Vancouver has long offered up a splendid menu of classical music, featuring a stream of local and international artists that fill up the calendar from September to June. In the last four 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, or vocal. Both Early Music and New Music have expanded their audiences considerably, and this has created a new and real synergy for the city and its performers. Opera is springing back after the Vancouver Opera’s reorganization, with contributions by smaller opera presenters too. Recent years have also seen major presenters sponsor concerts together. This season is special since it marks both the 50th anniversary of Early Music Vancouver and the 40th anniversary of the Vancouver Recital Society; both organizations celebrate with a wonderful set of concerts that pay homage to their past. 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 as low as $15.


After the orchestra’s massive centenary celebrations last season, Music Director Otto Tausk now leads the VSO into its next 100 years. As in the past, the VSO explores a wide range of classical repertoire – with the highest quality of established and up-and-coming soloists – but also fuses this with a full range of ‘pops’ concerts and lighter musical events. This season is distinguished by visits from three of the world’s most acclaimed instrumental soloists: pianist Daniil Trifonov, violinist Gidon Kremer and violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter. It is also notable for the number of vocal soloists that appear with the orchestra – a distinctive innovation. It is perhaps the vocal concerts that introduce the more unusual repertoire: Tausk on his own keeps to mainly standard fare. The attractive VSO Chamber Players, Symphony in the Annex (New Music), and ‘Tea and Trumpets’ series continue.

The opening September concert features an interesting mix of esteemed soprano Adrianne Pieczonka singing a Schubert orchestral transcription with Maestro Tausk taking on Mahler’s First Symphony. After the big concert of Trifonov playing Rachmaninoff’s Third Piano Concerto a week later, it is soprano Dawn Upshaw who arrives to sing folk songs of Luciano Berio in a concert with Dvorak’s ‘New World’ Symphony. Later in October, Albrecht Mayer, principal oboe of the Berlin Philharmonic, undertakes a redeeming set of works for his instrument at the Chan. November sees the arrival of legendary Baroque pioneer Ton Koopman directing a Bach concert, followed by the season’s choral concert: Mozart’s Requiem. After native cellist Garry Hoffman joins Tausk for the Elgar Concerto and Sibelius, German conductor Constantin Trinks conducts Humperdinck and Tchaikovsky in the last concert before Christmas. Trinks has made a very strong impression in his two previous appearances with the VSO, bringing unusual eloquence and majesty to the orchestra.

Two festivals are featured after the New Year. The first is the NEW MUSIC FESTIVAL in the second week in January, where both Otto Tausk and Bramwell Tovey take turns with the orchestra (alongside the Standing Wave Ensemble) in postmodern explorations of (re)creation. The second festival is the BEETHOVENFEST, as the world celebrates the composer’s 250th birthday in 2020. Led by Maestro Tausk, the latter festival occupies a good portion of March, pivoting on the memorable four-hour concert in December 1808 when Beethoven premièred his 5th and 6th Symphonies, the 4th Piano Concerto and the Choral Fantasy all in the same evening. Esteemed Australian composer/violist Brett Dean completes the journey, directing the ‘Eroica’ and his new work Testament. Violinist Alina Ibragimova plays the Shostakovich Violin Concerto in the opening concert, though one might have well expected the Beethoven concerto. Tausk’s discipline and rhythmic spring worked well for Beethoven’s 7th last season, which bodes well here.

After the New Music Festival, late January features an enticing all-French program from long-standing visiting conductor Jun Märkl, with young Hungarian cellist István Várdai. Then the venerable Gidon Kremer arrives with something slightly off the beaten track: a violin transcription of the Schumann Cello Concerto. Maestro Tausk tries Bruckner for the first time at the same concert: his 4th Symphony. More vocal splendour is featured in February as Tunisian mezzo-soprano Rihab Chaieb and Maestro Tausk perform Falla’s complete Three-Cornered Hat in a wide-ranging Spanish program. And the end of the month adds more intrigue: thirteen-year-old Alma Deutscher playing her own Piano Concerto.

Up-and-coming female conductor Elim Chan, who at age 33 is already Chief Conductor of Norrlands Opera and the Antwerp Symphony, comes in April for program of Mozart and Rimsky-Korsakov, with distinguished pianist Sergei Babayan. Avi Avital follows in a programme of Mandolin Concertos. Then, female singers again make their presence felt: Canadian mezzo Emily D’Angelo sings Purcell and Handel and, at the end of the season, exalted Susan Graham comes to sing Berlioz’s ‘Les Nuits d’Eté’ in a concert which includes Act IV of Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro. Bramwell Tovey also returns alongside pianist Angela Cheng in a concert of Chopin and Vaughan Williams. The final concert is well worth waiting for: Anne-Sophie Mutter playing the Beethoven Violin Concerto.


For four 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. Now, we get to celebrate it in the organization’s 40th Anniversary year, bringing back a stunning array of artists that have formed the VRS ‘family’ over this time.

The venerable Sir András Schiff made his Canadian debut with the organization in the mid-1980s and returns in late March for both Bach’s Goldberg Variations and a recital of Beethoven sonatas. Equally-renowned cellist Steven Isserlis comes in April and, yes, spectacular pianist Yuja Wang finally makes it here in February: the last time she played for VRS was in the 30th Anniversary Concert – and it’s not for trying. British ‘darling’ Benjamin Grosvenor comes in March as well, as does long-time ‘favourite’ violist Tabea Zimmerman with another familiar face, Spanish pianist Javier Perianes. Putting the two wonderful keyboard artists Steven Osborne and Paul Lewis together in the French duo repertoire in February is something that must be seen. Both artists have visited many times on their own, and have always shown an exalted level of artistry.

The much-loved Danish Quartet appears in early November and, just after, striking soprano Measha Bruggergosman arrives for the season’s only vocal recital. The prodigious talents of violinist Isabelle Faust, pianist Alexander Melnikov, and cellist Jean-Guihen Queyras are on display in Beethoven in February. In the same month, the sterling Doric String Quartet collaborates with the iconic Canadian pianist Marc-André Hamelin. Two of Hamelin’s own compositions figure in the season’s offerings. The only other string quartet to appear is the young Schumann Quartet from Germany – right at the beginning of March. The Z.E.N. Trio is a young ensemble that has not appeared with the VRS in name but pianist Zhang Zuo and cellist Narek Hakhnazaryan have both appeared previously on their own; violinist Esther Yoo debuted with the VSO two years ago. The trio has now released their first disc for Deutsche Grammophon and appear in an October concert.

Piano duos and sibling combinations add a feeling of family comradery to the proceedings. The season opener in September features Victoria’s Nikki and Timmy Chooi with pianist Angela Cheng: both violinists have performed for the with the VRS when they were younger and both have won a stream of major violin competitions. Of further younger pairings, Sheku and Isata Kanneh-Mason return in December after their uplifting cello recital debut two years ago. Following on in January is the piano duo of George and Andrew Li: we all remember the former’s appearance when he was only 16 en route to his eventual Silver Medal in the 2015 Tchaikovsky Competition. The young and adorable Jussen Bros. piano duo debuted for the VSO last year, and offer both virtuosity and, indeed, spectacle at the end of the month. Pianist Beatrice Rana has not appeared with VRS for over a decade but she now brings her cellist sister Ludovica with her for the closing May concert. Just before that, young Pablo and Sara Ferrández debut their talents on viola and cello in a rarely seen duo combination.



We have been long accustomed to visits from the world’s most celebrated ensembles under the auspices of Vancouver’s oldest chamber music society. Four legendary ensembles that have been long-term staples of the organization’s offerings appear again this year, each bringing impressive repertoire: the Emerson Quartet, the Han-Finckel-Setzer Trio, the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, and the Takacs Quartet. The Emersons arrive first – at the end of October.

The unquestionable highlight of the season is the Takacs’ two-concert traversal of all the Bartok quartets at the end of April. This ensemble provided a benchmark for the Bartok cycle in their Decca recording of the late 1990s, garnering the highest praise for their rustic penetration and flair: it will be interesting to see them two decades later with slightly different personnel. Just about as exciting is the return of the younger Pavel Haas Quartet & Boris Giltburg, piano in March, playing Čekovská, Dvořák and Tchaikovsky. Their last concert here was remarkable.

The season begins with two new ensembles: the up-and-coming American piano trio, Trio Solisti, in September and the young Czech Bennewitz Quartet in October. The esteemed Auryn Quartet make their first visit in a very long time (recall their wonderful Schubert for CPO) in November.



The Vancouver Chopin Society has devoted great effort to following recent Chopin Competition winners and presenting pianists that can provide distinctive and authoritative insights into Chopin as well as other composers. Moving into the organization’s third decade, VCS has already presented all the top medalists in the 2015 Warsaw Chopin Competition. This year continues with variety of relatively young and adventurous pianists, including a ‘period’ piano recital by 23-year-old Tomasz Ritter, first prize winner at the 1st Warsaw Chopin Competition on Period Instruments in 2018.

The fall concerts occur together in November. Moscow-born Zlata Chochieva is a ‘must see’ by any standard: she is becoming everyone’s favorite young pianist to watch, and to call the critical response to her recent Rachmaninoff and Chopin CDs overwhelming would even be an understatement. She is technically prodigious but also has the unique ability to absorb and penetrate the music whole. She plays the Chopin Etudes, Op. 25, works she is now famous for. Following this, the skilled and imaginative Kevin Kenner comes for a recital of Haydn, Schumann, Chopin’s Mazurkas and, yes, Paderewski. Kenner won the Warsaw Chopin Competition in 1990.

The spring concerts begin in March with the return of Dina Joffe, a veteran pianist of great conviction and tonal strength, performing the complete Chopin Waltzes and Schubert’s wonderful D major Sonata. Co-sponsored with EMV, Tomasz Ritter’s programme on a period piano follows: Chopin’s B minor Sonata is included in a wide-ranging outing. Federico Colli, another young pianist of brilliance, colour and imagination, arrives in May for a more ‘classical’ concert to end the season.



This is the 50th Anniversary of Early Music Vancouver, one of the founding early music organizations in North America and one which has consistently brought the highest level of ‘historically informed’ performance to the city. The organization’s growth in the last 5 years under the leadership of Matthew White has been one of the city’s real success stories – taking ‘early music’ to the public and establishing Christ Church Cathedral as a principal residence.

The current celebration naturally brings back groups that have played a long-standing role in the organization’s history: Sequentia, The Tallis Scholars, Fretwork, countertenor Iestyn Davies, lutenist Nigel North and Baroque pioneer Ton Koopman. Bigger events feature the Pacific Baroque Orchestra with distinguished soloists and the Vancouver Cantata Singers in Handel’s Messiah, an appearance of the Victoria Baroque with Tafelmusik’s leader for more than three decades, violinist Jeanne Lamon, and a Christmas Venetian concert directed by the ‘father of the cornet’, Bruce Dickey.

Lamon and Victoria Baroque open the season in September with a ‘Concert Spirituel’, followed a month later by Iestyn Davies and Fretwork in an outing co-sponsored with Music on Main: it fuses the contemporary compositions of Michael Nyman with those of Henry Purcell. Just a few days later, Nigel North joins Canada’s esteemed viol consort, Les Voix Humaines, for a performance of John Dowland’s Lachrimae. Mid-November sees the arrival of harpsichordist Ton Koopman, just off his 75th birthday, in a solo recital of the works of J. S. Bach and near contemporaries. The ‘Messiah’ comes at the end of the month and Bruce Dickey’s Venetian Christmas finishes off 2019.

Sequentia arrives early in the New Year, the first concert featuring Medieval music, the second Benjamin Bagby’s explorations of the epic Beowulf. A wonderfully varied set of concerts and collaborations, including those with the Vancouver Symphony and the Chopin Society, take one forward into the next months. A concert in early March has particular nostalgia: harpsichordist Jacques Ogg, gamba Jaap ter Linden and baroque flutist Wilbert Hazelzet – musicians who dominated the EMV landscape in an earlier era – join violinist Marc Destrubé in a programme of Telemann and the adventurous C.P.E. Bach. 

The 50th Anniversary Gala is set for early April and also implicitly celebrates Beethoven’s 250th birthday too. It assembles the Pacific Baroque Orchestra under Alexander Weimann and both the Vancouver Cantata Singers and Vancouver Bach Choir in a wide-ranging event. The much-loved Tallis Scholars return for a closing Renaissance concert at the beginning of May.



After Vancouver Opera’s ‘experimental’ season of three years ago, instating a ‘festival’ format in the late spring, things appear to be on roughly the same path.  There have normally been two contemporaneous festival productions in April/ May (one in Queen Elizabeth Theatre; the other in the Playhouse), combined with two other major productions in QET in October and February. So far, the festival has one opera in place, but look for other events which flesh the occasion out. A singing competition VOX is already announced for the beginning of May.

For the October La Traviata, several Canadian opera companies join forces to reproduce the lavish sets and accoutrements of 1920s Paris. Violetta is sung by Canadian soprano Emily Dorn while estimable tenor Andrew Haji is the love-struck Alfredo. Canadian conductor Yves Abel makes his Vancouver Opera debut. In the February Barber of Seville, Ashlie Corcoran makes her VO debut as director, Canadian Nathan Brock conducts. Edward Nelson is Figaro, Julie Boulianne is Rosina and Isaiah Bell is Count Almaviva.

At the end of April, running for an extended number of performances, is Julien Bilodeau’s Another Brick in the Wall: The Opera. The lyrics and music of Roger Waters’ The Wall is the inspiration: Waters is the lyricist and principal composer of the band, Pink Floyd. This boundary breaking opera is a psychological drama inspired by his life, told through a gripping story, with a strong video component. Leslie Dala directs with Nathan Keoughan (Pink), France Bellemare (The Mother) and Caroline Bleau (The Wife).

Under the guidance and inspiration of Nancy Hermiston, UBC Opera has also been a consistent artistic force in the city and always puts together productions that beguile. Offenbach’s The Tales of Hoffmann starts things off in early November, with Mieczysław Weinberg’s richly involving The Passenger (2006) coming at the end of January. One admires the daring spirit here, equally so in the June project to resurrect Rossini’s little-performed The Journey to Reims.

City Opera Vancouver also adds Berlin: The Last Cabaret in late January 2020.



It is not possible to forget the 48 years of inspiring concerts at Ryerson (now Pacific Spirit) United Church given by the Vancouver Chamber Choir under conductor Jon Washburn. After a long search, a new era now begins with the appointment of Finnish Music Director Kari Turunen. 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 bigger 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. This season marks their first collaboration with EMV. And there are many smaller local choirs behind these. One also does not want to forget the contribution of the UBC University Singers and Choral Union – under Graeme Langager – to the big choral events in the city, particularly those of the VSO.



New Music seems to be everywhere in the city these days. Many organizations participate: the VSO, Music on Main, Vancouver New Music, the Vancouver Chamber Choir, alongside a host of individual soloists and duos who get together in varying degrees of formality. The VSO New Music Festival has now become a post-New Year staple, as has the orchestra’s Symphony in the Annex series. At the same time, 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 also has to be greatly impressed with the recent efforts of David Pay and Music on Main. Besides their regular seasons, each organization offers a festival in the fall: VNM presents a 3-day October ‘Resonances’ Festival, while Music on Main continues its annual ‘Modulus’ Festival in November. Sean Bickerton continues to revitalize the Canadian Music Centre – BC, appointing the Vetta Chamber Players as Ensemble-In-Residence, and undertaking co-presentations with the Okanagan Symphony, the Vancouver Chamber Choir, and local music schools. Five concerts celebrating key composers in the Canadian and BC legacy are again planned for the intimate Adaskin Salon. As well, one must not forget the Standing Wave and Turning Point ensembles – truly enduring forces in performing new chamber compositions in the city.



For those who enjoy music ‘early’, there is the enterprising Music in the Morning series (10:30am), featuring a variety of outstanding Canadian and international chamber and vocal groups and soloists. Under the direction of Adrian Fung, this year’s 7-concert series ranges widely. The Brentano Quartet leads things off, with the esteemed Canadian baritone Russell Braun and the Calmus Ensemble following, finishing off with appearances by pianist Stewart Goodyear, cellist Colin Carr and the Afiara Quartet. There is always exciting chamber music available from Vetta Chamber Music, pushing past three decades of performance and guided with strength by Joan Blackman. Pianist Jane Coop and flutist Lorna McGhee will appear later in their season. West Coast Chamber Music also offers four concerts in the spring.

Vancouver Chamber Music Society is a new organization that has put together a fine set of duo concerts in a variety of locations, both in the afternoon and evening. West Van’s Kay Meek Centre offers high-level classical concerts within their eclectic offerings, and one should not overlook the fine international soloists sponsored by the Vancouver Classical Guitar Society. Jennifer West’s Müzewest Concerts is starting to make its mark after five years of duo and solo recitals, and there are other fledging organizations ready to spring on to the same path. 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 which take place under the auspices of the UBC School of Music.


© Geoffrey Newman 2019