular activities and dedicate many hours every week to their craft. Many of these kids started their instrument when they were only 4 or 5 years old. Now that's dedication!

    Here is the list of Winners and Runners up (you can click the link on their name to view their performance; you'll have to fast forward to the specific time indicated)

    Winners of the 2021 Competition

    (in alphabetical order)

    • Kathryn Fakeley (cello) Elgar Cello Concerto (4th mvmt) Fast forward to: 6:00:30
    • Anita Hao (piano) Grieg Piano Concerto No. 1 (1st mvmt) Fast forward to 53:57
    • Tessa Nysetvold (cello) Elgar Cello Concerto (1st & 2nd mvmts) Fast forward to 7:36:30
    • Dakota Perez (piano) Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto No. 1 (1st mvmt) Fast forward to 40:20

    Runners Up of the 2021 Competition

    • 1st Chanan Ngo (violin) Mendelssohn Violin Concerto (1st mvmt) Fast forward to 1:15:00
    • 2nd Jerry Li (piano) Grieg Piano Concerto (3rd mvmt) Fast forward to 27:10
    • 3rd Daniel Kang (violin) Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto (1st mvmt) Fast forward to 7:09:55
    • 4th Fiona Marchetto (violin) Lalo Symphonie Espagnole (1st mvmt) Fast forward to 5:27:25

    Thank you to our Jury,

    Thanks to our Sponsors:

    And special thank you to the following who made the Live Stream and Recordings possible:

    See you again next year for the 2022 Rotary Calgary Concerto Competition

  • 25 Feb 2021 2:07 PM | Manon Mitchell (Administrator)

    This year's Rotary Calgary Concerto Competition will be held on Saturday March 6 and Sunday March 7th.

    This year it is a VIRTUAL event for the audience.

    It will be live streamed so you can attend from the comfort of your own home.

    The schedule is available online at rotaryc3.com/schedule

    Just click on the day to view the competition

    Saturday 9:00 am - 12:45 pm

    Sunday 9:00 am - 5:30 pm

    See you online!

  • 8 Jan 2021 2:03 PM | Rolf Bertsch

    I came across these fantastic observations about piano teaching by Parisian pianist Monique Deschaussées (translation by Lisa Kristin). I couldn't agree more!

    “Being a teacher requires uncommon psychological qualities – a capacity to receive the other, a deep knowledge of people, an ability to adapt. It’s not enough to sit at the piano and say, 'Look at how I do it.' That’s about projection or imitation, not pedagogy. Students take piano lessons to learn what they don’t know; they need us to guide them and explain why they are encountering difficulties. That’s why the teacher is there – to eliminate those difficulties so that the student is freed. Being a teacher also requires the ability to give of oneself with love, to make human contact, as it’s not enough to just teach a student how to play an instrument. You have to help them to realize who they are, what their purpose is, how to become adults… And in addition to everything I’ve outlined here, which is important in undergirding true teachers, there are areas of knowledge that need years of study in the humanities, philosophy, and spirituality. A great teacher never stops searching, first for the self, and then on behalf of others…"

    “Pedagogy is an important part of my life, but it isn’t my entire life. I dislike those who invest their identities in their students; as soon as those students move on, these teachers die on the inside. Parents know their children will leave one day to make their own lives. Nothing is more natural. So students should be helped, but not possessed by the teacher. Students shouldn’t feel bound, either; young people need freedom above all else. All artists – all people – have the desire to feel free…"

    “Competition never made anyone grow, and even less so in music. I won’t go as far as to say with Charles Ives that 'prizes are the symbols of mediocrity', but we ought to recognize there’s some truth in that. Personally, I believe it is possible to achieve a high level, both technically and artistically, without taking on prejudice against others and wanting to crush them. Coming together toward a common goal seems much more advantageous to me. My students understand that the word 'competition' has no place in my studio...."

    “An expansive technique can certainly facilitate interpretation in that it liberates the artist from physical limitations…but if instrumentalists are fascinated by power and motivated by limitless abilities, they can find themselves led by it, and thus lose sight of the ultimate expressiveness of art. They are heading toward a stadium, not a concert hall".

  • 4 Jan 2021 11:48 AM | Manon Mitchell (Administrator)

    We're still in lockdown and can't rehearse yet however we're busy preparing short videos which, we hope, will keep you in touch with our Civic and players. 

    We'll post, hopefully weekly, a short video on our "Behind the Scenes" web page under the "Watch & Listen" menu.

    Here's a link to our first video where you get to meet Osmond Chiu, our principal violist. 

    By the way, if you were to associate composers with ice cream flavors, who would you associate with Lemon Lime Sherbert?


  • 23 Dec 2020 7:01 PM | Manon Mitchell (Administrator)

    All of us at the Calgary Civic Symphony would like to wish you and yours a Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays and Season's Greetings.

    Some of us had a little fun with Christmas tunes and prepared a light hearted video about our Christmas Tunes from a Hat.

    Enjoy our little gift to you!

    It's on youtube so just click here.

    All the best for 2021!

  • 18 Dec 2020 8:37 AM | Manon Mitchell (Administrator)
    On this occasion of the mighty

    Ludwig van Beethoven

    Ludwig van Beethoven's 250th birthday, I pause to reflect on the wonderful times I have had with him, for I feel we spend time not only with the music of the great composers, but also with their humanity. Over a lifetime of several decades, I have had the fortune of playing many of his sonatas for piano, violin, and cello. Likewise, I have played some of his greatest chamber music, including the "Kakadu" variations and "Archduke" trio with cellist Ernst Silberstein, longtime principal of The Cleveland Orchestra

    ; my father was the violinist.

    I'll never forget Mr. Silberstein telling me that my performance of Brahms 2nd concerto, for which he was guest principal cello, reminded him of his performances of that work with Rudolf Serkin. My first piano concerto was Beethoven's 1st, which I performed during my years at Phillips Academy, Phillips Academy Class of 1974.

    I also have the opportunity to perform the 3rd and 5th concertos. I have conducted all 9 symphonies at least once, along with many of the piano concertos, and the Triple Concerto (this with Pinchas Zukerman and Amanda Forsyth and three different pianists - Andrew Burashko, Louis Lortie, and Janina Fialkowska).

    I recently conducted excerpts from his only opera, Fidelio, with the Calgary Civic Symphony and Calgary Concert Opera Company.

    Astonishing!

    I have had the pleasure of teaching and coaching Beethoven's music to numerous students. Through all of that experience and living with Beethoven's music, I think the highlight has been my experiences conducting the 9th - 3 times. Each time has brought me closer to the "truth", although I still feel I'm wrestling with the slow movement. The last time, the emotion of the work left me in tears as the last few triumphant bars concluded this incredible musical voyage, this testament to humanity. What an extraordinary artistic, philosophical, and human legacy this giant left us!

    Rolf Bertsch
    December 17, 2020

  • 15 Dec 2020 2:31 PM | Manon Mitchell (Administrator)

    Join us for an entertaining musical evening in company of Maestro Rolf Bertsch. He'll present interesting insights into the world of orchestral music. 

    Just register for the FREE event to receive the private ZOOM link.

    See you Monday December 21st at 7:30 pm for our continuing MMM series.

    Just click here  for the event registration.

  • 4 Dec 2020 2:42 PM | Manon Mitchell (Administrator)

    Even if we can't present live performances we can certainly stay in touch with you and engage online.

    We will begin our "Behind the Scenes" series in mid December. Watch for more news on this shortly!


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