Fall arts preview: Music critics' picks: Ear candy for, yep, everyone

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A little looking back, a little peeking ahead: the 2012-13 season in classical and contemporary music contains both historical revelations and sure-footed ventures forward. Unifying themes are in short supply, but that just means there’s something for everyone here!

Special coverage

Isabel Bayrakdarian
(September 21 and 22 at the Orpheum Theatre)
There are few better marriages of artist and material than when Lebanese-born soprano Isabel Bayrakdarian sings French composer Maurice Ravel’s Shéhérazade, as she will with the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra under Bramwell Tovey’s baton.
The Draw: A masterpiece of early intercultural music, a fabulous band, and a gorgeous voice.
Target Audience: Romantics of all kinds.

Modulus Festival
(September 27 to 30 at Heritage Hall and the Roundhouse Community Arts & Recreation Centre)
Arcade Fire multi-instrumentalist Richard Reed Parry’s secret superpower is that he’s also a fine contemporary composer. The ever-surprising Modulus Festival will present two of his works (one featuring amplified heart sounds, the other performed by 15 cyclists carrying boom boxes), along with premieres from the equally adventurous Jocelyn Morlock and Michael Finnissy, and a 60th-birthday tribute to Finland’s Kaija Saariaho.
The Draw: Relax and let Music on Main artistic director David Pay take you on a tour of the new.
Target Audience: The critical masses, and Critical Massers.

Zakir Hussain
(September 28 at the Michael J. Fox Theatre, Burnaby)
Billed as a tribute to the late master of the violinlike sarangi, Ustad Sultan Khan, this concert also features Khan’s sarangi-playing son Sabir and nephew Dilshad. And while many will be going to hear Zakir Hussain’s rapid-fire alchemy on the tabla, the cousins will also entrance.
The Draw: High-grade South Asian classical music, and perhaps more: in his band with Hussain and electric bassist Bill Laswell, Tabla Beat Science, Sultan Khan also proved himself an Indo-fusion pioneer.
Target Audience: Beat scientists and disciples of timeless melody.

Andras Schiff
(October 5 at the Chan Centre for the Performing Arts)
Of all the antique figures in the classical-music canon, Johann Sebastian Bach is the most open to reinvention, and Hungarian-born pianist András Schiff is sure to find fresh revelations in his work.
The Draw: Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier, Book 1 in its entirety—which can also be heard on Schiff’s latest release for the esteemed ECM record label.
Target Audience: What’s another word for everyone?

Northern Visions
(October 11 at the Cultch)
Encompassing pieces from Alaska, Iceland, Sweden, and Norway, the Standing Wave Ensemble’s fall offering will be cool, really cool. Especially promising is a new commission from Daniel Janke, in which the Whitehorse-based composer draws on the natural world—and flocking birds, in particular—for luminous inspiration.
The Draw: Smart tunes, cleverly chosen and beautifully played.
Target Audience: Intellects with an ear for passionate intensity.

Circuit Cabaret
(October 18 to 20 at the Scotiabank Dance Centre)
This year, Vancouver New Music’s annual festival turns its attention to the bizarre and fascinating world of circuit-bending, in which solder-savvy composer-performers turn thrift-store toys and household appliances into otherworldly and often surprisingly flexible instruments.
The Draw: Sounds like you’ve never heard before, plus the long-overdue return of genre pioneer and all-round brainiac Nicolas Collins.
Target Audience: Fearless weirdos.

La Boheme
(October 20, 23, 25, 27, and 28 at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre)
We’re still waiting for someone to set Giacomo Puccini’s bohemian fable in contemporary Williamsburg, aka hipster central. Alas, Paris’s Latin Quarter, circa 1840, will have to do. It’s a hardship we’re prepared to put up with, as this is one of the undisputed classics of opera.
The Draw: The rowdy start and, even more than that, the tear-jerking finale.
Target Audience: Artists, models, and lovers of Paris.

Eric Whitacre
(October 27 at the Orpheum Theatre)
Vancouver Chamber Choir publicists claim that this show is generating stadium-rock levels of buzz. We’ll have to take their word for that, but there’s no denying that Eric Whitacre is the reigning choral composer of our time, and here he’ll conduct the Chamber Choir and a lavish array of guests in nine of his originals.
The Draw: An opportunity to bask in the presence of greatness.
Target Audience: We’d say singers, but all of Vancouver’s will be on-stage for this gala event.

Songs of the Cloisters
(November 2 at the Chan Centre for the Performing Arts)
Except for the fact that these tunes were written in the 16th and 17th centuries, you could almost call them new; a ban on music in convents meant that most have never been performed until recently. Rescued from dusty Catholic archives, this Vancouver Early Music program of “virtuoso music from Italian nunneries” will be brought to life by Italy’s all-female Capella Artemisia.
The Draw: The thrill of encountering long-suppressed sounds.
Target Audience: Penitents and iconoclasts.

The Lake
(November 14 and 15 at the Telus Studio Theatre in the Chan Centre for the Performing Arts)
That the Turning Point Ensemble is joining forces with soprano Heather Pawsey’s Astrolabe Musik Theatre is news. That they’re mounting the first professional production of Barbara Pentland and Dorothy Livesay’s 1952 opera The Lake is remarkable. Works by Pentland’s teacher Aaron Copland and New York trumpeter Dave Douglas round out a strong bill.
The Draw: We’re told Ogopogo has a walk-on role.
Target Audience: Smart and stylish ears.

Richter 868
(November 24 at the Vancouver Playhouse)
Guitarist Bill Frisell’s recent Vancouver shows have been sweet, soft-focus affairs, showcasing either his Americana tendencies or his love of John Lennon’s tunes. This Vancouver New Music presentation is something else again: a suite of roiling chamber compositions inspired by the abstract canvases of German master Gerhard Richter.
The Draw: The gentlest man in music shows his teeth, in the provocative company of violinist Jenny Scheinman, violist Eyvind Kang, and cellist Hank Roberts.
Target Audience: Art-world sophisticates and jazz radicals.

The Pirates of Penzance
(December 1, 2, 4, 6, 8, and 9 at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre)
If El Niño (see below) is this season’s serious Christmas offering, Vancouver Opera’s The Pirates of Penzance is its must-see laugh riot. Arthur Sullivan’s rollicking music and W.S. Gilbert’s ludicrous plot are sure to be eaten up by stars Judith Forst and Christopher Gaze—and by fans ranging from four to 94.
The Draw: Veteran troupers having huge fun.
Target Audience: Pirate buffs who can’t afford the Caribbean in these recessionary times.

El Niño
(December 16 at the Orpheum Theatre)
Not the fabled ocean current, but that guy with the halo who was born in a Palestinian manger some 2,000 years ago. American composer John Adams draws on the Gnostic gospels in this massive reimagining of Christianity’s roots.
The Draw: One of the great works of the early 21st century, realized here by the Vancouver Bach Choir with the VSO.
Target Audience: Those who’d like to get into the holiday spirit without drowning in eggnog and treacle.

ARC Ensemble
(December 12 to 14 at the Vancouver Academy of Music, December 13 at CBC Studio One)
The “house band” for Toronto’s Royal Conservatory of Music is best known for unearthing little-known works by Jewish composers persecuted by the Nazis. In these Music in the Morning–sponsored shows, though, it will turn its attention to a new piano quintet commissioned from the near-legendary R. Murray Schafer.
The Draw: What fresh surprises will spring from Schafer’s brain?
Target Audience: Listeners willing to skip work for morning music; coffee will be supplied!

Perchance to Dreame
(January 18 at the Chan Centre for the Performing Arts)
A good case can be made for the notion that Henry Purcell was the William Shakespeare of English music, and Montreal duo Les Voix Humaines, along with tenor Charles Daniels, will advance that argument in this Vancouver Early Music concert.
The Draw: Sounds that are as immortal as the best of the Bard.
Target Audience: Good lords and ladies all.

Jon Kimura Parker
(January 19 and 21 at the Orpheum Theatre)
There are two good reasons to catch this VSO show, and hometown hero Jon Kimura Parker’s performance of Edvard Grieg’s Piano Concerto in A minor is only one of them. Also on the bill will be the world premiere of VSO composer-in-residence Edward Top’s Totem—inspired, one presumes, by the signature statuary of the West Coast.
The Draw: A chance to support the creation of new music while revisiting a familiar beauty.
Target Audience: The VSO’s cheering section: these shows kick off a major U.S. tour.

Reich + Rite
(January 28 at Heritage Hall)
How often does Vancouver get to hear a world premiere from Steve Reich? The greatest of the minimalists unveils Piano Counterpoint at the intimate yet reverberant Heritage Hall; Vicky Chow will be at the keyboard, and she’ll also perform Igor Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring.
The Draw: Something shiny and bright to look forward to during the year’s darkest days.
Target Audience: At the risk of repeating ourselves, the shiny and bright.

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