Double Bill – Double Thrill!

August 6, 2009

Last night, Vortex 3, a flute, violin and piano trio renowned for bringing to life early and traditional folk music, wowed audiences first with compositions primarily written under the auspices of the Edinburgh Musical Society, followed by a foot-stomping performance worthy of an East Coast ceilidh. The more formal part of the evening started at 8 p.m. and continued downstairs for the late night gig. Four hours into the entertainment, “Chief Vortice” flutist Chris Norman asked an enthusiastic audience if they were being worn down and were ready to go home. The resounding cries of dismay and escalating bids of how many more pieces they should play held them to the stage until well past midnight. The musicians didn’t let up for a moment, not even when a bat, surely left over from Sunday night’s Poe Cabaret, swooped at audience members and under the stage lights.

This is the second time I’ve had the immense pleasure of seeing most of the members of this group perform live. Halifax native Chris Norman is the epicenter of the group, and known the world over as a talented player of traditional and early wind instruments, and as such has been featured by the British Flute Society and Pan Magazine. He is a promoter of the aural traditions of music and is a fabulous improviser. His Boxwood Festival is held twice a year in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia and in New Zealand, where he brings together professional and amateur music makers in a celebration of early and traditional music. In last night’s concerts, he played a variety of baroque flutes (1 key, 8 key, 1 key alto), a pennywhistle, and border pipes. He also graced the audience with his singing voice.

David Greenberg, while American born, plays Cape Breton fiddle as though born to it. A masterful violinist switching between violin and fiddle, he plays directly from the heart, and his passion for the music is reflected on his face. He is acutely connected to the other musicians onstage at all times.

This concert was my introduction to David Mcguiness, who hails from Glasgow, Scotland. He impressed me with his ability to switch between period instruments – while audience members at the early concert only heard his harpsichord playing, the stage set down below was a real treat, as instrument after instrument was added to the stage. Not only was the harpsichord brought down from above, but at his disposal were also a harmonium, grand piano, and melodica. At one point, he played the harmonium and the piano at the same time with the help of an audience member, who kept her foot on the sustain pedal of the piano for an entire piece.

I wanted to say a few brief words about the first concert, which featured music of the Edinburgh Musical Society. While the resonance of St Brigid’s made it difficult for those further back to hear, Norman, Greenberg and Mcguiness took turns between pieces to share anecdotes uncovered during their research in selecting repertoire. One unforgettable tidbit was Mcguiness’s explanation of his selection of the two harpsichord solos he played. He had come across a collection of 300 pieces of traditional Scottish music, from which he had to choose two. The number was so vast that he chose the two that had one thing in common in their title, and so he graced us with a performance of Johnys Bare Arse and Maggys Covered Arse. Primarily Scottish Baroque, two notable exceptions in the first concert included a set of jigs performed by David Greenberg as a teaser for the late night show, and a sublime performance by Chris Norman of CPE Bach’s Sonata in A minor, a staple of the flute repertoire. It was truly special for me to hear it played masterfully on a 1 key baroque flute, the instrument which would have been used during CPE’s time.

The highlight of the night was the move downstairs and the switch to East Coast music – for me, that’s where these guys live (musically speaking). Nobody does this music better than this trio. As a small child on long drives to Cape Breton, I learned the words to such memorable pieces as Glasgow Belongs to Me, complete with Scottish brogue, and Barrett’s Privateers. Visits to neighbours were almost certain to include the spontaneous eruption into song and the breaking out of instruments. If you didn’t bring a guitar or violin, you would run to the kitchen and grab some spoons. On stage, David Greenberg sprawled in a chair and sawed away on violin and fiddle. Equally relaxed in his chair with a brew under the table holding his array of instruments was Chris Norman. David Mcguiness floated from instrument to instrument and danced on the bench while he played. The music was spontaneous and from the heart. Not only was this performance entertaining to listen to, but equally amusing to watch. The best part was the audience members who were drawn into the performance, joining in on refrains, stomping feet, clapping, dancing and whooping. This was without a doubt the most energetic performance of Chamberfest.

Next stop for Vortex 3: the Edinburgh Music Festival. They’ll be a hit for sure!

Lindsay Bryden, flutist


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