Who are you? Tell us about your work and activities.
Karim Nasr: I’m a musician specialized in historical double reeds, clarinets, and traverso. I also publish music facsimilies and build instruments.
Jennifer Thiessen: I choose musical situations for their creative and interesting natures when possible, focusing on historic music, new music, improvising and songwriting. My main instruments are viola and viola d’amore.
Why are you a musician?
Karim Nasr: It’s the one profession I’m truly proud of.
Jennifer Thiessen: I feel like music is my first language and I have to speak it. Doing it for a living is challenging, but since my second career choice is creative writing, you get an idea of what I’m working with here.
Tell us two memories, one happy and one unhappy or embarrassing about your musical life.
Karim Nasr: Getting drunk while performing my first ever Baroque opera, Les Indes galantes. This applies to both memories…
Jennifer Thiessen: An unhappy event that became happy: The first time I was getting ready to go play viola d’amore in public, there was a loud bang from my instrument case, and my tailpiece flew up by the tuning pegs, resulting in a mess of 14 tangled strings. Who you gonna call in a tail gut emergency? Louis Gaucher. He gracefully answered my Saturday evening call and agreed to help. I sat on a stool in his workshop in my concert clothes while he mindfully talked me through everything he was doing. Before I knew it, I was out the door in time and in good spirits. I’m grateful for that memory of him.
Tell us about your first concert as an ensemble?
Karim Nasr: Unofficially we played an outdoor program of classical music where we had to compete with church bells. The church bells won.
Jennifer Thiessen: Our ensemble name for the first concert was Trio JFK, for our first names. Catchy, right? But Cénacle is better: it reflects our deep maturity and has nothing to do with American politics.
Your personal relationship to music? What music(s) do you listen to?
Karim Nasr: Music and I dated on and off for about 10 years but then we decided to settle down. 2 years later he popped the question and we’ve been happily married ever since. I listen to anything that drowns out the rats with wings, I mean, seagulls.
Jennifer Thiessen: I mostly listen to singer-songwriters, solo string music (viol, cello, viola, viola d’amore), and contemporary/experimental music. I like Garth Knox’s creative use of the viola d’amore, David Lang’s beautiful minimalist writing, am into most things Daniel Lanois produces, and have a soft spot for Buffy Saint-Marie, Joni Mitchel and EmmyLou Harris. Oh, and the original women of jazz: Ella Fitzgerald, Blossom Dearie and company.
What was the weirdest thing to happen to you during a concert or on tour?
Karim Nasr: Getting lost in Beijing before a nationally televised dress rehearsal.
Jennifer Thiessen: Playing the Kremlin in Moscow with La La La Human Steps. The local tech crew had a problem with our crew, and one of the ways they expressed this was turning off the main electricity switch at the exact time of our sound check ended, so we had to feel our way off the stage and out of the theatre in the dark.
Your first encounter with early music?
Karim Nasr: I was 13, let loose in a 7-story Virgin megastore in London when I stumbled on a recording of Handel’s Fireworks. I’d never have guessed my future teacher’s face was the one I’d been looking at in the liner notes.
Jennifer Thiessen: I was studying theology (another story) in Winnipeg, and taking violin lessons on the side from Elizabeth Lupton Ens, who introduced me to historical repertoire, gesture and ornamentation. I always kept this interest and influence through my studies on modern violin and viola.
What can NovAntica contribute to Montreal musical life?
Karim Nasr: Hopefully, a sense of community to bridge the rift created by the older generations.
Jennifer Thiessen: A place for people with a common interest to put our heads together, instead of each reinventing the wheel in our own workshops.
A place, a good spot, a good book, a film to see, or your CD of the moment?
Karim Nasr: A clean beach with decent surf.
Jennifer Thiessen: Near water, trees and wildlife. I moved to Verdun last year and go to the riverside paths whenever I can.
What is your favorite place to go to eat or drink after a concert?
Karim Nasr: Any where with lots of food because I can’t drink on an empty stomach, I’m a cheap date.
Jennifer Thiessen: Auprès de ma blonde, because it is magically never full, despite its good food. They also don’t seem to mind the chaotic table-moving that happens when a big group tries to sit together.