Month: September 2015

Inside Rideau Hall by Alexina Louie

The perfect September day in Ottawa – sunny and bright. It was so much fun to see so many extraordinary people pile onto the big bus which was parked outside our hotel. We were all on our way to Rideau Hall for the investiture of the newest appointments to the Order of Canada.

Rideau-CeremonyHallWe arrived at Rideau Hall and eventually were seated in the main room along with the invited guests of all the honorees. The Governor General and the recipients were announced and all the guests stood and applauded them as they entered the room. If the very broad smiles were any indication, the honorees were very proud and happy to be named to the Order of Canada.

IMG_4055Each recipient came forward as his/her name was announced and stood facing us as the citation was read. The Governor General then rose to pin the magnificent medal on the jacket or dress in a ceremony that was both dignified and full of warmth. It occurred to me as I heard these citations that this was a brilliant group of extraordinary Canadians involved in wildly diverse fields.

From the delightful entomologist who was so tickled at Rideau-AlexZinaRideauHallMainEntrancebeing named to the Order for something that he just loves to do, to the surgeon who devised a totally new way of performing thoracic surgery, to our very own Alex who improbably started a new music orchestra thirty-three years ago (Esprit Orchestra, Toronto) at a time when Canadian composers had little if any possibility of hearing their orchestral music performed. Some of the recipients were serious when their citations were read, some looked quite shy, but Alex was beaming the entire time.

That evening the newly minted members of the Order of Canada were invited back for a black tie dinner with Their Excellencies. The Tent Room (that morning’s reception area) was transformed into a formal dining room complete with impeccable service. For those who are interested, the menu included a small but elegant hors-d’oeuvre plate of delectable seafood from the East Coast and the West Coast (British Columbia Crab, Acadian Remoulade etc.) with a main of Turkey Breast Enrobed with a Stuffing of Wellington County Muscovy Duck, Sharbot Lake Tasso Ham and Wild Rice Fricassee. Following that were Ontario Hearty Greens accompanied by five outstanding cheeses from New Brunswick, Quebec and Ontario. Finally dessert was served – Ottawa Valley Pumpkin-spiced Sponge Cake layered with Milk Chocolate with Niagara Escarpment Poached Pear. All dishes were accompanied by beautiful Canadian wines.

It was a truly remarkable all-Canadian menu.

Rideau-OrderofCanadaBookletAfter dinner the Governor General, His Excellency the Right Honourable David Johnston, invited everyone to stay long into the night to enjoy fine Scotch and brandy. It gave us the opportunity to continue to meet more of the recipients.


I spoke with the criminologist (fascinating), the water conservation specialist (lively and engaging), the children’s author (who was shocked that he was selected), the architectural heritage conservationist (thrilled) and the entomologist (completely charming and very funny. After the morning investiture, he told our family that he is actually allergic to insects as he pointed out the insect devouring pitcher plants that hung in the Rideau Hall greenhouse.

Alex & Jeremy McNeil, Entomologist

Alex & Jeremy McNeil, Entomologist

If he touches his eyes after handling an insect, he is decidedly uncomfortable for at least an hour afterward. If he ingests one he will be quite ill – so ironic!). Roaming around toward the close of the evening, Alex and I continued to bump into the most interesting people. We had a wonderful time getting acquainted with these remarkable individuals whose country had just marked their achievements by admitting them into the Order of Canada.

We were among the last to leave Rideau Hall, wanting to savour every moment. Late at night, we joined several others on the last bus from Rideau Hall to our hotel.

What an absolutely stunning day of celebration!

– Alexina Louie

Almost Impossible To Play

conbrio-alex Esprit’s season is rushing up on me, almost creating a sense of breathlessness – not just because of the time frame and amount of energy it takes to get the season off the ground, but also because of the anticipation that comes with the exciting pieces we have in store. Not only that, but exceptional things are going on with Esprit’s musicians.

At our next concert on October 4th, Mark Duggan is required to play the featured timpani part in Jörg Widmann’s Con Brio in extraordinary ways. Purposely written to be almost impossible to play (creating excitement – especially for the player), the part has an ever-changing set of special instructions for the player on how, in rapid succession, to use non-ordinary techniques to make sound:

conbrio-music– beat on the counterhoop of timp with rattan drumstick;
– rub the rattan handles on the rods on the outside of the bowl of the drum;
– play a tremolo between the bowl and the rod with a knitting needle;
– press rattan shaft on rod and allow to snap on bowl while flexed;
– tune the timps differently from the tuning at the beginning;
– play glissandos (sliding pitches) by changing the pedal tension;
– beat two drum sticks against each other (crossed over) in the air.

These instructions continue to be varied and changing at high speed throughout the piece.

When we played the work on tour in China, the composer was there and was thrilled at how brilliantly Mark performed, achieving the intended results beyond Widmann’s expectations.

I hope you can be at Koerner Hall to hear Mark perform the work again with us.

— Alex Pauk