February 27, 2012

Metamorphosis by David Suzuki

This is Suzuki's 1987 biography, written when he was about 50 years old. I read it years ago, but now re-read it, skipping only the very detailed parts about the years he spent studying fruit flies.

I found it an intriguing book for a number of reasons. Every resident of B.C., at least, should read it for its highly personal account of the consequences of the Japanese internment during World War II. Suzuki was a young lad when he and his family were abruptly uprooted and forcibly moved to the Kootenays, losing everything they owned. I had not realized (but Suzuki explains it very clearly) that after the war, the Japanese were not really welcome to go back to Vancouver. They were pressured in every which way (and most of them bowed to this pressure as they had little choice) to move east instead. Suzuki's family landed up in Ontario where some of their relatives had gone. It is a story of terrible shame for Canadians, not least because as the Prime Minister admitted in the midst of the evacuation, not one single incident of a Japanese Canadian being a threat to Canada's security had ever been documented. 

Suzuki also writes knowledgeably about academic life and in particular the life of a passionate scientist, and the costs to his family of his dedication to his work. It's a bit discombobulating at times as he documents, with disconcerting honesty and humility,  his own arrogance as a young husband and academic.

The other part I found quite interesting is his inside look at the workings of the CBC, how it's funded and how the politics of being employed there worked (and didn't work) for him. 

Suzuki was the keynote speaker at a teacher's conference I was at in Vancouver in 1988, shortly after the book was written. It was great - he gave the speech his all; there was no sense that this was just another duty for him. 

All in all, this is a good read. I see David Suzuki as an important part of my Canadian cultural heritage. He's a thoughtful man who is willing to change his mind and he has changed a lot in the past 25 years. In 2006, he published another autobiography about the years after 1987, called  David Suzuki: The Autobiography. It was his 43rd -  and, he said, his last - book. I'll be interested to read it.

February 24, 2012

Jan Lisiecki, Pianist

The third of our community concert series for this season was an amazing evening. I felt awed at the virtuosity of this 16-year-old Canadian pianist - truly felt as though I was in the presence of genius. At 60 myself, 16 just seems astoundingly young to have so much understanding and so many notes in one slight teenage body. His playing seemed other-worldly to me, unearthly, like water flowing endlessly down some hillside in heaven.

Back in the day, we used to say of some of our local pianists, "He (or she) has a nice touch." I don't know if that's still a descriptor for pianists, but Lisiecki's "touch" seemed to me sublime. He taught us carefully and formally (without a mic) before each piece what the significance of the piece had been to the composer and what we should listen for. But then when he sat down and began to play (after a long "centering" silence) everything seemed to become almost impossibly light. Not that he couldn't be forceful - he could rock the loud parts - but even there I could barely sense a whisper of effort. It was as though the keys and the instrument and his fingers and brain were all one.

I've been awed before by the skill of very good pianists, but usually have a sense of practise, practise and lots of effort and professionalism and experience, and although I have no doubt that Jan Lisiecki practises as much as anyone, all I could think of when he was playing was that it was some kind of miracle.

He chose beautiful pieces, starting each half of the program with a short and simple Bach Prelude and Fugue and then "lettin' her rip" with Beethoven, Liszt and Mendelssohn and finishing off the concert with 12 Etudes by Chopin. My favourite of the concert was Variations Sieriuses, Op. 54 in D Minor by Mendelssohn. This was divided into three parts called (approximately) Lament, Light (or Lightness) and Sigh. All beautiful.

We felt absolutely blessed to have been able to hear and see this young man play. He has played all around the world and for the Queen, and I think only the quick work of community concert chair Yvonne Topf, when she first saw him on CBC two years ago, brought him out to Kelowna on a snowy February night to play for 800 grey-haired patrons. I fear for his schedule - besides many concerts, he is studying for a Bachelor of Music in Toronto - but he seems very calm and maybe this is just what he loves to do. Lucky us.