After a stimulating fall season that saw many distinguished concerts towards the end of the year, Vancouver continues its bounty of classical music in the New Year, featuring a stream of international and local artists that fill up the calendar right to the summer, and involving the participation of close to 30 musical institutions. There is distinction and balance to be found over all musical genres, whether this be orchestral music, chamber music, or solo recital. Early Music and New Music have moved right to the front of the city’s attention, while opera has been springing back, especially with Vancouver Opera’s festival. Vancouver is exceptionally youth oriented, offering concert tickets for students and/or individuals under 35 for around $15.



Just as in September, the VSO 100th Anniversary celebrations lead off the New Year. These feature special concerts on January 9/10 and 26 (the latter is the exact date the orchestra was formed), plus a celebrity visit by violinist Itzhak Perlman on the 23rd – playing the Mendelssohn concerto. The VSO’s new Music Director Otto Tausk will conduct the latter dates, while also finding time to give the last two of the four concerts in the VSO New Music Festival in mid-January. Works by French/ Canadian composers Claude Vivier, Nicole Lizée, and Henri Dutilleux are performed in one outing while pieces by Emily Doolittle, Bo Sandstrom and John Luther Adams comprise the latter. The ‘new music for old instruments’ concert (cosponsored with Early Music Vancouver) sends the festival off with the New York Polyphony in a mass by Gregory Brown, while the indefatigable Standing Wave Ensemble explores new chamber music in the next concert.

Bramwell Tovey returns at the beginning of February in a performance of Bruckner’s 6th Symphony. He comes back for a second visit at the beginning of May to premiere his VSO-commissioned Concerto for Orchestra and collaborate with the celebrated Louis Lortie in Beethoven’s Second Piano Concerto. February also has interesting Scandinavian hues through the appearance of Swedish conductor Elvind Gullberg Jensen, performing Brahms 4th and collaborating with the excellent Chad Hoopes in the Dvorak concerto, and the wonderfully-characterful Norwegian violinist Henning Kraggerud, who plays and directs a concert on his own.

After French pianist David Kadouch arrives to play Beethoven’s 3rd Piano Concerto in mid-March, Otto Tausk returns for a big part of his assignment, starting with the last 3 symphonies of Mozart (Tania Miller also adds Mozart’s 35th in the following concert), and carrying on with the 4-concert Spring Festival from April 5 – 13. It is possibly difficult to find much of a musical link through the works of the festival, though the general motif is ‘the force of music in changing society’. It combines Beethoven’s 9th Symphony and Mendelssohn’s A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream with two full concerts of Russian repertoire, also venturing to George Gershwin and Charles Ives. Pianist Stewart Goodyear performs the Gershwin concerto while Rosanne Philippens plays Prokofiev’s Violin Concerto No. 2.

In May, Tausk directs a Wagner/ Prokofiev concert, and explores French colour in an outing with Debussy’s Images and two short pieces by Lili Boulanger; young violinist Kerson Leung contributes standard French showpieces. Up-and-coming Mayuko Kamio then plays both Bach and Mozart violin concertos in collaboration with VSO Conductor Laureate Kazuyoshi Akiyama. A celebration of the musical inspirations of the VSO’s current Composer-in-Residence, Jocelyn Morlock, occurs on May 18.

The season finale features Strauss’ Also Sprach Zarathustra and the North American premiere of Michel van der Aa’s Concerto for Violin and Cello: Nicolas Wright and Harriet Krijgh are the soloists. Centenary events are capped off by a gala celebration with Tausk and iconic Canadian Violinist James Ehnes on June 11.


For almost 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. 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. One typically ends each season saying this was undoubtedly Leila’s ‘best’, only to say exactly the same thing at the end of the next season.

After a remarkable fall season that started with an appearance by Evgeny Kissin and carried on with highlights throughout, many of the 2019 outings feature young ‘next generation’ artists of exceptional promise: pianists Zoltán Fejérvári, Filippo Gorini, Andrew Tyson, and 20-year-old Dutch/Finnish cellist Jonathan Roozeman. There is also the much-awaited-for Russian programme from pianist Yegeny Sudbin in March while mercurial and dazzling custodian of the keyboard Behzod Abduraimov makes his fourth visit, offering the Liszt Sonata and Prokofiev.

Possibly the most interesting chamber music concert features the ‘authentic’ Chiarscuro Quartet with fortepianist Kristian Bezuidenhout – co-sponsored with Early Music Vancouver. Before this, we have the lovely-toned Danish String Quartet, while another visit from the discerning Tetzlaff Trio rounds off the season at the end of April. Pianist Paul Lewis also returns for the fourth and final leg of his Haydn-Beethoven-Brahms sojourn.


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 the New Year, the novelties begin with the Vancouver debut of the fine Ehnes Quartet (violinist James Ehnes, our quintessential Canadian musical icon), and move to Bohemia immediately, with the Prazak and Zemlinsky Quartets arriving together to play two sextets and Mendelssohn’s Octet. (One might recall when the revered Smetana and Janacek Quartets got together for the Octet and produced one of the most scintillating recordings ever.) But the Czech contribution does not stop there: the Smetana Trio follows in the next concert, playing Dvorak’s ‘Dumky’ Trio, of course.

Equally fascinating is the March appearance by the Juilliard Quartet, who have not performed here for over three decades, and a return visit from the excellent young British ensemble, the Elias Quartet, to close out the season. For sheer interest and novelty, it would be difficult to equal the offerings of the second half of this concert season anywhere.


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.

After the New Year, Lukáš Vondráček, a naturally-insightful artist and winner of the 2016 Queen Elisabeth Competition arrives to probe late Beethoven and Schubert and contribute Chopin’s Polonaise-Fantasie. With the burgeoning interest in playing Chopin on authentic pianos and the recent availability of a lovingly-restored Broadwood (1870) in the city, a further February treat is the two-concert appearance of German period specialist Tobias Koch. This venture is co-sponsored with Early Music Vancouver and features a first concert where Koch directly recreates Chopin’s recital in Edinburgh on October 4, 1848, while the second surveys a wider range of Polish Romantic composers.

The Chopin Society often finishes its season with a flourish and one could not do much better than the estimable Nelson Goerner and the mesmerizing Kate Liu. Goerner gave a very fine Beethoven ‘Hammerklavier’ last time, and this concert ranges enticingly from Beethoven and Brahms to the Chopin Op. 25 Etudes: it should be splendid pianism!  Liu won the bronze at the 2015 Chopin Competition, but many adjudicators would have placed her higher for her unique sensitivity and absorption of Chopin’s idiom. Her appearance is an important event: with the appearance of Gold Medalist Seong-Jin Cho last year and Silver Medalist Charles-Richard Hamelin playing a return recital this year, the society will have now brought all three of the top 2015 Chopin Competition medalists to Vancouver.


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 much 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.

Two exciting events kick off 2019: first, the appearance of Canada’s Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra in J.S. Bach: The Circle of Creation – their latest multi-media creation by Alison Mackay – and then the venerable King’s Singers, celebrating their 50th anniversary and traversing music from King Henry VIII and Byrd to Britten and Richard Rodney Bennett.

EMV collaborates in three February/ March events mentioned earlier: two with fortepianist Tobias Koch (Vancouver Chopin Society) and the other with the Chiaroscuro Quartet (Vancouver Recital Society). One should also note a special ‘by donation’ concert of Buxtehude’s Membra Jesu Nostri and other 17th century German works with the Keio University Ensemble from Tokyo, members of the EMV and UBC Baroque Mentorship Orchestra, and Cappella Borealis.

Three bigger events round out the season. March sees Boston-based Blue Heron give a comprehensive, multi-media rendering of Guillaume de Machaut’s narrative poem Remede de Fortune, while April greets Handel’s splendid Coronation Anthems performed by the Pacific Baroque Orchestra and Vancouver Cantata Singers, all under the direction of Alexander Weimann. In a no less distinguished final May concert, Alexander Lingas directs Cappella Romana in music of Renaissance Crete.


After Vancouver Opera’s ‘experimental’ season of two years ago, putting three productions together in ‘festival’ format in the late spring, things appear to be heading back to normal now. The festival features two contemporaneous productions in April/ May (one in Queen Elizabeth Theatre; the other in the Playhouse), with major productions in QET in October and February.

Canadian designer and director duo André Barbe and Renaud Doucet – the team behind the VO’s Turandot in 2017 – introduce a gloriously extravagant production of Puccini’s La Boheme in February. Judith Yang conducts, and the singers include Phillip Addis (Marcello), Yosep Kang (Rodolfo), Neil Craighead (Colline), with France Bellemare as Mimi.

Moving to the April/May festival, Gounod’s Faust is the big production and the much-loved Jonathan Darlington returns to conduct. The all-Canadian cast features the very fine David Pomeroy and Marianne Fiset in the leads, with up-and-coming Robert Pomakov as Méphistophélès. Contemporaneously, Leslie Dala leads the smaller-scale version of Rossini’s La Cenerentola that runs for ten performances in the Playhouse, with an inspired youthful cast directed by Rachel Peake and with beautifully-toned Vancouver mezzo-soprano Simone McIntosh as Cinderella.

Under the guidance and inspiration of Nancy Hermiston, UBC Opera has also been a consistent artistic force in the city and always manages to put together productions that beguile. Both Mozart’s The Magic Flute (February) and Don Giovanni (June) are on tap for the spring season.



New Music seems to be everywhere in the city these days. Many organizations participate: Music on Main, Vancouver New Music, the VSO, the Vancouver Chamber Choir, alongside a host of individual soloists and duos who get together in varying degrees of formality. 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 also has to be greatly impressed with the recent efforts of David Pay and Music on Main. Both organizations offered very fine festivals this fall; the VSO New Music Festival comes upon us quickly in January. Then, there are Sean Bickerton’s efforts in revitalizing the Canadian Music Centre – BC. Concerts celebrating key composers in the Canadian and BC compositional legacy carry on in the spring in the intimate Adaskin Salon. As well, one must mention the Standing Wave and Turning Point ensembles – vitally enduring forces in performing new chamber compositions in the city – with small seasons of their own.


It is not possible to forget the 47 years of inspiring concerts at Ryerson (now Pacific Spirit) 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 set of concerts awaiting us after the New Year, both involving auditioning international conductors and showcasing repertoire for the ensemble’s cross-Canada tour.

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. 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, and particularly those of the VSO.



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 and vocal groups and soloists. Under the direction of Adrian Fung, this year’s 7-concert series ranges widely, leading January off with the ‘authentic’ London Haydn Quartet and featuring a closing appearance by esteemed Canadian cellist Johannes Moser. Concerts are Wednesday and Thursday mornings at Koerner Hall, Vancouver Academy of Music and, now, Friday mornings at Christ Church Cathedral.

There is always exciting chamber music available from Vetta Chamber Music, pushing past three decades of performance and guided with strength by Joan Blackman. Vancouver Chamber Music Society is a new organization that has put together a fine set of duo concerts in North Vancouver, both in the afternoon and evening. Esteemed violinist Stefan Jackiw appears early in January. West Van’s Kay Meek Centre has an interesting series of 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 four years of duo and solo recitals, and there are other fledging organizations 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. 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