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Obituary, Michael Jarvis: beloved chamber musician and choir director

Victoria musician Michael Jarvis, known to audiences for his wide, ever-present smile and mastery of the harpsichord, was what you would call a consummate musician.
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Michael Jarvis was a renowned harpsichordist, chamber organist and fortepianist who also served as a soloist, arranger and choir director. PAUL LUCHKOW

Victoria musician Michael Jarvis, known to audiences for his wide, ever-present smile and mastery of the harpsichord, was what you would call a consummate musician.

Until his sudden death on Christmas Day at 62, the renowned harpsichordist, chamber organist and fortepianist — who also served as a soloist, arranger and choir director — was never not playing or creating music, with dozens of collaborators in his regular orbit.

A native of Quebec, he worked extensively in Nova Scotia and Ontario, where he amassed a wide range of experience, most focused on rarely heard chamber music repertoire from centuries past.

He taught at the University of British Columbia, the University of Toronto and Wilfred Laurier University in Waterloo, Ont., among other institutions, before moving to Victoria five years ago with his wife, Carolyn Sinclair.

He continued to perform in a variety of ensembles and choirs in recent years around B.C., Alberta, Washington state and Oregon.

His death drew an outpouring of tributes on Facebook, especially from the musicians who had worked with the multi-instrumentalist on his many projects.

“He was a really diverse musician,” said close friend Paul Luchkow of Victoria, a celebrated violinist. “He had no firm roots planted in any particular camp or organization, but he was always happy to make music with others and help with their planning and execution of things.

“He was making connections between people in ways that you didn’t expect there to be connections. That was really one of his strengths, his ability to bring people together in the service of good music.”

Jarvis was a regular at Victoria’s Pacific Baroque Festival and often arranged concerts on his own with Luchkow, his most frequent collaborator, at Christ Church Cathedral.

Jarvis was also the artistic director of the Bach on the Rock Music Society, the umbrella organization for the Salt Spring Chamber Choir and the Salt Spring Chamber Orchestra, and the music director at St. Barnabas Anglican Church on Begbie Street.

“He was the most wonderfully creative collaborator,” said Luchkow. “He was never an accompanist — he was part of the ensemble. You worked together as a unit with Michael, instead of one person leading and one person following. We were always having a musical conversation with each other when we were performing or recording.”

Luchkow and Jarvis performed together as a duo and with British viola da gambist Sam Stadlen in LSJ Trio, which released its debut CD last year. Only three of the five albums Luchkow and Jarvis recorded together have been released thus far.

“We had a list of another 10 to 15 projects that we wanted to do in the next couple of years. We were planning for him to be around for so much longer.”

His death came as a shock to everyone in his musical orbit, Luchkow said. The cause of death is not yet known. “I had been working with him just a couple of days before with no inkling of anything. It really is like somebody reached out and turned off his switch.”

Luchkow taped a seasonal concert with Jarvis and several others on Dec. 13 that was posted to the Early Music Society of the Islands website on Dec. 20. The 45-minute concert of baroque music from Austria, France, Germany, Italy and Canada (which can be seen at earlymusicsocietyoftheislands.ca) would turn out to be his final performance.

Jarvis rehearsed with his church choir at St. Barnabas on Dec. 18, “and then he was gone,” Luchkow said.

In a statement, the Early Music Society of the Islands said Jarvis will be remembered for his “sunny disposition, good humour, warm heart and exuberant musicianship,” adding: “To Carolyn and Michael’s many friends and musical colleagues we extend our sincere sympathy and condolences.”

Jarvis was known for his love of Abyssinian cats and great gin. He was an avid collector of jazz and early opera 78 rpm recordings, with a vast and ever-rotating collection of gramophones on which to play them. But nothing pleased him more than collaborating with others on a piece of music, Luchkow said.

“He really was working right to the very end. His passing is a lot sooner than I wanted it to be, but he was doing something he loved right to the very end.”

mdevlin@timescolonist.com