Spring Arts Preview 2023: Music critics' picks

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      This past week Vancouver looked more like an Arctic winter wonderland than one of the most famously mild and temperate cities in Canada. There were upsides—because swaths of 1984’s Amadeus take place in snowy Salzburg, there’s something oddly soothing about shovelling a walkway to the film’s best-of-Mozart soundtrack. That said, enough already. Bring on the spring and the following musical highlights because, s beautiful as the snow can be, sometimes you’re ready for the sun and the flowers.

      PopCappella III

      At St. Andrew’s-Wesley United Church March 3-4

      Working with composer Marie-Claire Saindon and Vancouver A-listers like bassist Jodi Proznick, pianist Ken Cormier, and percussionist Liam MacDonald, Chor Leoni finds the sweet spot between choral music and classic pop. The Draw: Reimagined versions of the songs that make the basis for a great road-trip playlist no matter what your age, including smashes by Adele, Simon & Garfunkel, Kate Bush, BTS, and, believe it or not, AC/DC.

      The Rite of Spring

      At the Orpheum March 10 and 12, and Bell Performing Arts Centre on March 11

      It sounds like something from the fantastically horrific Midsommar: as part of a series of spring rituals that might charitably be described as primitive, a young girl is chosen to be a sacrificial victim, and then proceeds to dance herself to death. There’s a reason the then-avant-garde The Rite of Spring sent shock waves through Paris when it debuted in 1913. Here the VSO not only dives into Igor Stravinsky’s epic masterpiece, but expands on the theme of seasonal renewal with Rodney Sharman’s After Schumann, and Bloom, a double-koto-centred new work by Japanese-Canadian composer Rita Ueda. The Draw: It’s been a long dark winter, where Netflix and the sofa have been your two best friends. Now’s the time to start officially celebrating spring, focussing on the idea of starting fresh rather than, you know, dancing yourself to death.

      Our Hearts in the Highlands

      At Christ Church Cathedral on March 11

      If your idea of a perfect night at St. David’s Hall includes “Cymru Fach” and “Loch Lomond” then the Vancouver Welsh Men’s Choir speaks your language—in this case, two of them. Featuring songs in Welsh and good olde English and directed by Jonathan Quick, Our Hearts in the Highlands helps kick off the 2023 edition of Celtic Fest, which will have music, art, crafts, and other activities centred this year at the Vancouver Art Gallery March 17-18. The Draw: While, admittedly, a packed-to-the-walls Dundee pub would be a truly unbeatable setting, there’s also something magical—and spiritual—about the idea of singing along to “Skye Boat Song” at Christ Church.

      Angele Hewitt.

      Angela Hewitt: Bach, Brahms, and Scarlatti

      At the Chan Centre for the Performing Arts on March 12

      While classical doesn’t get much bigger than two of the names here, Canadian piano legend Angela Hewitt joins Early Music Vancouver to turn a spotlight on the lesser-known Doménico Scarlatti. Works of the 18th century Italian piano virtuoso will lead off the program, after which Bach’s English Suite No. 6 in D minor and Brahm’s Sonata in F minor Op. 5 take cente stage. The Draw: Great as it is to see Scarlatti’s work getting the attention it deserves, there’s a reason Hewitt is considered one of the world’s foremost interpreters of Bach. 

      Zakir Hussain and Masters of Percussion

      At the Orpheum on March 19

      If not for the long and deservedly celebrated history of the showcase, Zakir Hussain might be seen as cockily overpromising with the very name of his Masters of Percussion travelling caravan. But with a lineup that includes Indian sarangi royalty Sabir Khan, French djembe ace Melissa Hié, dholak virtuoso Navin Sharma, and Columbia’s multi-talented Tupac Mantilla, one would be hard-pressed to come up with a better title for the showcase. The Draw: In the driver’s seat for Masters of Percussion is Hussain, who’s collaborated with everyone from Mickey Hart to the Symphony Orchestra of India, taught at Princeton and Stanford, and been named “Best Percussionist” honours more than once by the critics at publications like Downbeat and Modern Drummer.


      At the Orpheum on April 2

      Calgary-raised piano great Jane Coop joins the Vancouver Chamber Choir to celebrate the return of the season famous on the West Coast for miles of tulips, Instagram-ready cherry-blossoms and, best of all, more than 16 seconds of sun per day. Centred around the idea of rejuvenation, SPRINGTIME fittingly features three new works: The VCC–commissioned Ay li lu (somewhere in infinity) by Swedish composer Jacob Mühlrad; the four-movement Blake’s “Seasons” by Toronto-based Colin Eatock; and a piece by Iman Habibi jointly commissioned by Coop and the VCC. The Draw: Take one of the country’s longest-running choral ensembles (the Vancouver Chamber Choir is celebrating its 49th season) and then add a Canadian classical giant in Coop. That the trees and flowers will be adding a much-needed splash of colour to the city as you head to the Orpheum doesn’t hurt either.

      The Vancouver Bach Choir.

      Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis

      At the Orpheum on April 8

      Not only considered one of Ludwig Van Beethoven’s most important and respected works, Missa Solemnis is also seen as the greatest mass this side of Bach’s Mass in B Minor. By turns spine-chillingly bombastic and quietly sublime, the piece will serve as a backdrop for Easter Weekend, with the Vancouver Bach Choir joined by the West Coast Symphony Orchestra. The Draw: Consider all that Beethoven accomplished in life—only starting with Symphony No. 9, Symphony No. 5, and Violin Concerto in D—and then think about the fact that Missa Solemnis holds its own against his beloved immortals.

      The Flying Dutchman

      At the Queen Elizabeth Theatre April 29-May 7

      Depending on one’s tolerance for giant waves, fresh salt-water air, and seafood, it sounds like either a beautiful fever dream or the worst thing this side of a spring of 2020 PANDEMIC boat cruise. In Richard Wagner’s The Flying Dutchman the title character is a sea captain stuck on a ghost ship for eternity, his one break on land coming every seven years, when he has a window in which to fall in love and break the cycle. The problem?  Being able to find true love instantly isn’t easy when you’re basically at sea 24-7 and no one has invented Tinder yet. Les Dala conducts and Greg Dahl stars in this Vancouver Opera production directed by Brian Deedrick. The Draw: Everyone loves a ghost ship—until you’re trapped on one.