Fall arts preview 2018 music critics' picks: Shifting roles and sounds mark concert scene

    1 of 2 2 of 2

      Change is good, and for that reason alone we’re looking at another remarkable year in the realm of classical and contemporary music. In 2018-19, we get to see what the new leader of the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra has to offer—and the signs already suggest that Otto Tausk is up to the job of replacing the dynamic Bramwell Tovey. On a smaller level, the Western Front has found the perfect person to replace 24-year veteran DB Boyko as its new-music curator: Aram Bajakian is internationally respected as a musician and composer, and has a deep knowledge of art forms both historic and avant-garde. We’ll also be following the Vancouver Chamber Choir’s search to replace artistic director Jon Washburn, and we can already say that any of the candidates will be an asset to this city and its culture. So let’s remember that “May you live in interesting times” is not always a curse!


      Renée Fleming

      (At the Orpheum on September 20)

      Otto Tausk’s formal debut as the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra’s new music director takes place over the following two nights, but first he’ll be on the podium to usher in famed soprano Renée Fleming.

      The Draw: One of the warmest voices on the planet tackles the deep waters of Richard Strauss’s Four Last Songs.

      Target Audience: Everyone. With a selection of Broadway hits also on the program, this has something for all tastes.


      Nigredo Hotel

      (At the Cultch’s Historic Theatre from September 20 to 22)

      With music by the late Nic Gotham and libretto by Ann-Marie MacDonald, this City Opera Vancouver production promises brainy Jungian thrills.

      The Draw: Baritone Tyler Duncan and the fetchingly named soprano Sarah Vardy star, backed by a percussion-heavy chamber ensemble.

      Target Audience: Film-noir fans.


      Elektra Women's Choir

      (At the Shadbolt Centre on September 21)

      Vancouver’s premier women’s choir kicks off its season with a program that’s heavy on new Canadian compositions.

      The Draw: Works by rising star Kathleen Allan and Elektra pianist Stephen Smith.

      Target Audience: Admirers of cool choral elegance.


      Vancouver Chamber Choir

      (At Pacific Spirit United Church on September 28)

      The Vancouver Chamber Choir’s season offers an extended farewell to long-time artistic director Jon Washburn and a chance to vet several candidates for his job.

      The Draw: The Heart’s Reflection finds Finland’s Kari Turunen conducting a Nordic-focused program; other applicants who’ll be featured later on in the season include Chor Leoni’s Erick Lichte and composer-conductor-soprano Kathleen Allan.

      Target Audience: Anyone grateful for Washburn’s tireless contributions to the local choral scene.


      Vox Luminis

      (At Christ Church Cathedral on October 13)

      Early Music Vancouver presents a Belgian choir that has been winning much acclaim in Europe, in a program capped by Henry Purcell’s Funeral Sentences and Music for the Funeral of Queen Mary.

      The Draw: Despite their sombre titles, Purcell’s works are things of great beauty and elegance.

      Target Audience: Admirers of the English Orpheus.



      (At the Orpheum Annex from October 18 to 20)

      The Black Dog String Quartet, Quatuor Bozzini, Quartetto Maurice, Mivos Quartet, Quartetto Noûs, the Penderecki String Quartet, and the ever-astonishing JACK Quartet will all contribute to this international survey of contemporary chamber ensembles, assembled by Vancouver New Music.

      The Draw: Unbridled brilliance, but special mention should be made of innovative Navajo composer Raven Chacon, who’ll develop new repertoire in workshops with local Indigenous youth.

      Target Audience: Those who think they’ve heard it all. They haven’t.


      Jen Shyu

      (At the Western Front on October 19)

      Guitarist and composer Aram Bajakian’s first booking as the venerable Western Front’s new-music curator is an auspicious beginning: Nine Doors draws on Jen Shyu’s careful study of several traditional Korean, Japanese, and Taiwanese instruments, in the service of a poetic tribute to a friend and fellow artist killed in an automobile accident.

      The Draw: Traverse the spirit world in a performance that’s part shamanic ritual and part avant-garde music concert.

      Target Audience: Mystics and explorers.


      Shahram & Hafez Nazeri

      (At the Orpheum on October 28)

      The father-and-son team of Shahram and Hafez Nazeri revisit their groundbreaking Rumi Symphony, with an ensemble of Persian all-stars.

      The Draw: Deathless poetry from 13th-century Sufi mystic Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Rūmī, sophisticated compositions, and one of Iran’s greatest voices.

      Target Audience: Hate resisters.


      ECM+ Generation 2018

      (At the Orpheum Annex on October 28)

      Not a celebration of the famed German record label ECM, but Quebec’s Ensemble Contemporain de Montréal, presenting a cross-country survey of emerging composers. Our own Turning Point Ensemble presents.

      The Draw: Vancouver will be represented by former resident James O’Callaghan, whose star shone exceedingly brightly during the ISCM World New Music Days Festival last year.

      Target Audience: Futurists.


      Eve Egoyan will add solo-piano magic to the Modulus Festival.

      Sam Barnes

      Modulus Festival

      (At the Roundhouse Community Arts and Recreation Centre, the Western Front, Studio 700, and the Post at 750 from November 2 to 6)

      Music on Main’s annual festival of the new returns, with likely highlights including an Eve Egoyan solo-piano recital featuring the music of, among others, John Oswald, Michael Snow, and MoM composer in residence Nicole Lizée. The shape-shifting Lizée will also offer a new work for the flute-and-harp duo of Claire Marchand and Albertina Chan, with Standing Wave tackling her works as well.

      The Draw: MoM artistic director David Pay’s rare ability to offer intellectual stimulation in a convivial setting.

      Target Audience: Bons vivants.


      When There Is Peace

      (At St. Andrew’s–Wesley United Church on November 10, and West Vancouver United Church on November 11)

      Chor Leoni has upped the ante on its traditional Remembrance Day shows by commissioning a new work from composer Zachary Wadsworth.

      The Draw: The wonderful Borealis String Quartet and other guests join the lions.

      Target Audience: Realists, because war is simply unsustainable.


      Centum Corpora

      (At Mountain View Cemetery on November 11)

      The Little Chamber Music Series That Could commemorates the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War by placing 100 musicians next to the graves of 100 veterans in an outdoor sound installation.

      The Draw: LCMSTC managing artistic director and composer Mark Haney’s gift for mixing the sombre, the celebratory, and the significant.

      Target Audience: Anyone whose family has been touched by war—which, sadly, means most of us.


      Paul Lewis

      (At the Vancouver Playhouse on December 9 and March 3)

      The great English pianist offers the third and fourth installments of his Vancouver Recital Society–sponsored four-part investigation of Joseph Haydn, Johannes Brahms, and Ludwig van Beethoven.

      The Draw: There’s a reason why this repertoire is at the core of European music, and Paul Lewis is one of its most insightful interpreters.

      Target Audience: Contemporary classicists.


      VSO New Music Festival

      (At the Orpheum on January 18 and 19, 2019)

      There will be further details to come about the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra’s annual celebration of the new, but the two concerts already announced feature a well-curated blend of midcareer Canadians and international stars.

      The Draw: John Luther Adams’s Pulitzer Prize–winning Become Ocean has been hailed as “the loveliest apocalypse in musical history”.

      Target Audience: Deep-sea divers and other explorers.


      Ehnes Quartet

      (At the Vancouver Playhouse on January 22)

      Friends of Chamber Music’s season is full of top-tier string quartets, with violinist James Ehnes’s ensemble being one of the best.

      The Draw: An intimate look at a violinist more often found fronting international orchestras.

      Target Audience: Friends of chamber music, natch.


      La Bohème

      (At the Queen Elizabeth Theatre on February 14, 16, 19, 21, and 24)

      The Canadian designer-and-director team of André Barbe and Renaud Doucet drew raves for their 2017 production of Giacomo Puccini’s Turandot, and now Vancouver Opera has invited them back to tackle the Italian master’s La Bohème.

      The Draw: What our own Janet Smith described as Barbe and Doucet’s “bold, unusually dazzling vision”.

      Target Audience: Dazzle devotees.


      Vancouver Cantana Singers

      (At the Blusson Spinal Cord Centre on February 23)

      Musica Universalis: Music of the Spheres surveys cosmic choral music from the classical to the contemporary.

      The Draw: The Blusson Spinal Cord Centre’s atrium is a freakishly lively acoustic space.

      Target Audience: Astronomers and other curiosity seekers.


      Danish String Quartet

      (At the Vancouver Playhouse on February 24)

      If these four Danes are becoming a Vancouver Recital Society staple, that can only be a good thing. Their local debut was one of the finest concerts of 2014, and their recordings indicate that they’ve only gotten better since then.

      The Draw: The enduring beauty of Ludwig van Beethoven, and a selection of new sounds from the Nordic lands.

      Target Audience: Lovers of the clean lines of Scandinavian design.



      (At the Orpheum on March 23)

      Jazz composer Andrew Downing debuts a new score for the 1922 silent-film version of the horror classic, featuring the Vancouver Bach Choir and a band of improv and new-music heavyweights.

      The Draw: Having already scored The Phantom of the Opera, Downing’s proven that he’s got a gift for making old images sound new.

      Target Audience: Halloween campers (in March).


      Anoushka Shankar

      (At the Chan Centre for the Performing Arts on April 27)

      Anoushka Shankar has emerged as the natural heir to her famous father Ravi’s place at the centre of North Indian classical music’s pantheon.

      The Draw: Shankar’s new band draws on the raga tradition, but also takes on the complex rhythms of South Indian music, along with cello and piano.

      Target Audience: Fusion fanciers.