Weeping… Tears of Anguish

Mike Cochran muses about the tragedy behind the Elgar cello concerto.



Sophie van der Sloot will play the Elgar cello concerto on Saturday, October 28th in Sooke and Sunday, October 29th in Metchosin.

Picture a grand concert hall, the orchestra warming up as we wait expectantly. We browse the program notes to absorb some further thoughts. It’s an unusual concert…  two cello concertos… the Dvorak and the Elgar. It’s almost as if we’re at Centre Court, judging the Men’s Final at Wimbledon. Which concerto to be considered a worthy champion? The answer can be found on U-Tube. “Stunning ” is a rather overused term these days but it perfectly describes Jaqueline du Pre’s performance of the Elgar. It’s a televised version from the 1960’s with her husband Daniel Barenboim conducting. There are times when your breath will be caught and you’ll feel like you’ll never breathe again.

We are fortunate indeed to experience Sophie van der Sloot’s performance more than fifty years after Jacqueline’s playing. Sophie’s resolute double-stopped chords which open the concerto, leave no doubt of her capability. The depth and fullness of her tone is remarkable from a young performer taking her first steps into the world of the soloist.

I think Elgar wrote this work primarily with a female soloist in mind. Indeed the first recording in 1920 featured Beatrice Harrison soloist with Elgar himself conducting. There’s such remorse throughout the piece centered on the soloist; a male soloist is less likely to capture the despondency. The male of the species tends to react to sorrow and sadness rather more aggressively, more uncontrollably. Perhaps I generalize the male psyche too much but a female soloist seems perfectly suited to express the poignancy of this wonderful work.

Years ago, on first listening I imagined the soloist had suffered a heart-breaking ending to an impassioned romance, hence the persistent anguish throughout the work. And, as such, perhaps it was appropriate that a female soloist could more adequately express these emotions. But further listening and further years convinced me that the passion had nothing at all to do with romance. Elgar completed the Concerto in 1919, his last major work for soloist and orchestra. The passion belongs to Edward, the “Edwardian”, at the heart of the piece. It’s as if Elgar, consumed by disillusionment, realizes that the First World War, thankfully curtailed by 1919, not only needlessly ended so many lives, but also obliterated a way of life. The Edwardian period was the way of life he embraced but it had evaporated. His suffering cries out.

Despite Elgar’s utilization of four movements when three movements are usual, the work is really a tone poem with hints of previous despondent melodies occurring repeatedly throughout. “Weeping… Tears of Anguish”  is a suitable title. The four movements become a rhapsody with the cello singing through plaintively. Beginning with somber staunch chords, the soloist rebukes the orchestra’s glorious full-blown statements with insistent despondency. Time and again the cello prevails. The second movement presents a doleful cadenza and then suddenly more cheerful spiccato passages occur. This happier, more hopeful section, with soloist and orchestra in agreement, completes the movement. Now the beautiful Adagio is presented with the orchestra practically reduced to a chamber ensemble. Again in the fourth movement the orchestra, with a noble triumphant theme, attempts to overcome the sadness. Basses and cellos wrestle contrapuntally with a happy resplendent theme, but to no avail. The cello insists on hopelessness. An introspective pleading statement is presented with interspersed fragments of melodies from the first and third movements. Elgar creates unity with this technique and we are led to the final climax with great dignity and resignation.

This surely is Elgar’s most significant creation, confirming his place among the very greatest composers.



Mike Cochran follows the common thread in the three works presented in our June 2017 concerts

Remember those days when we relaxed on a bench, watching our kids clambering over and under the equipment in the park playground?  Well nowadays it’s the grand kids we observe, and sometimes take to the top of the slide for a whirlwind drop! Remember the days when your own four year-old commenced a musical career with a Suzuki violin? “Twinkle twinkle little star…” You can see your loved one even now with that quarter-sized violin under chin and hear the scratchy little melody. Twinkle is a transparent melody with a simple logical resolution… “how I wonder what you are“.

Music and melody are one and the same. Music is melody served by harmony and rhythm that expresses the varied emotions of our experience. A principal song, often merged with a second or third melodic notion, creates tension and release… tension and release… tension and finally resolution. At the playground when children climb around the jungle gym I’m reminded of a harmonic structure through which a melody can roam. Sometimes melody soars above… sometimes snaking through the harmonic midsection, even straying into the bass line at times.   Music IS melody, painted with timbre and dynamics, served by tempo and harmony.

Adagio from Spartacus Suite 2, by Aram Khachaturian

Spartacus: 3

Spartacus is all drama

The slave is crucified, the Roman Princess stands before him. An agony of melodic apprehension overwhelms this Adagio. The flute and oboe lead us to a tender, aching contemplation of melody in the strings. The Princess looks up at Spartacus pleading an end… falling to her knees in despair. Now the shadow of a Roman Legion looms in the distance, trudging a disciplined march.  A triumphant anguished rendering of the main theme returns… Spartacus succumbs… the soft violin solo fades away.


Piano Concerto No. 2, Op. 18 in C minor by Sergei Rachmaninoff, played for us by Ya-Ping Huang


Ya-Ping Huang performed at the Don Chrysler Concerto Competition in 2014

This whole piece is melody… melody on and on and on. The first movement is straight in with the principal theme, a grand triumphant statement in the strings. When the second theme arrives there’s a sense of yearning romance. The two themes interchange until a massive buildup brings the principal theme to a climax. Now the horn leads us to the counter-melody coda, presented by cellos and violas. The Adagio commences with a sublime clarinet solo that soon carries to the soloist. This simple rambling tune radiates throughout the orchestra. Quietly and delicately this splendiferous melody returns to the violins as the soloist becomes almost an accompanist. The Finale takes a little time to come to perhaps Rachmaninov’s most famous melody. This intense triumphant theme, presented at first by the oboe and violins and passed to the soloist, swells the heart, tingles the spine. One suspects that later on this grand theme will return ever more triumphantly.  Now surprisingly, a more robust second melody appears in contrapuntal form. It’s thrown around the orchestra with the soloist melding into the drama (as far as Rachmaninov will allow a piano soloist to “ meld”). As the finale intensifies, the strings present the principal melody peacefully but the tranquility does not hold as the whole orchestra shows its full blown power. A magnificent rendering is complete.


 Sea Cantata,  by Nicholas Fairbank

Nick Fairbank

Nick Fairbank will conduct his work for choir and orchestra, entitled Sea Cantata

From the outset there is no doubt we are ocean-bound. The opening powerful chords picture mighty waves crashing ashore.  “O Sea” opens malevolently with rumblings from the cellos, basses and ominous choir entries.  The first melodies we hear come from the “Silver Penny” , a lovely lilting maritime folk song, the lines equally satisfying for voice or strings and delightful resolutions to each melodic thought.  Now we’re back to the ocean with “The Waves“, a canon with voices arguing pleasantly and orchestral voices exchanging contrapuntal effects. Listen for the fog horn down below. Is it time for an “Interlude”?

Let’s hear what Nick Fairbank has to say:

 I tried to paint a musical picture of a calm sea, perhaps including something of the grandeur of the wide openness one experiences in the (doldrums-calm) ocean with no land in sight.

Next come nymphs and mermaids in “Sea Spirit”. Our nymphs are sopranos… our mermaids, altos.  Rippling sixteenth notes from the piano, recalling gently swishing ocean waves, surround our vocalists. Oh watch out…! Here come the basses and tenors brandishing their tankards and bottles of rum, roaring out the hale and hearty hornpipe, “Who hath desired the sea!”  It’s hard work for the lads… perhaps they really need their rum.  The Finale, “When first I went to Sea”, is a lively sea shanty. The melody is in Aeolian Mode.

Finally the sinister feel of the opening movement returns, yet we hear the conclusion as wholesome and triumphant.

Chamber Music Workshop 2017!

Another Sooke Harbour chamber music workshop came and went, and a good time was had by all! The music, the new venues, the coaches, the volunteers — what a great week.

A few memories, thanks to our new photographer, Stewart Jack.


Thank you, Norman!

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And thank you, Jenny!


Thank you, cooks!

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Lee Anderson, Valerie Sim and Tom Burton discussing the finer points.


The volunteers did us a lovely barbecue.


Thank you, volunteers!


Suppertime in the big tent


The McKennas wowed us with their singing


Dvorak String Quintet with Barb Cleary


Terence Moore and Dorle Eason  in the Glazunov


Susan Colonval and Don Kissinger playing the Dvorak


Mary Jane Watson and Mark Zupan

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Michele MacHattie, Trevor MacHattie and Adrian Rys in the Dvorak string sextet


String Octet by Bruch with Michael Cochrane


The McKennas knew how to play! It was Mozart.


Valerie Sim, Mary Anne Lloyd and Bruce Irschick, part of the Rontgen sextet

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Beethoven with Joanne Cowan, Ros Alexander, Ellen Himmer, Sonja de Wit


Mary Paynter and Brian Grimes playing Nielsen



Luiza Nelepcu and Frances Dodd in the Glazunov

Sophie van der Sloot the 2017 Concerto Competition as well as the Audience Choice Winner


The Don Chrysler Competition jury and audience were in agreement on Saturday night: both awarded first place to Sophie van der Sloot, for her marvellous performance of the Elgar cello concerto. She was accompanied by Elfi Gleusteen.

The six soloists:

Sophie van der Sloot, Elgar: Cello Concerto in E minor, Op.85

Tovin Allers, Tchaikovsky: Violin Concerto in D major

Danielle Tsao, Walton:  Viola Concerto

Iris Hung, Ravel: Piano Concerto in G major

 Gillian Newburn, Nielsen: Flute Concerto

Alyssa Fu, Mendelssohn: Piano Concerto No.1, Op.25

Yariv Aloni (strings), Nicholas Fairbank (piano), and Lanny Pollet (winds) were the adjudicators this year.



The jury awarded Danielle Tsao second place for the Walton viola concerto, but second place in audience voting went to Tovin Allers’ for his performance of the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto in D major.

The audience’s third choice was Danielle Tsao on viola.

As always, all present were impressed by the skill and musicianship of the young players, and thoroughly enjoyed the evening.

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Prizes were once again donated by Long and McQuade and presented by Matt Charbonneau, who congratulated the performers and expressed astonishment at their level of performance.

Sophie van der Sloot will perform the Elgar with the Sooke Philharmonic Orchestra at the Celebration of Young Artists concerts in October, 2017.


Audience members were enthusiastic about all six soloists. Here are some comments.

Iris Hung:
“Words fail me .  That was such fun.  Loved it”
“Wonderfully romantic”
“Beautiful colors.”


Gillian Newburn:
“Excellent technique, lively and confident performance.”
“Beautifully played, very sensitive, quite lovely.”
“Great articulation.”


Alyssa Fu:  
“Fluid, gracefully, lyrical, lovely, lovely playing.”  “Beautiful tone and phrasing.”
“Great depth and emotion”


About Sophie:
“A complete performance that bought me to tears and goosebumps everywhere.”
“Sophie was the most moving performance I have ever witnessed.  Thankyou.”
“Just amazing; heart-wrenching and stunning.”
Such excellence and so young.  Wow.”

About Tovin:
“A splendidly thoughtful and exciting performance of this brilliant piece.”
“Beautifully restrained.  Appeared effortless  I was enthralled!!”



About Danielle:
“Impressive.  Mature beyond her age.  Confident.”
“Fantastic playing.  Beautiful sound and nuances.  Great feeling for the music.”
“Rich, warm tone.  Beautiful phrasing.”34213332436_32c63bee3d_z


Pride Of Ownership

Mike Cochrane sent us these thoughts about the Khachaturian violin concerto on the program in preparation for our concerts this weekend, October 29th and 30th, performed by Kevin Chen.

Khachaturian in the 1930’s

Aram Khachaturian’s Violin Concerto in D minor was completed in 1940, dedicated to David Oistrakh, and first performed in September 1940. It is worth noting that while the rest of the world was preparing for the nightmare of World War II, the Soviet Union and  Nazi Germany were conspiring allies. This concerto displays none of the intense patriotism that flowed from the pen of Dmitri Shostakovich just a few short years later.

First Movement: Allegro con fermezza. The movement is in Sonata form, although hardly Mozartian or Haydnesque. Slavic folk song melodies abound.  Khachaturian’s birthplace was Armenia, so perhaps his ear remembered some country dances from his teenage years.

Second Movement:
Andante sostenuto.  This movement is notable for its variety of moods and highly expressive solo passages in dialogue with the orchestra. An impressive dialogue between violin and clarinet appears and a soft yet intense conversation transpires.

Third Movement:  Allegro.  A fanfare commences the movement. A Rondo follows based on the second theme from the first movement.  This is another Slavic country dance with rhythmic challenges that keeps the orchestra on its toes. There’s a need to drive the music forward….whatever happens we mustn’t  D..R…A….G..!!

When Khachaturian dedicated the Concerto to David Oistrakh there must have been some camaraderie between them. They were both born and raised in the “Soviet Empire” ….Aram in Armenia, David in the Ukraine, so perhaps there was some antipathy, even in the music itself, towards the Russian masters. This antipathy may well be demonstrated in the following anecdote. It has often been assumed that Oistrakh was a proud owner of as many as 12 Stradivari violins. One would assume that he would treat his violins with tender loving care.

Norman Nelson has the following story:

During an intermission of a rehearsal of a violin concerto, probably Shostakovich, the great man left the violin, probably one of the state-owned Strads, and went off for a coffee with the conductor. Of course, we violinists swarmed around the violin, and the point of the story was that the poor thing was smothered with a thick crust of rosin from the bow hairs, obviously lacking the slightest sign of any loving care by its custodian. Oistrakh. If he had owned it, I can’t imagine him leaving it unattended in the hall, never mind looking like a buskers instrument lying in an open case along with a few coins, unloved and deserted, as it were.  

A few short years later the Soviet Union itself, just like an old rosin-crusted violin, was abandoned in its shabby case, without any accompanying coins, on a lonely pavement.


Khachaturian in 1964

The Don Chrysler Concerto Competition for Young Musicians, 2016

Five remarkable young musicians, five impressive performances were on display at the Phillip T. Young Recital Hall on Saturday night, April 23, 2016:


All photos courtesy of Rick Robinson, StoneRidge Photography

Left to right are: Tovin Allers, who tackled the Korngold violin concerto; Kevin Chen, the Khachaturian violin concerto; Emma Reader-Lee, who played the Haydn C major violin concerto; Iris Hung, who presented the Mozart piano concerto number 17; Aimi Howden played the Beethoven Piano Concerto No. 1.


Kevin Chen, our October soloist

Audience comment: “Amazing! Needs to smile a bit more!” “Gorgeous sound!”

They were all very different and enjoyable performances, but in the end it was Kevin Chen who took home the first prize for his stunning performance of the virtuosic Khachaturian. If there were a prize for largest number of notes, he surely would have earned that as well!

Chen wins the rare opportunity to play the Khachaturian concerto with an orchestra, and will be the soloist with the Sooke Philharmonic at our October concerts in Sooke and Colwood this fall.


Iris Hung

Audience comment: “Great fluidity!”

Iris Hung won second place with her strong, sensitive performance of the Mozart Piano Concerto No.17, K453 in G major.



This year’s jury was composed of Jeanne Campbell, FTCL (UK), A.Mus, ARCT, who taught piano for many years at the Victoria Conservatory of Music, Gerald Stanick, one of Canada’s finest violin and viola pedagogues and Lawrence de la Haye, clarinet, who studied at the Royal College of Music in London, UK, and has performed with the Royal Winnipeg Ballet Orchestra and the Banff Festival Orchestra.


Tovin Allers was picked for second place by the audience

Audience comment: “Well done, great stage presence!” “Phenomenal!”

As usual, members of the audience were invited to weigh in with their opinion, and forty-two ballots were returned, all of them enthusiastic. The audience chose Kevin Chen as a hands-down favourite, but put Tovin Allers in second place. Third place went to Iris Hung.


Emma Lee-Reader

Audience comments: “What a sweet performance!”  “Come back next year!”



Aimi Howden

Audience comment: “Passionate performance, spirited and with flair!”

Special mention should also go to May Ling Kwok and Elfi Gleusteen who provided the orchestral accompaniment on the piano – a major art form in itself and highly demanding – with great technical assurance.

This is the eleventh year for the Don Chrysler Concerto Competition, and the young musicians seem to be getting better and better. Special thanks go to David Symons and Long & McQuade, who donated the $500 first prize and $300 second prize money.

Be sure to take in the October concert, when we hear the Khachaturian concerto like  with the Sooke Philharmonic, and we’ll see you all  at the competition next year:  April, 2017!


Cauliflower ears and tongue in cheek

By Mike Cochran




George Frederick was in his mid twenties when he settled in London in 1712. Just a couple of years earlier he’d been appointed Kapellmeister to the Elector of Hanover, who then scooted off with wife Anne to become King George the First of Great Britain and Ireland. Handel couldn’t resist the 200 pounds yearly stipend offered by Queen Anne.  In a few short years he became the most successful English resident composer of his day. Given his German heritage, can we say that Handel’s music, following  Purcell, is truly English? I say we can, and that’s where the cauliflower ear comes in.

Many young men (and nowadays young women), usually of Herculean stature, tend to enjoy running about the place clutching a pigskin, preferably in the freezing wet, covered in mud, bruises and blood. This peculiar endeavor goes back many centuries, possibly originating on the cold, wet, freezing grassy mud of an English private school just outside the English town of Rugby.  Handel, from the looks of him in prints and portraits, is burly of build.  It’s somewhat difficult to discern his Herculean build since our eyes are drawn to facial features and the large curly periwig, considered high fashion for men of stature at the time.  Another aspect of the game of rugby sees many participants banding together to form a tortoise shell structure, all legs, and arms clutching bodies, and heads locked together.  There are two fellows in the centre of the tortoise shell, called hookers, who have an especially hard time of it — their heads being crushed. Proud hookers are considered to be members of an exclusive profession, but not the oldest, and they wear their cauliflower ears as a badge of honour.  To my ears, the distinct “Englishness” of Handel’s music draws some of its uniqueness from the invigorating coldness and wetness of the fields of Britain. “Rough, rugged, vital, thriving, robust, sturdy, tough and vigorous” are adjectives that consummately describe the music and the game. I’m convinced Handel knew rugby — his melodies, counterpoint and harmonies are unerringly direct, logical and powerful — just like the muddy old game.

Our concert contains Handel’s most famous works with excerpts from the Water Music and Messiah. Our Messiah selections are mainly from Part 1 — the prophecy and birth of Christ. In Part 2, the trial and crucifixion of Christ, the Passion is heard, ending with the “Hallelujah” Chorus. It is said that George the First, on hearing the Chorus for the first time, stood in homage. Maybe, maybe not; perhaps he just needed a stretch! Messiah is not crafted as narrative of the life of Christ. It’s more an acclamation of the creation of Christianity with some narrative recitatives when needed, and many reflections on aspects of the Passion.  The soloists ask questions time and again and receive answers or confirmations from the chorus or other soloists. The Bass aria “Why do the Nations so furiously rage”,  followed by the Tenor aria “Thou shalt break them” come to mind.  There’s a pledge of holy betrothal between music and text unsurpassed in Baroque repertoire. Even Bach is second among equals in this respect. Every performer of Messiah experiences the pleasure of discovery of yet another enhancement of text through simple melodic lines, logical direct harmony and ingenious counterpoint. “Glory to God in the highest” with soaring sopranos, “and peace on earth “ — the depths of the earth in the basses. Or “The people that walked in darkness” with bewildering chromaticism as the people felt their way through blackness. Simple means, great effects that inspire great affection in performers and audiences alike. The text of Messiah is like a Da Vinci sketching in the framework of a painting. The music of Messiah is like Da Vinci’s brush and palette — the masterpiece is wondrous and complete.

April 13th 1742, the première of a new Oratorio by Mr .Handel, to be performed at the Great Music Hall in Fishamble  Street, Dublin.  Why Dublin for the first performance is somewhat of a mystery especially for the concert audiences in London.  But we have it on completely reliable rumour that a very prominent Irish family of musicians residing in Dublin had something to do with it. Unfortunately, the name of the musician who persuaded Handel is unknown, but he was known to be a violinist friend. His handle was possibly Norman but surname unknown! The legend of the Dublin première has passed down to the present day and a prominent member of our Sooke musical community is fond of retelling it, albeit with a slight bulge in his cheek!

If you’d been around in Handel’s day, and you were on intimate terms with the master, and you tweaked his periwig a little, you’d be bound to glimpse a cauliflower ear.