Spring arts preview 2019 music critics' picks: Local visionaries lead vivid music roster
I’m writing this with chain saws ripping into 100-year-old cedars in the lot next door, just a stone’s throw away from the heronry, and some Cheeto-faced, ferret-wearing shitgibbon is about to give a press conference containing the 8,000th lie of his presidential tenure, but in the world of art… In the world of art, all is pretty good. The capsule report? Well, our city’s major cultural institution, the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, celebrated its centenary by handing the reins to music director Otto Tausk (see story above), who’s a very different conductor than his predecessor Bramwell Tovey, but equally skilled. And Vancouver keeps turning out visionary musicians and composers, many of whom are represented in the concerts listed below. It’s a good time to be alive… until a tree falls on your nest.
Words & Music
At the Orpheum Annex on March 9 and 10
The birds and the bees, the fish and the frogs. Although human expression is the focus of this Turning Point Ensemble production, which features the premiere of the Ernest Hemingway–inspired The Old Man and the Sea, by composer Rita Ueda and librettist Rod Robertson, the natural world gets a look in too.
The Draw: The rarely heard but highly touted music of Mexican modernist Silvestre Revueltas, in the form of his Duet for Duck and Canary and Frogs.
Target Audience: Species-inclusive listeners.
Juilliard String Quartet
At the Vancouver Playhouse on March 19
Now boasting a powerful new first violinist, Areta Zhulla, the Juilliard String Quartet has been a marvel of consistent excellence since 1946.
The Draw: For some of us the chief joy of this Friends of Chamber Music event will be the fabulously astringent tones of Béla Bartók’s String Quartet No. 3; others will find joy in the mellifluous works of Ludwig van Beethoven and Joseph Haydn.
Target Audience: Those of us who can appreciate a smartly executed succession plan.
At Pyatt Hall and the Orpheum Annex from March 21 to 24
Vancouver Pro Musica’s annual festival allows inquisitive listeners to discover the rising stars of the local composition scene, which has never been healthier, alongside new pieces from established artists.
The Draw: This year’s Sonic Boom house band is the all-star Turning Point Ensemble, ensuring that both emerging composers and veterans will be handled with elegant assurance.
Target Audience: Anyone who can tell a treble clef from an ampersand.
Tausk Conducts Mozart
At the Chan Centre for the Performing Arts on March 22 and 23
I am not a devotee of the Salzburg wunderkind, and I’m not alone; Glenn Gould once famously described Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s piano concertos as having all the charm of “inter-office memos”. But I’m willing to be convinced otherwise.
The Draw: New Vancouver Symphony Orchestra music director Otto Tausk is a fan, and applies his interpretive genius to Mozart’s last three symphonic offerings.
Target Audience: Me, I guess—and everyone who disagrees with me.
Andrew Downing's Nosferatu
At the Orpheum on March 23
The Vancouver Bach Choir teams up with an all-star cast of local improvisers—including clarinetist François Houle and trumpeter Brad Turner—to provide a postmodern score for the famous 1922 silent movie.
The Draw: Bassist-composer Andrew Downing’s Technicolor sound meets filmmaker F.W. Murnau’s indelible black-and-white images.
Target Audience: Definitely not the toned-and-tanned crowd.
Jonathan and Jan-Paul Roozeman
At the Vancouver Playhouse on March 31
No matter their genre, it seems that musical siblings always have unequalled musical chemistry, and this Vancouver Recital Society concert offers a chance to test that theory.
The Draw: Only 20, Jonathan Roozeman is already being hailed as a distinctive voice on the cello, and his pianist brother Jan-Paul seems similarly blessed.
Target Audience: Talent scouts with an ear for classic but underexposed repertoire.
A Month of Tuesdays
At the Fox Cabaret from April 2 to 30
Lucky us: this year, April has not four but five Tuesdays, giving us an extra opportunity to enjoy Music on Main’s annual spring showcase of emerging artists and established innovators.
The Draw: Just buy a series pass. But if you have to pick two of the five, we’ll suggest violinist Jennifer Koh, who’ll present an exceptional survey of short works for the modern virtuoso on April 9, and Emerge on Main on April 23, featuring uncategorizable artists-to-watch Matthew Ariaratnam, Julia Chien, and Alex Mah.
Target Audience: Open ears.
VSO Spring Festival
At the Orpheum on April 5, 6, 12, and 13
The VSO’s annual Spring Festival gets a makeover, as it shifts focus from surveying great classical-music individuals to considering how music and society work together in concert—or sometimes at cross-purposes.
The Draw: Smart programming, especially the Revolutionaries show on April 12, which looks at three sly, subversive, and once banned-in-the-U.S.S.R works from Igor Stravinsky, Dmitri Shostakovich, and Sergei Prokofiev.
Target Audience: Progressive conservatives, but not the now-extinct political kind.
Evening With Elektra
At the Sutton Place Hotel on April 7
It’s a spendy affair, with tickets going for $250, but for that you get dinner, choral brilliance from Elektra Women’s Choir, and an intimate audience with star soprano Isabel Bayrakdarian.
The Draw: Bayrakdarian, who has a larger-than-life voice and stage presence to match.
Target Audience: Patrons of the arts.
Cristina Pato Quartet
At the Chan Centre for the Performing Arts on April 11
We happen to love the bagpipes, but we were born in Aberdeen and so have no choice in the matter. You, on the other hand, have options, but it wouldn’t hurt to check out one of the leading practitioners of their Galician cousin, the gaita.
The Draw: A subtler, warmer, and jazzier take on the famous Celtic skirl.
Target Audience: Curious crossover fans.
Cantus & Chor Leoni
At the Chan Centre for the Performing Arts on April 12
The opening concert in the 2019 VanMan Male Choral Summit pairs the local lions with their American counterparts in Cantus—a group originally convened by Chor Leoni artistic director Erick Lichte during his student days.
The Draw: What’s the opposite of toxic masculinity?
Target Audience: Healthy, harmonious men.
Music for a Very Good Friday
At the Orpheum on April 19
Jon Washburn ends his 48-year tenure with the Vancouver Chamber Choir in a program that features a few of his favourite things—including Johann Sebastian Bach’s Missa Brevis in G Minor and two of his own folk-song arrangements.
The Draw: A chance to say thanks to one of the giants of choral music in Canada.
Target Audience: A large and appreciative crowd.
At the Orpheum Annex on April 27
We haven’t yet heard this “all-women lo-fi R&B gong punk collective”, but since we like all of those adjectives, we’re definitely going to check out the Toronto group’s local debut.
The Draw: This Vancouver New Music–sponsored event features a radical take on Filipino percussion music, bolstered by deep electronic grooves.
Target Audience: Those of us ready to go somewhere we’ve never been before.
At the Queen Elizabeth Theatre on April 27, May 2, and May 5
Naked ambition and desire lead an amoral schemer to sell his soul to the devil, only to find out that his gains mean nothing. Charles Gounod premiered his Mephistophelian masterpiece in 1859, but his plot hasn’t aged a day.
The Draw: Marianne Fiset, who delighted in 2017’s Turandot, returns, with David Pomeroy in the title role. There’s a good chance their Faust will be the highlight of the 2019 Vancouver Opera Festival, which also includes nine performances of Gioacchino Rossini’s La Cenerentola.
Target Audience: Those who know that the devil has the best tunes.
Venice in the East
At Christ Church Cathedral on May 10
Frankly, I’d like to head to Crete right now, but I suppose we’ll have to wait until May 10, when Early Music Vancouver presents Cappella Romana in a program of medieval Byzantine chant from the Mediterranean island and its Ionian neighbours.
The Draw: Although this music will speak more of shady cloisters than sunlit beaches, it will still buoy the heart.
Target Audience: Dreamers and the devout, who are not necessarily the same.
At the Scandinavian Community Centre on May 25
Although this Burnaby venue is better known for baking classes than vocal beauty, we’ve got to give kudos to Vancouver Cantata Singers for finding an appropriate venue for their survey of the Nordic choral scene.
The Draw: If we’re lucky, there’ll be pulla and coffee. If not, we’ll still get to hear extraordinary compositions, beautifully sung.
Target Audience: Vikings, and those who love them.