Vancouver Cantata Singers tap an unlikely performance venue

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      It’s no secret that Vancouver’s music groups often feel pinched for performance spaces, which goes some way to explaining how the Vancouver Cantata Singers have ended up planning a concert in the headquarters of spinal-cord injury research group ICORD (International Collaboration on Repair Discoveries).

      “We were looking for new performances spaces a couple of years ago,” explains VCS general manager Dave Carlin by phone, “and ICORD’s home, the new Blusson Spinal Cord Centre, had just been given an architectural award.”¦As soon as we walked into it we thought, ”˜Oh my god, we have to put on a concert here.’”

      Built to be completely wheelchair accessible, the Blusson centre’s large atrium features a wraparound, 200-metre-long ramp winding from the ground to the third floor. “It’s almost like the Guggenheim in New York,” observes Carlin, “where you can literally walk all the way around the space”¦.It gives us the opportunity to put the choir in almost any spot on any wall in the room.”

      This Saturday (February 26), the VCS, which has hosted two successful “Spinal Chord” fundraisers at the Blusson Centre, will perform its Cathedrals of Science concert in the space. Alongside Estonian composer Arvo Pärt’s sacred piece Te Deum and music by French Renaissance composer Antoine Brumel, the choir will premiere a newly commissioned work by local composer Jordan Nobles written specifically for the centre.

      Nobles, whose compositions often set performers in nontraditional arrangements, says he jumped at the chance to write for the unique venue. “One of the things I never get to do is have my musicians move while they perform,” he explains. “You can’t really get them to walk because they’re not a marching band—they’ll trip and fall, or there are stairs, or they’re on a balcony. But in this particular case, the balcony is a ramp. There’s a very, very low grade, and it goes on forever.”

      Noble’s newest composition, which begins with a setting of the Hippocratic Oath, will have the performers begin walking down the ramp at set intervals, until the entire choir is spread out around the atrium, from top to bottom. “The audience can actually sit in one spot, and the music will change around them,” he notes. “This venue is the only place that I can think of that I could do that in.”

      In order to perfect the piece, Noble was granted special access to the Blusson. “I have a card that says I’m a member of the medical services there,” he confesses. Eric Hannan, the VCS’s artistic director, has the same card—a testament to the deep relationship forged between ICORD and the group.

      “The two organizations have really glommed onto each other in a long-term way,” says Carlin. “One of our substantial donors now is a researcher at ICORD, because he just likes what we’re doing.”¦People that would have never come to our concerts or know about what we do before are now real followers of ours, because of this relationship.”

      And the benefits go both ways: Carlin says the choir is now in discussions about participating in studies on how singing techniques might help spinal-cord injury patients with their breath control.

      “This relationship gives the ensemble a real purpose,” he says. “Everybody’s constantly bitching about there being no place to perform, and here it was. And all it took was the idea to see if it was workable.”

      The Vancouver Cantata Singers perform at the Blusson Spinal Cord Centre (818 West 10th Avenue) on Saturday (February 26).



      Mark Kreider

      Feb 25, 2011 at 10:10am

      This image was beautifully photographed by my brother and fellow photographer, J. Evan Kreider. A visit to to view some of his work is a trip well worth taking.

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