1685 was a very good year

Why? Well, first off that was the year that Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) was born. Then there was George Frideric Handel (1685-1759) born in that year. Also in that same year Domenico Scarlatti (1685-1757) was born. In 1685 Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741) was 7 years old. There were probably other important individuals born around that time but in the world of Baroque Music these gentlemen became the musical giants of the era. All of these men were working musicians in the real sense of the word. Their role was to provide music for the church, the aristocracy, students and, to a lesser extent, for social events. The demands were intense and, as a result their output was prolific. To give some idea of the volume of music we are talking about here, Arkiv Music, the on-line source for classical music lists 7,840 Bach recordings, 3,314 Handel recordings, 658 Scarlatti recordings and 2,318 Vivaldi recordings. So collectively that is over 14,000 recordings. Of course there are duplicates in there but that is still a lot of music to digest. Bach wrote a lot of instrumental, vocal, choral and church music but my particular focus of interest has always been with his keyboard music. My first acquaintance was with the Rosalyn Tureck vinyl recordings of the “Keyboard Partitas”, my second brush with the inevitable was with Maria Tipo’s recordings of the same works. The knockout blow came with Glenn Gould’s recordings of “The Goldberg Variations”. Glenn has been described as “a nutcase” but there is no doubt his interpretations of the music of Bach may never be surpassed. Fortunately, a complete box set of the Columbia recordings; GLENN GOULD – THE COMPLETE BACH COLLECTION has recently been released. At a modest cost of $72 + shipping the 38 CDs, and 6 DVDs (less than $2 a disc) is a formidable body of music to enjoy. If that is too much for an average soul then maybe his recordings of the Goldberg Variations are worth a listen. He recorded it twice in his career. Technology (stereo and Dolby sound) overtook his landmark 1955 recording and he revisited the studio again in 1981 to re-interpret and re-record this masterpiece. This was an exercise that was well worth the effort. The session was recorded on video and the resulting DVD is spectacular. Here is a link to Glenn Gould performing the Goldberg Variations  (48 minutes – but well worth the time). “Quite possibly one of the best recordings ever made of any piece of music in the history of recording performances in the studio” – YouTube comment.

I am not overly familiar with the music of Handel. I would not be alone in that thought. The music of Bach and Mozart frequently over shadowed Handel’s achievements. Although, like Bach, he is a Germanic composer he is best known for his English Music. Particularly the “Hallelujah” chorus in “The Messiah” and the orchestral suites “The Water Music”. Further explorations of his music is on my bucket list.

Domenico Scarlatti was born in Naples and served Spanish Royalty for many years. He is best known for the over 500 Keyboard Sonatas that he originally composed for harpsichord. A significant number of these have migrated to the piano and these one movement sonatas are recognized as cornerstones of the keyboard repertoire. They demonstrate Scarlatti’s facility at adapting the rhythms of contemporary Iberian popular music to the keyboard. Or, if one likes to think of it in a particular way then it could be seen as a first taste of flamenco music. This may explain why transcriptions of the sonatas have found their way into the repertoire of just about every classical guitarist of the past 50 years. If one has an appetite for harpsichord music then the 555 sonatas are available in a landmark recording by Scott Ross – the ERATO 34 CD box set ($104) Scarlatti: The Complete Keyboard Sonatas. They were recorded by Scott Ross before he died in 1989 at the age of 38. I include this link to a harpsichord performance by Scott Ross while being fully aware that harpsichord music probably comes across as very harsh to modern ears  A Scarlatti Sonata on Harpsichord .   On the other hand when transcribed to guitar Scarlatti’s sonatas are very pleasing – here is a link to John Williams performing one of the most popular guitar transcriptions of  a different sonata –  The Scarlatti D minor Sonata .

Last, but not least, is the Italian composer Antonio Vivaldi who is mostly famous for his “The Four Seasons”. This composition is probably one of the most recognizable pieces of music on the planet. It is forever on radio, TV, in films and concert performances. It is a shame in a way because Vivaldi’s focus in life was opera music and he would have probably preferred to have been remembered for that. But let’s not forget that the working musicians of that era were not writing for prosperity. They were very much in the moment, composing music for the immediate needs of their employers, patrons and students. As a composer he had an enormous influence on the baroque instrumental music of his day. The content and style of his sonatas and concertos were even emulated by Bach. In unkind moments critics have accused Vivaldi of writing the same sonata over 200 times. My first acquaintance with Vivaldi’s music  was with his concerto for mandolin. To this day it is still one of my favorite pieces of music. Despite the fact that there are over 2,000 recordings of Vivaldi’s music in the Arkiv catalogue my choice is the I MUSICI 19 CD box set of VIVALDI: CONCERTOS AND SONATAS Opp.1-12 (Newton Classics) . With the exception of one Oboe Concerto and one disc of Flute concertos this is predominantly violin music in many, many, configurations. From the first disc of Trio Sonatas right through to the end of the last disc in this 19 CD collection this music is a revelation. The music does not repeat it self. The only possible duplication I detected is a fragment of the mandolin concerto that showed up in one composition. Currently one of my favorite pastimes of the day is to make lunch and kick back for about an hour and let Vivaldi’s music fill my sonic space. At around $60 this boxed set is one of my best investments ever.

The time of their birth, 1685 or there about, is a long time ago. They were all dead by the time 1760 rolled around. That’s before the American War of Independence and the founding of the United States of America. That’s over 250 years ago and yet their music is still very much apart of modern cultural life. That’s a formidable achievement.

Here are some additional links with Rosalyn Tureck playing the Prelude from Bach’s Partita #1   (audio only) and Maria Tipo playing the same piece Prelude from Bach’s Partita #1  (audio only) .  Here is another version by Andras Schiff – he starts with the Prelude then follows through with the entire Partita #1 . If you are unfamiliar with Bach’s Keyboard music the Partitas are a great place to start.


The Oars

TheOarsKimberley“The Oars, which consists of songwriter Ilana Cameron on keyboards and vocals, with Kurt Goltz on guitar. Normally Creston’s premier fiddler Karl Sommerfeld tours with the band but unfortunately circumstances prevented him from making the trip. The band was touring the Columbia Basin on a grant from the Columbia Kootenay Cultural Alliance. When asked to describe their music, Cameron said “I’m inspired by a sense of place”. In her teens she studied with renowned Canadian musician Veda Hille but it wasn’t until she began collaborating with Goltz that she really found her musical stride. In recent years they performed at the hike-in-only festival Peppermill, in restaurants, in living rooms and on many stages on the West Coast and in the Kootenays. Their current tour will take them around to different communities in the Columbia Basin region. They are based in Creston and are excited to explore their ‘backyard’ while playing for new audiences and exploring new communities. “

In a nutshell the music is

  • PASTORAL – Portraying Rural Life and the Countryside
  • ETHEREAL – Marked by unusual delicacy, lightness and refinement

The combination of Ilana’s Nord Keyboard and Kurt Goltz’s feather weight acoustic guitar was perfect for the contents and sentiments of the songs. This is not wildly exciting music but rather one more about time, place and old time characters of the region. The Ilana’s Nord keyboard is an interesting instrument that is hand built in Sweden. This is the second one I have heard in a local environment and each time I have been entranced by the combination of sounds available from the instrument. It certainly is a step up and away from the old Fender Rhodes electric piano. Kurt was playing a Blueridge BR60 Dreadnought guitar that had been rehabilitated by Michael Heiden in Creston. Most of the material was composed by Ilana at the keyboard and as a result there were a lot of “guitar unfriendly” keys to challenge Kurt. He has risen to each occasion with some deft use of of very weird open tunings that contributed to the “spacey” feel of the music. Some of Ilana’s song titles include The Harbour, Brave, Tigers, Constellation, Strike, Ruby’s Jam (inspired by an old pioneer novel) , Cabin Song, Bluebell (a mining song – with some very nice lead guitar work), Slow Arrow,   and, of course their namesake The Oars.

The Oars
As part of a budding project Kurt resurrected some songs by a colleague from way back. The original writer, Mark Arden, has since died and his songs only live on in some very bad recordings made some years ago. The long term plan is to collect the songs together and, along with old friends and acquaintances, bring the songs back to life.  

The only cover song of the evening was Flight – a song originally done by a band called Grizzly Bear whose home base, ironically, is Brooklyn, USA

 Ilana Cameron           Kurt Goltz   Kurt Goltz          lana Cameron  The Oars  The Nord Keyboard



Slavic Strings at the Knox

Microsoft Word - DocumentLaCafamoreSpring2014.docx

Every spring and fall violinist Angela Snyder travels from her home base in Virginia to “play second fiddle” in the various configuration of the chamber ensemble La Cafamore.  At this time of year, in one form or other (Trio, Quartet, or Quintet), La Cafamore tours the Kootenays for a series of Chamber music concerts. Over the years they have presented programs that have included some of the best of the Baroque, Romantic and Modern repertoires. The ensemble is not adverse to taking risks with their programming. There are not many ensembles that would dare to tackle Steve Reich’s Different Trains and George Crumb’s Black Angels. Local patrons have been lucky enough to hear La Cafamore present these startlingly modern compositions at the Knox Presbyterian Church in Cranbrook. For this tour the “modern meat” in the sandwich was Serenade Op.12 by Zoltan Kodaly. This composer is a contemporary and fellow national of the Hungarian composer Bela Bartok. Both composers drew heavily on the folkloric heritage of their native country. While acknowledging the composers folkloric inspirations there is no mistaking the modernity of their compositions. Serenade is no exception. Kodaly’s composition may have been the meat in the sandwich but there was plenty of other “garnishes” on the menu. The program opened with Lionel Bart’s (1930-1999) Where is Love from the musical Oliver. From there it was a huge leap back in time to the Inventions #13, #14, and  #15 by Johann Sebastian Bach.The other “BIG B” in classical music (Ludwig von Beethoven) was represented by a series of 12 German Dances. The final hefty piece on the program was Antonin Dvorak’s Terzetto Op.74 (Introduction / Larghetto / Scherzo and Theme and Variations. Unfortunately La Cafamore’s concert clashed with the larger SoWeCa Chamber Music festival that was running concurrently at the Key City Theatre. Despite the small audience in this wonderful performance space La Cafamore did not let us down. The next tour of LaCafamore will be in the fall and every effort will be made to avoid any programming clashes in the future. As always I will be looking forward to whatever is pulled out of the Chamber Music hat.




The dropping of the atomic bombs on Japan at the end of World War II ushered in a new age and my generation is a child of that age. We have seen the horrific effects of the bomb, lived under the cloud of “mutually assured destruction” and witnessed the massive accident at Chernobyl and, more recently, the tsunami demolition of a nuclear power station in Japan. We are aware of the hazards of nuclear waste and how it will continue to accumulate with the current nuclear technology. It is not an understatement to say that we have a paranoid fear of anything nuclear and that includes “peaceful” development of nuclear energy. We are filled with “nuclear fear” and as a result research and development of nuclear power has been stalled for years. I believe the last nuclear power station to be built in North America was in the 1970’s and that was based on technology developed in the 40’s and 50’s. By today’s criteria that is very, very old technology.

The development of nuclear power stations was totally predicated on the need for weapons grade radioactive materials. As a result a whole industry has been developed to fill those demands. Research into alternative nuclear power flies in the face of military needs and the current Uranium based nuclear establishment has a strangle hold on the political process.

Alvin Martin Weinberg (April 20, 1915 – October 18, 2006) was an American nuclear physicist and administrator at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory during and after the Manhattan Project. He came to Oak ridge in 1945 and remained there until his death in 2006. He is virtually the God father of what is the accepted design of Light Water Reactors (LWR) for nuclear power generation. But that was not his final word on nuclear power station design. In response to a request by the American air force to match the American navy’s nuclear power capabilities he was asked to design a suitable nuclear power source for aircraft. A foolish request perhaps, and one that was ultimately cancelled, but it is one that led to the design of the Molten Salt Reactor (MSR). After 18 years as the director, Weinberg was fired by the Nixon administration in 1973. He was fired because he continued to advocate for increased nuclear safety and the adoption of MSR reactor designs to replace what he thought were design flaws in the LWR concepts. Weinberg’s firing effectively halted development of the MSR. Under various administrations some research and development continued sporadically over the years and the concept has been proven in a pilot plant that was built.

In discussions about Nuclear power what is forgotten is the fact that current power stations are based on designs that are over 50 years old. Is there any technology of that era that has survived without major redesign and, in most instances, actual replacement with bigger, brighter, more efficient designs? As we all know technology is currently rolled over at an ever increasing rate. So why not nuclear power designs? Current reactors are based on the use of Uranium 235 as the fuel source. This is a relatively rare, limited resource that is only utilized at about half of 1% efficiency. It produces significant amounts of radioactive waste materials that, as a disposal problem, have yet to be solved. And there is the spectra of nuclear proliferation always hanging the air (witness the paranoia associated with the Iranian efforts to develop peaceful nuclear power).

Thorium could be used as a nuclear power source. “What is Thorium? Thorium is a naturally occurring radioactive chemical element with the symbol Th and atomic number 90. It was discovered in 1828 by the Norwegian mineralogist Morten Thrane Esmark and identified by the Swedish chemist Jons Jakob Berzelius, who named it after Thor, the Norse God of thunder. Thorium produces a radioactive gas, radon-220, as one of its decay products. Thorium is estimated to be about three to four times more abundant than uranium in the Earth’s crust, and is chiefly refined from monazite sands as a by-product of extracting rare earth metals” – Wikipedia. (That last mentioned fact, extraction from rare metal earths, is a subject with profound economic implications for North America. Most of the rare earth extraction, development and subsequent expansion of high tech industries are occurring in China.) Thorium can be used as a fuel in Nuclear power plants. It is so abundant that it could power the world for thousands of years. It also offers a unique and innovative way of disposing of existing stocks of radioactive waste and spent fuels.  Plutonium can be safely disposed of by being mixed with thorium, used as a nuclear fuel and “burnt up” in conventional Light Water Reactors.  The Norwegian company Thor Energy is running a 5-year test program on mixed thorium-plutonium fuel at the OECD Halden Test reactor in Norway.  Thor Energy is working to commercialize the fuel by 2020. The thorium fuel cycle has been successfully demonstrated in over 20 reactors worldwide, including the UK’s ‘Dragon’ High Temperature Gas Reactor which operated from 1966 to 1973.

China and India are investing heavily in Thorium reactors and will have prototype power stations on line in the next few years. In the meantime North America appears to be doing nothing. That is kind of ironic. The plans for the prototypes comes from old research efforts at the Oak Ridge Laboratory. No, they were not stolen in some clandestine spy operations. The Chinese asked for the designs and they were given free access to gigabytes of PDF files that they took back to China. In 2011 the Chinese government launched a $350 million program to develop thorium-fuelled molten salt reactors, with a goal of reaching commercial readiness by 2035. India is also pursuing a comprehensive thorium fuel plan with a first commercial thorium-fuelled reactor scheduled for 2025. It has large reserves of thorium which it plans to utilize in Prototype Fast Breeder Reactors, two of which are under construction.

Prosperity is based on access to cheap electrical energy (“every woman on the planet deserves a washing machine” – before you dismiss that as a frivolous comment just think about the implications click on the TED link). At the moment prosperity is based on cheap coal, natural gas and oil technology with the attending prospect of runaway pollution and global warming. Although the idea of alternative sources such and wind, tidal and solar are attractive the truth of the matter is that with the projected growth in energy demands these sources, while useful and advisable, will never fill the demand, and despite their attractiveness, they also come with environmental costs. How much of the earth can you “put under glass” (solar panels) and how many wind and tidal power stations can you spread across the landscape? Not enough to supply our needs. Having said that the options have to be explored and developed. You can’t have too many eggs and too many baskets.

If we want a sustainable energy source then Thorium would appear to be the answer. Despite the significant technical challenges that would have to be overcome the substantial safety and environmental advantages would make the effort worth while. As always, nuclear power requires “humungous” amounts of capital but given the political will it can be done. Just look at the capital that is being expended on the Alberta Tar Sands, Liquid Natural Gas developments and the proposed pipelines that can only take us in the wrong direction. Couldn’t that be better spent on a hydrocarbon free future? As always with a new nuclear option there will be cost over runs, political scandals, and long lead times. But do we really have any choice? The Thorium Nuclear Energy option may be too good to be true but the whole scenario looks more hopeful than the alternatives. So perhaps we should go for it at an accelerated pace. The Chinese, Indians and Norwegians seem to think so.

I have freely plagiarized numerous sources and for that I apologize. There is so much information out there and I encourage you to check the YouTube videos and the Wikipedia entries to become fully informed. There is an absolute landslide of information out there – click on the following links:

Thorium and the Rare Earth issue  – this examines the Rare Earth Metals issue and the potential surplus of Thorium for nuclear energy production.

Thorium Molten Salt Reactors  – Why hasn’t development gone ahead – 36 minutes of tech talk.

Nuclear Energy and Climate Change

Kirk Sorensen’s presentation – This is rather long but as a complete overview it is well worth the time.

I would also encourage you to check the related link that Dave Prinn put out there recently on Solar panels    http://blog.petflow.com/this-invention/