After a very fine fall season, Vancouver continues to offer a wonderful array of high-level classical music from January 2016, featuring a stream of international artists that fill up the calendar for most months.  Many of the soloists are among the greatest the world has to offer: violinists James Ehnes, Isabelle Faust, Nicola Benedetti and Itzhak Perlman; pianists Sir Andras Schiff, Richard Goode and Nelson Freire, conductors John Storgards and Phillipe Herreweghe, the Emerson and Takacs Quartets, the Tetzlaff Trio, plus vocal soloists ranging from Ian Bostridge and Mark Padmore to Bryn Terfel. There are also many stunning younger artists to delight, and a variety of exciting ‘early music’ events too.  The Vancouver Symphony will sponsor two festivals: the New Music Festival in February and a Spring Festival in April while the Vancouver Recital Society offers its own 3-concert ‘Schubertiade’ of solo and chamber music in April as well. Vancouver is very youth oriented, offering tickets for students and/or individuals under 35 for around $15.


2016 is welcomed in by visits from now-celebrated conductor John Storgards (doing Zemlinsky) with violinist Augustin Hadelich (doing the famous Tchaikovsky concerto), and from renowned pianists Simon Trpceski (Liszt) and Canada’s own Louis Lortie (Saint-Saens).  Legendary violinist Itzhak Perlman will arrive for a ‘special’.  One intriguing concert sees pianist Alexander Melnikov join venerable conductor Christopher Seaman in Beethoven’s ‘Emperor’ Concerto and Walton’s First Symphony.  Bramwell Tovey also conducts a more exotic ‘modern’ concert that includes Philip Glass’ Symphony No. 5.

This year’s (3rd) New Music Festival takes place February 25-28, and features the legendary Kronos Quartet, appearing with the Standing Wave Ensemble and Maestro Tovey and the orchestra.  Two works each by the VSO’s Composer-In-Residence Jocelyn Morlock and Nicole Lizee are performed, alongside a world premiere by Marcus Goddard. We will be also able to see the Victoria Symphony (in its 75th Anniversary Season) before the next festival arrives.  This is the Spring Festival, beginning in early April, highlighting the music of Brahms and Wagner.

The last concerts of the year feature stunning violinist Isabelle Faust playing the famed Bartok 2nd concerto, followed by a recital with Canadian superstar violinist James Ehnes.  Then we have two popular young returnees, pianist Joyce Yang (playing Mozart) with conductor Joshua Weilerstein.  Nicola Benedetti and concertmaster Dale Barltrop get together for a unique chamber orchestra presentation, before Maestro Tovey steps in to complete the season with three concerts featuring Tchaikovsky, Mahler and Shostakovich.  Mahler’s Sixth Symphony is performed this time round.


For the past 35 years, artistic director Leila Getz has consistently been able to find the most promising young artists to place alongside the world’s most distinguished mature artists, and these talents were amply recognized again by Musical America recently.  One thing that has been particularly exciting over the years is to see young artists sponsored by VRS many years ago returning here in their celebrated prime.

Sir Andras Schiff was right there at the beginning, and he returns for a two-concert appearance which completes his traversal of the ‘last’ sonatas of Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, and Schubert begun last year (February 7, 9). Then there is the three-concert ‘Schubertiade’, which also features the last 3 sonatas of Schubert, the string quintet, and other works (April 12, 14, 15).  The latter involves distinguished young pianists Inon Barnatan, Jonathan Biss & Kuok-Wai Lio, distinguished cellist Gary Hoffman, baritone Randall Scarlata, and the familiar Doric String Quartet.  Perhaps not well known is the fact that Hoffman was actually born in Vancouver. Earlier, we see two young pianists, Roman Rabinovich and Igor Levit.  While both are highly regarded, the latter has got really sensational reviews already.

The other spring concerts easily maintain these standards with the two February concerts of the always-penetrating pianist Richard Goode and award-winning Tetzlaff Trio, and the three exalted vocal partnerships later on: Mark Padmore and Paul Lewis, Ian Bostridge and Wenwen Du, and Bryn Terfel and Natalia Katyukova.  We also get to see the Sitkovetsky Trio again, an ensemble that greatly impressed in its VRS debut a few years ago.


We have long become accustomed to ongoing visits from the world’s most celebrated string quartets under the auspices of Vancouver’s oldest chamber music society (founded in 1948). After three very fine concerts in the fall, the presence of the Emerson Quartet and Lincoln Center music is everywhere after the holidays, bringing with them their own distinctive style of American music making.  The Han-Finckel-Setzer Trio and the Emersons start the show in January, followed by two separate visits by the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center.  We are also greatly looking forward to the return of the Takacs, Szymanowski and Mandelring Quartets later on, three European ensembles that have never failed to impress.  The Takacs is indisputably one of the world’s greatest quartets, while the beautifully-burnished tone and rustic charm of the Szymanowski is captivating.


Under the leadership of Iko Bylicki and Kum-Sing Lee, the Vancouver Chopin Society complements the above organizations very well by expending great efforts to bring us pianists that are both distinguished and aristocratic, most of which are also Chopin specialists. The clear highlight of the year is the appearance of Brazilian Nelson Freire in May, a concert that no one should miss.  Freire is one of the world’s greatest living pianists.  The other two pianists, though no longer particularly in the spotlight, are artists of great maturity and wisdom: Denes Varjon and Dina Yoffe.  The latter was an adjudicator at the 2015 Chopin Competition in Warsaw.


Early Music Vancouver is one of the founding ‘authentic instruments’ organizations in North America, consistently bringing the highest level of historically-informed performance to the city.  Closely associated with the Pacific Baroque Orchestra under conductor Alexander Weimann, it has undertaken an enviable string of large-scale Handel performances in recent years, building on their 2012 recording of Orlando that received the highest level of international acclaim.  Under the leadership of Matthew White, this season continues to see a stronger integration of the musical resources available throughout the Pacific Northwest. 

The big events of the spring are, of course, more Handel, this time Apollo e Dafne, with the Pacific Baroque Orchestra, and the appearance of two of the world’s most celebrated ensembles: Tafelmusik, and Phillipe Herreweghe & Collegium Vocale Gent (in Lagrime di San Pietro). A return visit by masterly soprano Dorothee Mields only adds to the pleasure, as does a ‘Water Music’ concert by the Victoria Baroque and a Pacific Baroque presentation of Handel’s Royal Fireworks Music.

Though not well known, the 6 concert series with Jeffrey Cohan and the Salish Sea Early Music Festival at Ryerson offers delightful Baroque entertainment in more approachable, intimate surroundings.


As the era of Vancouver Opera full-year programming comes to a close, the two remaining productions are a popular repertoire staple and a musical.  Puccini’s Madama Butterfly takes place in March, and runs for six performances.  It features Richard Troxell and Adam Luther as Pinkerton, Julius Ahn as Goro, Allyson McHardy as Suzuki, Gregory Dahl as Sharpless.  Cio-cio-san is split between Mihoko Kinoshita and Jee Hye Han.  The closing musical is Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd-Webber’s Evita at the end of April. Winner of 7 Tony Awards, Evita is the story of the charismatic and controversial Eva Perón, whose beauty and ambition vaulted her from poverty to power as the First Lady of Argentina.


As one can see from the calendar and by checking our list of ‘Affiliates’ on the right hand side of our homepage, the above by no means exhausts the range of classical music in the city. 

One can never forget the decades of inspiring concerts at Ryerson United Church given by the Vancouver Chamber Choir under conductor Jon Washburn.  There are also the excellent concerts of the Vancouver Cantata Singers, the Vancouver Bach Choir, and Chor Leoni.  For those who enjoy music ‘early’, there is the enterprising Music in the Morning series (10am) at the Vancouver Academy of Music, featuring a variety of outstanding Canadian and international chamber groups and soloists.  There is more chamber music available from Vetta Chamber Music and West Coast Chamber Music. There are also the enterprising presentations by Vancouver New Music, Turning Point Ensemble, Music on Main, and Müzewest Concerts.  The West Coast Symphony, the Vancouver Metropolitan Orchestra, and the UBC Symphony all offer adventurous seasons of their own.   There are of course a vast number of other events (including opera) which take place under the auspices of the UBC School of Music.

© Geoffrey Newman 2015