Spring Arts Preview 2020 music critics' picks: Season celebrates Beethoven, Pink Floyd, and the sound of the new

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      Given that this year marks the 250th anniversary of Ludwig van Beethoven’s birth, it would seem churlish to complain that much of the spring concert season honours the legacy of a dead white male. So we won’t. Instead, let’s give thanks that we’ll have many opportunities, some of them quite innovative, to reassess Beethoven’s legacy, and to rind ourselves that although the great German did sometimes take aristocrats’ commissions, he was a resolute lover of freedom and a foe of despots. Let’s rejoice, too, that spring in Vancouver also offers an occasion to celebrate our own musical diversity, which here finds expression in everything from rock operas to shamanic singing to the very newest of the new.



      At various Vancouver venues from March 7 to 21

      The Vancouver Symphony Orchestra opens its long-awaited celebration of Beethoven’s 250th birthday at the Orpheum on March 7, with a program titled Beethoven the Modernist—the implication being that while his music might be old, it’s far from fusty.

      The Draw: Two symphonic masterworks: Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 and Dmitri Shostakovich’s Violin Concerto No. 1, with rising-star virtuoso Alina Ibragimova as soloist.

      Target Audience: The undeaf.


      Diamanda La Berge Dramm is this year's artist in residence at Music on Main.
      Brendon Heinst

      Diamanda La Berge Dramm

      At the Post at 750 on March 21 and April 7

      Music on Main introduces its 2020 artist in residence, violinist Diamanda La Berge Dramm, with a kitchen party–style concert and then a workshop; the latter also features MoM composer in residence Sabrina Schroeder.

      The Draw: Not only is the Amsterdam-based Dramm winning accolades all over Europe, her parents—composers Anne La Berge and David Dramm—have some serious cred of their own.

      Target Audience: Explorers and geneticists.


      András Schiff

      At the Chan Centre for the Performing Arts on March 22 and the Vancouver Playhouse on March 24

      Would you rather hear one of the world’s deepest pianists play Johann Sebastian Bach or Ludwig van Beethoven? The choice is clear: see both.

      The Draw: If funds or time allow for only one of these Vancouver Recital Society shows, András Schiff’s Goldberg Variations, at the Chan, might be the more revelatory performance. But, still, you’ll want to see both.

      Target Audience: Anyone who’s ever tickled or been tickled by the ivories.


      Beethoven, Mozart & Haydn

      At the Chan Centre for the Performing Arts on April 5

      Celebrate a trio of significant birthdays—Ludwig van Beethoven’s 250th, Early Music Vancouver’s 50th, and the Pacific Baroque Orchestra’s 30th—with a festive selection of baroque and classical masterpieces.

      The Draw: With the Vancouver Cantata Singers, Vancouver Bach Choir, and Vancouver Chamber Choir joining an expanded edition of the PBO, this really will be celebratory.

      Target Audience: Old-school—really old-school—party animals.


      Nadah El Shazly

      At the Western Front on April 11

      Montreal-based singer and composer Nadah El Shazly updates her Egyptian heritage with elements of electronic music, sampling, and improvisation.

      The Draw: El Shazly weaves vintage recordings from Egypt into her sound, offering a multifaceted take on music that’s not often heard on the West Coast.

      Target Audience: Time-travellers and the culturally open.


      The Peaceable Kingdom: Songs of Earth

      At the Blusson Spinal Cord Centre on April 18

      Shamanism, protest, and harmony all factor into the final concert of the Vancouver Cantata Singers’ season, with one possible highlight being local composer Iman Habibi’s Iranian-flavoured Colour of Freedom.

      The Draw: The Blusson atrium’s extraordinary acoustics, and the voice of soloist Amir Haghighi.

      Target Audience: Loving souls.


      Another Brick in the Wall: The Opera

      At the Queen Elizabeth Theatre from April 23 to May 2

      Vancouver Opera opens its annual festival with a splashy, Quebec-generated reconceptualization of Pink Floyd mastermind Roger Waters’s most iconic album.

      The Draw: A “serious music” treatment of some serious music, with themes that are even more relevant today than they were in 1979.

      Target Audience: Anybody out there.



      At the Chan Centre for the Performing Arts on April 24

      At once ancient-sounding and thrillingly contemporary, Ireland’s M’ANAM joins Vancouver’s Chor Leoni for the opening concert in the latter’s annual VanMan Male Choral Summit.

      The Draw: Stunning voices exploring a more contemplative side of Celtic music.

      Target Audience: Men, and those of any gender who love them.


      The Voice of the Sky

      At St. Philip’s Anglican Church on April 24

      The adept and innovative musica intima choir looks at the mysterious power of the world above our heads, in a program that will range from the airy to the thunderous.

      The Draw: New music from Turning Point Ensemble cofounder Owen Underhill, with texts by sky-scraping architect Antonio Gaudí.

      Target Audience: Listeners in need of uplift.


      The Elektra Women's Choir brings 10 Canadian composers aboard to turn an otherworldly book into a multimedia performance.

      The Lost Words: A Spell Book

      At the Orpheum Annex on May 6 and 7

      The Elektra Women’s Choir hosts a multimedia realization of author Robert Macfarlane and illustrator Jackie Morris’s charming and otherworldly alphabet book, The Lost Words, with music from 10 acclaimed Canadian composers.

      The Draw: Music, art, and natural history combine in a loving celebration of life.

      Target Audience: Those who look outside their screens.


      Beethoven 8 Plus Symphonic Mandolin

      At the Centennial Theatre on May 7, the Bell Performing Arts Centre on May 8, and the Orpheum on May 9

      The Vancouver Symphony Orchestra’s yearlong exploration of Beethoven’s legacy continues with his Symphony No. 8, but even more exciting is the presence of Israeli mandolinist Avi Avital.

      The Draw: The finest classical mandolinist of our time.

      Target Audience: Mandolin fans ready to pick something beyond bluegrass.


      This Delicate Universe

      At the Chan Centre for the Performing Arts on May 8

      The Vancouver Chamber Choir wraps up a strong first season under new artistic director Kari Turunen by joining forces with its junior associates in the Vancouver Youth Choir.

      The Draw: The deathless poetry of the Egyptian writer Constantine Cavafy, set to equally compelling cross-cultural music from Seattle’s Eric Banks.

      Target Audience: Text-lovers and texturalists.


      Adrian Verdejo

      At the Orpheum Annex on May 9

      Fierce on electric and tender on acoustic, guitarist Adrian Verdejo is developing a unique new voice on the world’s most overplayed and underexploited instrument.

      The Draw: This Vancouver New Music presentation features new and nearly new compositions from Rodney Sharman, Peter Hannan, and the appropriately named Wolf Edwards.

      Target Audience: Eclectic adventurers.


      The Dream Trio

      At West Point Grey United Church on May 14 and 15, and at Pyatt Hall on May 17

      Vetta Chamber Music violinist and artistic director Joan Blackman isn’t kidding; when pianist Arthur Rowe and cellist Eugene Osadchy join her for these three concerts, she really will be living the dream.

      The Draw: The remarkably attentive musical interplay of three masters.

      Target Audience: Close listeners.


      In the Distance

      At SFU Woodward’s Fei and Milton Wong Experimental Theatre on May 16 and 17

      Thanks to a two-year collaboration with Zagreb’s Cantus Ensemble, Vancouver’s Turning Point Ensemble presents a rare survey of Croatia’s compositional scene.

      The Draw: Cantus’s Berislav Šipuš will conduct, to ensure genuine Croatian flavour.

      Target Audience: Slavs to the rhythm.


      Sound of Dragon Festival

      At the Roundhouse Community Arts and Recreation Centre and the Orpheum Annex from June 4 to 7

      Vancouver’s biennial festival of innovative Asian music returns, with highlights including the PEP duo of erhu virtuoso Nicole Li and pianist Corey Hamm; a cross-country collaboration between our own Orchid Ensemble and Montreal’s ultra-diverse OktoEcho; and Mongolian master Tamir Hargana.

      The Draw: Throat singing and horsehead fiddle. Who could ask for more?

      Target Audience: Ears wide open.