The Double Bass and the Polar Bears

What an odd title for a blog, you might say, but reading all the news about global warming and the possible extinction of polar bears persuaded me to write this.

For 17 years I was principal bass of the CBC Vancouver Radio Chamber Orchestra. Funding was much better then, and nowadays they are barely hanging on, due to continual budget cuts. It may not be generally known but they are the only radio orchestra now in existence in North America.

In the 1970’s when the budget was larger we used to go on tours all over Canada and to Washington State, Idaho, Montana and Oregon.

It was, and is, an orchestra numbering about thirty players. Its mission was to play Canadian music, plus a hefty dose of Mozart, Haydn and Beethoven etc. and was conducted by John Avison; the producer being Robert Turner. The tours were organized by George Zukerman, who was also a virtuoso bassoonist.

One of the tours in the Seventies was to the Arctic, where we played at Tuktoyaktuk, Inuvik, Alert Bay etc. playing mostly in school gyms and auditoriums to very appreciative audiences.

Although it was May, sometimes we had to travel on the Beaufort Sea, which was frozen, in Bombardier vehicles fitted with tank tracks,which made us very apprehensive. With global warming I think we would be much more apprehensive nowadays.

At Churchill, Hudson Bay, Manitoba, I took a walk out of town one morning to the local garbage dump where I was told there were polar bears. I wasn’t disappointed for there must have been more than a dozen there. I wonder how many are there today.

See also my Requiem for an Orchestra series, on the CBC Radio Orchestra, elsewhere in this blog.

Requiem 1, Requiem 2, Requiem 3, Requiem 4.

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Requiem for an Orchestra (3)

A year or two year ago Dr. Turner, the producer for the CBC Orchestra was awarded the Queen’s Medal and the Order of Canada for his work in keeping the CBC Vancouver Orchestra going together with John Avison, its conductor, giving so many young Canadian artists and composers a chance; I decided that as I had been its principal double bass for over seventeen years I would put on a concert with the kind permission of my friend, Mrs. Janette Chrysler at her concert hall in Sooke, B.C. to honour him, because as far as I knew,(or know), there were no other celebrations. The concert. for which all the professional musicians gave their services was followed by a reception afterwards and Bob Turner was overcome with emotion. A day or two before the concert I contacted the CBC person in charge of music in Victoria by phone and left a message of invitation, (there were no strings attached, we weren’t seeking a broadcast) Janette sent an email too but we never received a reply. Bob had done a lot for the CBC.

Requiem for an Orchestra (2)

Nearly forty three years ago when I came to Vancouver the CBC studio was in the centre of town in an old building that has since been demolished. The acoustics weren’t good, neither was the recording. Money (or the lack of it) was a big issue. As principal bass I had to play all the difficult solos such as Per Questa Bella Mano and the Ginastera Variaciones often with only one “take”. There was no time for balancing and listening to it and much of the time when I listened to it over the radio I was dissatisfied. I don’t know how Avison, the conductor managed to handle the strain but he did, and as a result he was often bad-tempered due to nerves.

When they built a new CBC centre including a then state of the art studio we in the orchestra thought that things were improving. But they weren’t, they went steadily downhill.

Requiem for an Orchestra (1)

I wrote a blog recently about the CBC Vancouver Radio Chamber Orchestra not realizing then that its days were numbered. Last night I tuned in to the CBC news and listened to a short announcement regarding its disbandment. Since then they have elaborated a little and I have listened to some people give their opinions about it. Some said that it’s all due to the high rate of immigration we have been experiencing and that for politically correct reasons they (the CBC) are going to broadcast more ethnic music. Others say that maybe the Vancouver Symphony will take it over. The VSO board and management couldn’t seem to create enough work for the VSO in my days with them so they they tried to take over the CBC work and the free- lance opera orchestra. At that time they didn’t succeed with the CBC because John Avison, the conductor of the CBC Orchestra and Dr. Robert Turner the producer fought tooth and nail against it. The VSO eventually did take over the opera orchestra for a while, but when Richard Bonynge came on the scene he reverted to the old opera orchestra.