The 2013-14 concert season is slightly different from its predecessors in that it features three distinguished ‘festivals’.  It also marks the debut of the Vancouver Symphony Chamber Ensemble.  The VSO ‘Beethoven Festival’ starts in mid-November and features the wonderful Yefim Bronfman performing the complete piano concertos.  Over the past 30 years, there have been few more versatile or accomplished pianists than Bronfman.  He has performed everything from Bach to Prokofiev -- in solo recital, with the most distinguished orchestras, and with the greatest chamber musicians.  Now he gives us Beethoven.  Then, in late March comes the VSO ‘Rachmaninoff Festival’, featuring the young Ukrainian/Australian pianist Alexander Gavrylyuk playing the piano concertos and Paganini Rhapsody.  This should be quite an experience: his recent Wigmore Hall recital in London can only be described as thrillingly intense and magnetic.  Earlier in March, The Friends of Chamber Music and Vancouver Recital Society collaborate in a three-night ‘Brahms Festival’ that brings up some nostalgia for both organizations.  The 50th anniversary concert of the former was indeed a Brahms festival while the performers (featuring the Jerusalem Quartet) rekindle the enthusiasm of VRS’s Summer Chamber Music Festival of a decade ago.  The Jerusalem Quartet is all grown up now and is a magnificent ensemble.


The VSO’s opening concert (Sept 28/30) features Dame Evelyn Glennie, the legendary deaf percussionist who has single-handedly changed the image of the percussion repertoire; countless new pieces have been written for her.  She has always given us spectacular concerts in the past, and this year should be no exception.  Enterprising American pianist Anne-Marie McDermott follows (Oct 12), performing the often neglected 2nd piano concerto of Tchaikovsky.  We have always been impressed with the wonderfully pure tone and flexibility of expression of young violinist Augustin Hadelich.  Oct 19/21 will feature his collaboration with the dynamic young Taiwanese/ American conductor Mei-Ann Chen in the Dvorak Violin Concerto; the conductor will give us Tchaikovsky Symphony No. 1.  There are few more talked-about young violinists in the world right now than Nicola Benedetti, and for good reason: she is simply stunning.  She returns to perform Bruch’s Scottish Fantasia with VSO on Nov 2/3/4 with distinguished conductor Jun Markl.  The three-concert Beethoven Festival with Yefin Bronfman and Maestro Tovey then begins on Nov 16/18 (final concert Dec 7/9) with a concert in between (Nov 30/ Dec 2) featuring one of the most versatile and consistent cellists before us, Raphael Wallfisch, in Strauss’ Don Quixote.


One might wonder why the VRS’s opening concert (Sept 22) would set a young piano trio up against three of the greatest and most demanding works in this genre (Brahms, Mendelssohn and Schubert).  But the Sitkovetsky Trio is no ordinary piano trio.  They have the greatest sensitivity and musicality, with a wisdom reaching far beyond their years.  Leila Getz and the VRS are of course masters at finding very young talent on the verge of greatness.  This fall features three ‘Next Generation’ artists: pianist Beatrice Rana (Sept 29) and violinists Vilde Frang (Oct 27) and Kuok Wai Lo (Nov 17).  The first two especially have received outstanding reviews in the most distinguished circles.  The end of October is a particularly busy time for the VRS.  The 15th anniversary tour of the group that has done so much to fuse Western and Eastern musical styles, The Silk Road Ensemble, stops here Nov 1, while the elegant and powerful Italian pianist Benedetto Lupo performs Brahms and Tchaikovsky on Nov 3.


We have not seen the first two string ensembles featured this concert season, the Miro Quartet (Oct 13) and the St. Lawrence String Quartet (Oct 29), for a while.  Both are technically-brilliant, athletic ensembles and offer dramatic and highly-projected performances.  It will be of great interest to see how the Miro play an all-Schubert programme and how the St. Lawrence -- three members of which are Canadian -- tackle quartets by Bartok and, yes, Verdi.  The Vienna Piano Trio (Nov 5) is no stranger to the Playhouse and always offers an inviting programme; this year, major trios by Mozart, Beethoven and Schubert.  Unlike traditional Viennese ensembles with their long lyrical line and flow, this ensemble is more classical, emphasizing precision and detail with a hint of period style.  There is little that one need say about the annual visit of the Takacs Quartet (Dec 1); this is simply one of the finest string quartets in the world today and they are playing what they excel in: Beethoven and Bartok.  


One cannot help admire the way that the Vancouver Chopin Society has been improving the quality of their performers over the years, as well as their performing venues.  Of their two fall concerts, the one with Jean-Efflam Bavouzet (Nov 19) is an outright winner and cannot be missed.  We are lucky to see this most accomplished pianist who has taken the world by storm recently.  The Oct 4 concert with Sofya Gulyak promises a most fulfilling experience too.  Gulyak was the first female winner of the prestigious Leeds Piano Competition in 2009 and I need not remind anyone that Murray Perahia’s career originally took off after winning at Leeds. It is always nice that this organization has a full reception for the artist after each performance.


Early Music Vancouver has built its reputation over many years and currently stands as one of the premiere ‘authentic instrument’ music organizations in North America.  This fall features a delightful Schubert opening concert (Sept 20) followed by celebrated Tanya Tomkins’ rendering of Bach’s first three Cello Suites (Sept 22).  October concerts juxtapose Medieval and Persian Music (Oct 18) while the highlight of November is the appearance of the prize-winning Montreal based Ensemble Pallade Musica (Nov 22).  The annual Bach Cantata concert is on Dec 22.  


The VOA has been most successful in recent years by presenting a season of fairly mainline productions and one surprise.  After Tosca (starting Oct 26) under by Jon Darlington, the surprise this year is Benjamin Britten’s Albert Herring (starting Nov 30), directed by Leslie Dala.  This is the first Britten production for the company since the composer’s famous Peter Grimes was performed 20 years ago. It is a co-production with the Pacific Opera, Victoria.

© Geoffrey Newman 2013