The Age of Opulence
A Turning Point Ensemble presentation. At the Stanley Park Pavilion on Sunday, November 6
I'd never heard of Vancouver's "Age of Opulence", a phrase that more readily calls to mind Louis Quatorze glimmer or the gilded drawing rooms of Edith Wharton's Fifth Avenue. But according to the Turning Point Ensemble and Heritage Vancouver-the unusual collaborators in a charming concert held last Sunday (November 6) at the Stanley Park Pavilion-our own A of O ran between 1915 and 1930. On the specific reasons for this designation I remain vague and perhaps even a little dubious, but no matter. It was the first rain-free afternoon in a week (chalk one up for God) and the by-donation show was preceded by both an informative walking tour of some Stanley Park monuments-led by the genial heritage advocate Donald Luxton-and tea and little pastries, with which I made very free. What wasn't to love?
The music on this program, and there was a lot of it, ranged from Sergei Rachmaninoff's well-loved "Vocalise", in the cello-and-piano arrangement, to Maurice Ravel's kinetically syncopated "Blues" movement of the Sonata for Violin and Piano. There was a gorgeous rendering of Bix Beiderbecke's "In the Dark" and a cracking good arrangement of Jelly Roll Morton's "Jelly Roll Blues". The rationale for this diversity was that these were all pieces that might have been heard in Vancouver during that 1915-to-1930 period, either because they were written here, as in the art songs by Jean Coulthard, or because they would have been played by the touring Rachmaninoff or Ravel or Morton when they passed through on the vaudeville circuit.
The Turning Point Ensemble personnel are accomplished players who perform larger-scale pieces of chamber music, mostly from this or the last century. That's laudable, as was the imaginative collaboration with Heritage Vancouver. So was the decision to settle on a theatrical conceit that would hold so mixed a bag together. However, it was that opulent idea-and I say this appreciating that informality was the order of the day, and that the choices made for the Stanley Park Pavilion might not have been the choices made for a more straitened set of concert-hall circumstances-that was not altogether persuasive. You need to have a really, really good reason to put the very dark "Chanson madécasses" by Ravel, a slightly goofy brass trio by Francis Poulenc, and a sing-along version of "K-K-K-Katy" in such close proximity. Inventing an Age of Opulence was not reason enough.
Nonetheless, the afternoon was fun, a change from the usual fare and also, quite literally, a walk in the park. It should happen again, but next time with a strict ban on sandwich-serving during the concert-unless, of course, it's possible to get the damn things over to my side of the hall.