2017-2018 CONCERT SEASON PREVIEW
Vancouver has always offered an astonishing array of high-level classical music, featuring a stream of international artists that fill up the calendar from September to June. In the last three years, concert offerings have increased even further. The city now has almost 30 musical institutions, and these have further augmented distinction and balance over all musical genres, whether this be orchestral, chamber music, solo recital, Early Music, or New Music. Opera is springing back in many directions after the Vancouver Opera’s reorganization. Efforts by our site, the Vancouver Sun, Georgia Straight, and other local media provide the city with strong previewing and reviewing of events, often featuring interviews with celebrated musicians and artistic directors. As with many centers, Vancouver is exceptionally youth oriented, offering tickets for students and/or individuals under 35 for around $15.
VANCOUVER SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA (VSO)
It is well established that a symphony orchestra must do everything for everybody within a community, so we find the full range of concerts from ‘pops’ through the more daring contemporary. The attractive VSO Chamber Players series continues. As the orchestra prepares for its 100th birthday next season, its overriding focus this season is saying goodbye to its inspirational music director of the last 18 years, Bramwell Tovey. Many concerts will celebrate the maestro’s new compositions, as well as allowing him to conduct great works that he never had the opportunity to try. We also have two concerts by the newly-appointed Dutch conductor Otto Tausk, who takes over the reigns of the VSO in July 2018. The choice of the new conductor was indeed painstaking and arduous and concertgoers will have the rare opportunity of re-living this decision this year, since at least five of Tausk’s chief competitors will conduct again.
The September season opener is unusual in having a first half of very modern music coupled with Tchaikovsky’s 5th; the world premiere of Maestro Tovey’s Time Tracks, and the return of much-loved concertmaster Dale Barltrop, explains the occasion. Barltrop leads the Australian String Quartet in John Adams Absolute Jest for String Quartet and Orchestra. Lang Lang appears a few days after, and Barltrop’s ensemble will stay for that too. The first October concert showcases Conductor Designate Tausk in Sibelius’ First Symphony, with ultra-talented violinist Vadim Gluzman in Shostakovich’s 2nd Violin Concerto. Many will recall Gluzman’s magnificent performance of Shostakovich’s First Concerto in his debut here. The end of the month sees Tovey taking on the great Shostakovich Tenth Symphony, with legendary timpanist Dame Evelyn Glennie performing Jennifer Higdon’s (2005) Percussion Concerto. In between, young Romanian conductor Cristian Macelaru returns again to perform Enescu and Dvorak; pianist Angela Cheng adds the Ravel G major Concerto. November starts with Tovey’s traversal of one of the most revered British oratorios, Elgar’s Dream of Gerontius. Then, the intense young French conductor Alexandre Bloch returns to attack Beethoven’s 5th in a concert which also features prize-winning Canadian violinist Blake Pouliot playing Bruch’s Scottish Fantasy. Celebrated Irish pianist Barry Douglas ends off the month with Rachmaninoff’s Second Concerto.
Two festivals characteristically dominate the proceedings after the New Year: this year, the 5-concert New Music Festival runs from January 18-22 while the 4-concert Spring Festival takes place from March 17-26. With Maestro Tovey at the helm, the former brings forth its usual eclectic mix, featuring many Canadian composers (notably VSO-associates Jocelyn Morlock and Marcus Goddard), new music for ‘old’ instruments, and one Canadian composer/musician cabaret session, all enriched by the presence of violinist Rachel Barton Pine. The music of Leonard Bernstein is the dominant focus of the latter, with pianist Joyce Yang appearing for the second time in three years to participate in the composer’s ‘Age of Anxiety’ while violinist Augustin Hadelich performs Serenade on Plato’s Symposium on the same night. Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms and music from West Side Story come into the mix as well. Tovey also conducts three big works – Orff’s Carmina Burana, Mahler’s Fourth Symphony and Strauss’ Don Quixote – but the link to celebrated violinist Pinchas Zukerman playing Mozart in the last concert might be considered obscure.
The big concert starting 2018 is the second appearance of Conductor Designate Otto Tausk, joining auspicious young cellist Harriet Krijge in the Dvorak Concerto and Brahms First (Jan 13-15). Late January sees Maestro Tovey in Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique. February turns out to be a attractive ‘concerto’ month. Young violinist Alexandra Soumm arrives for Lalo’s Symphonie Espagnole (with the particularly musical conductor, Perry So, accompanying); remarkable Stephen Hough then turns to Beethoven’s Fourth Piano Concerto (with David Danzmayer contributing the composer’s ‘Pastoral’ Symphony); finally, Daniel Muller-Schott plays the Elgar Cello Concert with conductor Josh Weilerstein.
After the Spring Festival, mid-April sees violinist Esther Yoo, the 2010 Sibelius Competition winner, playing the composer’s famous concerto; one of the highly-ranked female competitors of last year, Karina Canellakis, directs. Vibrant young piano duo Anderson & Roe play the Mozart Double Concert with a conductor of vast international repute, Andrew Litton, who contributes Tchaikovsky 4 himself. Illustrious Korean violinist Sarah Chang then returns with one of her staples, the Bruch Concerto, but the extra excitement may be hearing Constantin Trinks negotiating Wagner (his specialty) and Schubert’s commanding C major Symphony. I was very impressed with what this conductor got out of the orchestra last year.
After long-standing returnees Ingrid Fliter and Jun Markl celebrate de Falla and Ravel, the remainder of May to the season’s end is essentially a Tovey celebration, with the ‘big’ event being May 31. The second week in May sees celebrated violinst Ray Chen join the conductor for the Beethoven concerto, while the maestro puts his mark on one of the most challenging and expansive of all symphonies, Bruckner’s 9th (if only they could have chosen something other than the sonically-damped Chan Centre for this!) Tovey conducts more new music in close proximity and premieres his own Shalimar Variations on June 1. A concert production of Britten’s Peter Grimes comes next, and the final farewell concert features Mahler’s ‘Resurrection’ Symphony.
VANCOUVER RECITAL SOCIETY (VRS)
For more than three decades, artistic director Leila Getz’s discerning eye has always found the most promising young musicians to exhibit alongside the world’s most celebrated artists. This mix has yielded concert seasons of true variety and innovation, and this has been recognized widely in international circles. For those who might dream of spending a few months attending concerts at London’s Wigmore Hall, this is about the closest thing to it.
After the debut of the very young Verona Quartet – deputizing for the originally-planned Simon Bolivar Quartet, currently unable to leave Venezuela – the October concerts feature three wonderful young pianists: Yekwon Sunwoo, winner of the 15th Van Cliburn International Piano Competition; Zhang Zuo, piano, a BBC New Generation Artist and a Brendel protégé, and George Li, Silver Medalist at the 15th Tchaikovsky Competition. The latter’s appearance is of great interest since we saw Li as a mere child 6 years ago – and impressed us he did! One will actually be able to compare the first two pianists since they both play Schubert’s C-minor Sonata D958. Youth also figures in December with the appearance of Sheku and Isata Kanneh-Mason, cello and piano, but it is the celebrated performers that dominate November, with long time associates of the VRS, pianists Paul Lewis and Steven Osborne, appearing. Lewis moves to Haydn and Brahms this time round, while Osborne brings esteemed cellist Alban Gerhardt with him for an adventurous programme that traverses Bach to Debussy.
More celebrated international performers arrive in the spring, and no pianists today could be more exalted than Sir Andras Schiff and Marc-Andre Hamelin. It would be difficult to forget the former’s concerts here in the past two seasons, and his association with the VRS runs back to the 1980s. Schiff’s current programme is wide ranging and ends with Beethoven’s ‘Les Adieux’. Hamelin’s virtuoso challenges run this time through Liszt, Feinberg, Godowsky and Debussy. Another esteemed long-time friend of the VRS appears earlier in the spring (at the beginning of February): violinist Nikolaj Znaider performs three major violin sonatas with pianist Robert Kulek. Znaider’s association with the VRS dates back to 2006.
For the only vocal recital on tap, mezzo-soprano Tara Erraught starts off 2018 with an evening of romantic song. Later on, one will be equally intrigued by the traversal of Bach’s Goldberg Variations by the young Schaghajegh Nosrati and the appearance of ‘British darling’ Nicola Benedetti with her own Benedetti Elschenbroich Grynyuk Trio – three players that are stars in their own right. The subsequent concert with cellist Edgar Moreau should be as captivating, as he is probably the rising star of French cellists.
The final three concerts (from late April) offer a nicely varied feast of pianistic riches. Inon Barnatan has performed quite a number of times in Vancouver since his VRS debut over a decade ago, and he has matured into a very sensitive and poetic interpreter. Here the pianist assembles nine composers from Baroque to modern, giving a sequence of vignettes that would make Jeremy Denk proud. One can only wonder what provocative dress will accompany young Yuja Wang’s fingers of steel at the subsequent concert. Actually, it’s been a long time since this custodian of technical wizardry last appeared here – it was the VRS’s 30th Anniversary concert in 2010 – and it will be illuminating to see how, and in which direction, she has developed. Paul Lewis closes the season, exploring Haydn and Brahms in a second concert of the year.
FRIENDS OF CHAMBER MUSIC (FCM)
We have been long accustomed to visits from the world’s most celebrated ensembles under the auspices of Vancouver’s oldest chamber music society. After a few seasons in which the presence of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Centre seemed to dominate, the first half of this year seems to return things to the strong legacy of the past. Four of the world’s greatest string quartets appear in sequence from October: the Borodin, Pavel Haas, Takacs, and Emerson Quartets. The Borodins give us more Shostakovich (they did a stunning complete cycle for us two years ago), and the Takacs do too. The Pavel Haas bring their award-winning Dvorak, and the Emersons revisit Beethoven. There couldn’t be much better! The Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center appears twice – in November and in April.
In the spring, a two-concert traversal of the lovely Mozart String Quintets in February is the highlight, with the enthusiastic and accomplished Szymanowski Quartet letting us see rather different repertoire than previously. Richard O’Neill of the Ehnes Quartet plays second viola. The Vienna Piano Trio has been a regular visitor over the years, but this year’s intrigue is their piano trio reduction of Schoenberg’s Verklarte Nacht. The outlier is the young Quartetto di Cremona, who arrive in April with a completely Italian programme (including Verdi and Puccini).
One should note also the two special concerts of ‘authentic’ chamber music at Christ Church Cathedral that are co-sponsored with Early Music Vancouver in January 2018. These involve the Diderot Quartet and the Eybler Quartet (members of Toronto’s Tafelmusik) playing quartet repertoire from Bach to Mendelssohn. The historically-informed movement has gained considerable momentum over the past two decades. I am delighted to record that both the Friends of Chamber Music and Early Music Vancouver picked up on this movement from its beginnings, consistently presenting the ensemble that founded it all: Quatuor Mosaiques.
VANCOUVER CHOPIN SOCIETY
The Vancouver Chopin Society has always devoted great effort to presenting pianists that are distinguished and aristocratic, most of whom are also Chopin specialists. This is a special year – the organization’s 20th anniversary – and Maria Pomianowska and her troupe start off the season with a bang: two unique concerts which dig deeply into the folk roots of Chopin’s music. Last year, we had a most distinguished Chopin recital from Canadian Charles Richard Hamelin – who took home the Silver Medal in the 2015 Warsaw Chopin Competition, This time, the Gold Medal Winner – Korean Seong-Jin Cho – arrives in November for what should be an equally consuming experience.
The two Chopin Society concerts in the late spring both feature absolutely prodigious pianists in their early 30s: Polish superstar Rafal Blechacz and the sensitive and commandingly-powerful Alexander Gavrylyuk. The former won the 15th Warsaw Chopin Competition in 2005, taking all the prizes, and subsequently has made 4 recordings for Deutsche Grammophon. Blechacz’s appearance in this gala concert will be his third in Vancouver, and should be as memorable as his last two. Gavrylyuk’s poetry, fire and command are well known here from his Rachmaninoff and Tchaikovsky performances with the VSO, and he comes off a stunning debut at the 2017 BBC Proms.
With the burgeoning interest in playing Chopin on authentic period pianos and the recent availability of a lovingly-restored Broadwood (1870) in the city, a further treat is the February appearance of Janusz Olejniczak, playing Chopin both on the Broadwood and a modern concert grand. This venture is co-sponsored with Early Music Vancouver.
EARLY MUSIC VANCOUVER (EMV)
Early Music Vancouver is one of the founding early music organizations in North America, consistently bringing the highest level of ‘historically informed’ performance to the city. It has achieved more exposure in the last few years under the leadership of Matthew White, really taking ‘early music’ to the public and establishing Christ Church Cathedral as a principal residence. Part of the recent success of EMV has doubtlessly come from the ability to pool resources with other music organizations for specific concerts, typically the Pacific Baroque Orchestra (PBO) but more widely too. Another factor is a much stronger free-flow of distinguished musicians throughout the Pacific Northwest.
Soprano Amanda Forsythe impressed greatly in last year’s opening concert, and she returns to do the same this year, bringing her characteristic cut-and-thrust, charm and dramatic resonance to selected Italian arias of Agostino Steffani (1653-1728) and his compatriots. She is joined in duet by tenor Colin Balzer and an ensemble led by both BEMF directors Stephen Stubbs and Paul O’Dette. Stubbs, Balzer and Seattle’s Pacific MusicWorks come together for the first big event soon after in October: Monteverdi’s Orfeo. Handel’s Messiah – with the PBO and the Vancouver Canatata Singers under Alexander Weimann – is the first of two big events around Christmas; the other features Monica Huggett directing an all-female ensemble in Vivaldi’s Gloria and Magnificat. The vocalists in the Messiah include Yulia Van Doren, Krisztina Szabó, Charles Daniels, and Tyler Duncan.
The early part of 2018 consists of five enterprising concerts co-sponsored with the VSO, Chopin Society and Friends of Chamber Music (discussed earlier). After delightful Canadian soprano Suzie LeBlanc and Ensemble Constantinople visit in late February, a particularly important event is Angela Hewitt returning to Bach’s Goldberg Variations (recall her exalted earlier traversal of all Bach’s keyboard works for Hyperion). Two weeks later finds Ensemble La Rêveuse celebrating Telemann, followed by delicious authentic performances of piano trios from Haydn to Hummel. Here Monica Huggett is joined by cellist Tanya Tomkins and fortepianist Eric Zivian. The big choral event is the appearance of the Tallis Scholars. Particularly inviting recitals by tenor Charles Daniels and soprano Karina Gauvin, both with the PBO under Alexander Weimann, close the season.
VANCOUVER OPERA (VO)
After Vancouver Opera’s ‘experimental’ season last year, putting three productions together in ‘festival’ format in the late spring, things appear to be heading back more to normal. The festival has been reduced to two contemporaneous productions in April (one in Queen Elizabeth Theatre; the other in the Playhouse), with major productions in QET in October and January. Nonetheless, it is noted that the larger productions run for only 3 or 4 nights.
It is perhaps a good idea for the company to start with something spectacular and Puccini’s Turandot certainly fits the bill. Jacques Lacombe leads the forces with Amber Wagner in the title role, Marcelo Puente as Calaf, Marianne Fiset as Liù, and Alain Coulombe as Timur. Passionate love and comedy is next: Jonathan Darlington takes over the helm in January in Donizetti’s L’Elisir d’Amore, receiving its first VO production in almost 20 years. Ying Fang sings Edina while Andrew Haji takes on the role of Nemorino.
A production of Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin is always something to look forward to – we have recently had one from UBC Opera – and sends the April/May festival off with occasion and élan. Darlington directs again, with the virtue of fully idiomatic singers: Konstantin Shushakov as Onegin, Svetlana Aksenova as Tatiana, and Maxim Aksenov as Lensky. Its companion is The Overcoat – a musical tailoring, which runs for ten performances at the Playhouse, and is a co-production with Toronto’s Canadian Stage Company and Tapestry Opera. The libretto is by Morris Panych with music by Canadian composer, James Rolfe. Panych directs and Wendy Gorling provides the choreography, defining a unique collaboration between the two authors of the original play (1998).
New Music seems to be everywhere in the city these days. In addition to the VSO New Music Festival in January, by far the biggest event sees Vancouver hosting the 2017 ISCM World New Music Days, featuring concerts morning to night from November 2 - 8 at varied venues. Many organizations participate: Music on Main, Vancouver New Music, the VSO and the Vancouver Chamber Choir. While Vancouver New Music has pushed the mantle of new music forward in the city for over 40 years – consistently bringing the highest quality of international ‘experimental’ artists – one has to be impressed with the great efforts of David Pay and Music on Main, especially in helping sponsor the ISCM festival and securing Nicole Lizée as resident composer. One also cannot say enough about Sean Bickerton’s efforts in revitalizing the Canadian Music Centre (BC). Six concerts celebrating key composers in the Canadian and BC compositional legacy are planned for the intimate Adaskin Salon, expanding from four last year. Then, there is the Turning Point Ensemble – a truly enduring force in performing new chamber compositions in the city – with a small season of their own.
One can never forget the 46 years of inspiring concerts at Ryerson United Church given by the Vancouver Chamber Choir under conductor Jon Washburn. Although the legendary Washburn will step down at the end of the 2018-19 season, there is still another wonderful 10-concert series awaiting us, as well as the choir’s participation in the 2017 ISCM Festival. Two other staples of the city’s rich choral heritage are the Vancouver Bach Choir and the Vancouver Cantata Singers, each of which have their own seasons, including Christmas concerts and collaborations in big choral events with orchestra. A similar presence attaches to the Elektra Woman’s Choir under Lorna Edmundson. The enthusiastic and accomplished Chor Leoni Men’s Choir also gives a full slate of concerts that might be termed semi-classical, but they are always inspired and the choir has the widest following. And there are many smaller local choirs behind these.
OTHER MUSIC ORGANIZATIONS
For those who enjoy music ‘early’, there is the enterprising Music in the Morning series (10am), featuring a variety of outstanding Canadian and international chamber groups and soloists. This year sees the appearances of the Banff Competition winning Rolston String Quartet, soprano Simone Osborne and the stunning Canadian pianist, Jan Lisieski. Concerts are typically at Koerner Hall in the Vancouver Academy of Music, though everything is slightly displaced this year while the hall receives renovations. There is always exciting chamber music available from Vetta Chamber Music, pushing past their 30th anniversary under the strong guidance of Joan Blackman. Jennifer West’s Müzewest Concerts is starting to make its mark after four years of duo and solo recitals, and there are now fledging organizations (Vancouver Chamber Music, Music Friends) ready to spring on to the same path. West Coast Chamber Music also offers four concerts in the spring.
The West Coast Symphony, the Vancouver Metropolitan Orchestra, and the UBC Symphony all offer adventurous seasons of their own. Opera flourishes strikingly well at UBC under Nancy Hermiston and we must not forget City Opera Vancouver and a number of other smaller opera presenters just starting out. There are of course a vast number of other events which take place under the auspices of the UBC School of Music.
© Geoffrey Newman 2017
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