There may be other words for the state of art music in Vancouver, but this year a “glut” seems most appropriate. Whether it’s because our town is finally becoming both cosmopolitan and sophisticated (if distressingly unaffordable), or because there’s been an influx of new blood into some of our most cherished cultural institutions, or because programmers have taken advantage of all that once-in-a-lifetime Canada 150 cash, we’ve never seen a season like this.
Particularly welcome are the return of year-round programming to the Vancouver Opera schedule, and the torrent of new and experimental compositions that will be presented as part of the International Society for Contemporary Music’s annual conference, held here for the first time and cohosted by Music on Main. We’ll try to preview some of the many must-catch events in the weeks leading up to that event, but for now here are 25 places where you might want to park your ears.
At the Orpheum on September 22 and 23
The VSO’s season opener promises greatness—and something for everyone, too.
The Draw: The North American debut of Vancouver Symphony Orchestra music director Bramwell Tovey’s title piece; accomplished former VSO concertmaster Dale Barltrop’s Australian String Quartet playing John Adams’s Absolute Jest for String Quartet and Orchestra; and Peter Ilich Tchaikovsky’s tempestuous Symphony No. 5 in E Minor.
Target Audience: Everyone. Didn’t I just say that?
At the Orpheum on September 25
Members of the VSO—and the Australian String Quartet, too—will barely have time to catch their breath before returning to the Orpheum in the company of the brilliant, if showy, Chinese pianist Lang Lang.
The Draw: Lang plans to double your pleasure by performing the music of Tchaikovsky, Leonard Bernstein, and George Gershwin alongside his 14-year-old protégé Maxim Lando.
Target Audience: Everyone knocked out by the orchestra’s season-opener.
20C Remix Concert
At UBC’s Roy Barnett Recital Hall on September 27
Let Standing Wave set you up for a busy season of new-music merriment with this noon-hour survey of the 20th-century avant-garde.
The Draw: Olivier Messiaen, Steve Reich, and Slayer’s Jeff Hanneman, reinvented by the likes of Jordan Nobles, Jennifer Butler, and Edward Top—and all for a mere five bucks.
Target Audience: Students, with or without UBC ID.
At the Chan Centre for the Performing Arts on October 1
The Vancouver Recital Society’s season is heavy on pianists both emerging and acclaimed, but only Korea’s Yekwon Sunwoo has the distinction of having won the 2017 edition of the prestigious Van Cliburn International Piano Competition.
The Draw: An instrumentalist who some consider the world’s best in the under-30 category.
Target Audience: Digital thrill-seekers.
At the Centre in Vancouver for Performing Arts on October 10
Technically speaking, it’s a Vancouver International Film Festival event, but it should be entirely possible to enjoy the Kronos Quartet’s live soundtrack for Guy Maddin’s The Green Fog: A San Francisco Fantasia with one’s eyes closed.
The Draw: Jacob Garchik’s score for this homage to Alfred Hitchcock will sound even better with visuals attached.
Target Audience: Eyes and ears wide open.
At the Queen Elizabeth Theatre from October 13 to 21
Vancouver Opera’s inaugural spring festival was an artistic success, but there are many who consider the company’s return to year-round production an even better gift.
The Draw: Giacomo Puccini’s final score, which here will feature high drama in ancient China, Marcelo Puente singing “Nessun Dorma”, and a welcome distraction from the onset of winter.
Target Audience: Ariatics.
At the Vancouver Playhouse on October 14
Think “Frédéric Chopin” and the mind almost invariably goes to the piano, but this Vancouver Chopin Society presentation is something else again.
The Draw: Maria Pomianowska and her Polish folk players join a dance troupe, a chamber orchestra, and a bevy of local world-music virtuosos to reinterpret the great composer’s life and roots.
Target Audience: Globetrotters and time-travellers.
Pavel Haas Quartet
At the Vancouver Playhouse on October 22
These Czech players are among the best of the new European quartets—and are sure to be one of the highlights of a solid Friends of Chamber Music season.
The Draw: Early modernist masterpieces from Igor Stravinsky, Maurice Ravel, and Antonín Dvorák.
Target Audience: Chamber-music connoisseurs.
At the Western Front on October 25
Will pianistic marvels never cease? Intense and acrobatic keyboardist Matt Mitchell plays the music of his Snakeoil bandleader Tim Berne in a rare solo setting.
The Draw: Sounds that split the difference between New York improvisation and the new-music avant garde.
Target Audience: Anyone aware of Mitchell’s brilliant solo album, Førage.
At the Chan Centre for the Performing Arts on October 28
The astonishing percussionist Zakir Hussain has assembled a cast of Bollywood veterans and improv greats in a program that examines the almost century-old interplay between jazz and Indian classical music.
The Draw: Dave Holland is the bassist. Has the man ever played a bad note?
Target Audience: Genre-benders of all sorts.
At the Orpheum on October 28, 29, and 30
Leading contemporary-music percussionist Evelyn Glennie joins the VSO to perform American composer Jennifer Higdon’s Percussion Concerto.
The Draw: Glennie’s unique ability to interpret complex and challenging music despite being deaf—the barefoot performer hears through her soles (and other body parts).
Target Audience: Listeners in search of sole food—and admirers of Dmitri Shostakovich, whose Symphony No. 10 in E Minor is also on the bill.
At the Chan Centre for the Performing Arts on October 29
With Orfeo, Claudio Monteverdi essentially invented opera, while reinvigorating one of the most enduring myths of ancient Greece.
The Draw: This Early Music Vancouver production features Seattle’s Pacific MusicWorks, under the direction of the always-inspiring Stephen Stubbs, plus Vancouver’s own Colin Balzer in the title role.
Target Audience: Mythomanes.
ISCM World New Music Days
At various venues from November 2 to 8
The International Society for Contemporary Music brings its annual conference to Vancouver for the first time, giving local listeners a week-long glut of the latest and best.
The Draw: Music on Main’s astute artistic director, David Pay, curates performances by Lori Freedman, the Bozzini Quartet, Red Chamber, Turning Point Ensemble, NOW Ensemble, the VSO, and many, many more.
Target Audience: Anyone interested in getting a graduate degree in contemporary music almost overnight.
At the Centre in Vancouver for Performing Arts on November 2
The ISCM World New Music Days’ opening-night gala features the National Arts Centre Orchestra, and it’s not to be missed.
The Draw: Four Canadian women’s lives—from the tragic to the triumphant—are celebrated in sound by four accomplished Canadian composers: Jocelyn Morlock, Zosha Di Castri, John Estacio, and Nicole Lizeé.
Target Audience: Feminists and sensation-seekers, categories that are by no means mutually exclusive.
One Last Song
At West Vancouver United Church and St. Andrew’s-Wesley United Church on November 11
Chor Leoni’s annual Remembrance Day concert is both a heart-tugging celebration of valour and a heartfelt prayer for peace.
The Draw: Massed male voices delivering a message of hope, not an ultimatum for war.
Target Audience: True patriots of all countries and cultures.
At the Vancouver Playhouse on November 19
Have we mentioned that the Vancouver Recital Society is this year’s go-to source for awesome pianists?
The Draw: In the first of a four-concert series, the magnificent Paul Lewis compares and contrasts classical masterpieces from Franz Joseph Haydn, Ludwig van Beethoven, and Johannes Brahms.
Target Audience: Perfectionists.
At the Roundhouse Community Arts and Recreation Centre on November 25
Parallels, a new community-based initiative organized in part by Vancouver New Music, pairs eclectic pianist Uri Caine with a string quartet and members of the Vancouver Electronic Ensemble.
The Draw: An uncategorizable blend of classical music, jazz improvisation, and ambient soundscapes.
Target Audience: Explorers.
Music for the Winter Solstice
At Heritage Hall on December 14 and 15
Two of the sweetest nights of the year offer a creative respite from the usual holiday frenzy.
The Draw: New work from Music on Main composer in residence Nicole Lizeé, and a chance to sing with friends in a pleasingly reverberant space.
Target Audience: Nonconformists and nonconsumers.
Bach to the Future: The Legacy of the Fugue
At Christ Church Cathedral on January 12
Thanks in large part to Canada’s own Glenn Gould, the music of Johann Sebastian Bach is now omnipresent—but it wasn’t always so, and it was Felix Mendelssohn who first raised Bach’s music from obscurity.
The Draw: New York’s Diderot String Quartet plays two of Mendelssohn’s fugal meditations, along with Bach’s own Art of the Fugue in this Early Music Vancouver concert.
Target Audience: Structuralists.
VSO New Music Festival
At various venues from January 18 to 22
It’s impossible to pick favourites when it comes to this remarkably well curated survey of all things new, but it would be hard to go wrong when the VSO and and the Pacific Baroque Orchestra collaborate on a concert of New Music for Old Instruments at Christ Church Cathedral on January 19.
The Draw: Johann Sebastian Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 5, and Bramwell Tovey’s as-yet-untitled fantasia on the same.
Target Audience: Historically informed modernists.
Songs of Insurrection
At the Fox Cabaret on January 22 and 23
Music on Main presents pianist Daan Vandewalle, playing pianist-composer Frederic Rzewski’s provocative and powerful arrangements of revolutionary songs from German concentration camps, Korean peasant rebellions, and the Civil Rights struggle.
The Draw: Indelible melodies embedded in a radically new piano matrix.
Target Audience: Those aware that society as well as sound must change.
Rivers of Light: Choral Explorations
At Dunbar Ryerson United Church on January 26
The Vancouver Chamber Choir offers a crash course in choral music old and new.
The Draw: A program that spans everything from Renaissance master Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina to his 21st-century counterpart, Ēriks Ešenvalds.
Target Audience: The chorally curious.
Vancouver Bach Choir
At the Orpheum on February 17
Yes, there’s the annual Messiah at the Orpheum on December 9, but we’re more excited about getting to hear Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 9 in D Major early in the following year.
The Draw: One of the greatest—if not the greatest—choral symphonies ever written.
Target Audience: Emotional old souls.
VSO Spring Festival
At the Orpheum from March 17 to 26
The Vancouver Symphony Orchestra’s vernal frolic is less thematically coherent than in past years, in part because it’s mostly devoted to music popularized by the adventurous and eclectic Leonard Bernstein.
The Draw: There are a number of draws, actually, including Pinchas Zukerman playing the music of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, and VSO music director Bramwell Tovey conducting Bernstein’s West Side Story.
Target Audience: Everyone, except maybe hard-core adventurers—and even they might appreciate a chance to revisit Carmina Burana.
At Heritage Hall and St. Philip’s Anglican Church on April 13 and 15
The eight singers of Vancouver’s musica intima join forces with four alumni and an equal number of newcomers to pay tribute to the choir’s 25th anniversary.
The Draw: This show’s title could just as well refer to musica intima’s elegant sound as to the choir’s age.
Target Audience: Precious metalheads.