Vancouver Bach Festival Wraps In Tribute to Saint Cecilia

After 11 days of beautiful music, the Vancouver Bach Festival came to a close last week with a celebration of the patron saint of musicians. Early Music Vancouver (EMV) presented Purcell Hail! Bright Cecilia at Chan Centre for Performing Arts at UBC.

Composed by English Composer Henry Purcell in 1692 to a text by Nicholas Brady, in honour of the feast of Saint Cecilia, it seems appropriate to wrap the festival and celebrate EMV 50th Anniversary with the work.

Pacific Baroque Orchestra photo: Jan Gates

The evening’s program was lead off by the Pacific Baroque Orchestra, led my music director Alexander Weiman, performing excerpts from “The Tempest” by Matthew Locke and John Blow’s “Welcome, Every Guest” featuring sopranos Dorothee Mields and Suzie LeBlanc.

After an interval, for the title performance, the Orchestra was joined again by sopranos Mields and Leblanc, as well as altos Alex Potter and Nicholas Burns, tenors Samuel Boden and Jonathan Quick, baritone Sumner Thompson, bass-baritone Matthew Brook. Backed by the 20 piece orchestra the singers performed in a variety of solos, duos and troupe through the work’s 13 movements. Hail! Bright Cecilia is a lively entertaining work, even after more than 3 centuries. The ever changing movements, varying singers and instruments makes Purcell’s work an accessible, engaging work for audience members new to the genre and Vancouver Bach Festival as a whole.

As a work created to celebrate the patron saint of musician makes Hail! Bright Cecilia the perfect cap on the 2019 Vancouver Bach Festival, which itself celebrates one of the greatest Baroque composers and musicians, as well as the beginning of EMVs 50th season.

If you missed the Vancouver Bach Festival, watch for Early Music Vancouver’s next presentation; Le Concert Spirituel: Baroque Orchestral Suites featuring Jeanne Lamon, Saturday September 29, 2019.

It’s A Wonderful Life brings music to Gateway Theatre

Gateway Theatre brings the holiday tradition, It’s A Wonderful Life, to the stage, until December 31, 2018.

Based on Frank Capra’s 1946 film, Peter Jorgensen has adapted a new musical production with music from the 1920s, ‘30s, and ‘40s by some of the greatest songwriters of the period, from George and Ira Gershwin to Kurt Weill.  The Gateway Theatre also brings a wonderful 10-piece orchestra, conducted by Angus Kellett, onstage to fill the theatre with the live sounds of the holiday favourites and Broadway classics. 

Jorgensen has created a playlist for It’s A Wonderful Life that is bookended by the familiar Christmas carol “It Came Upon The Midnight Clear” and “Auld Lang Syne”, and in between a selection of tunes that will be familiar to some, and brand new to others.  Nico Rhodes’ arrangements and orchestrations are lush and help to create the mood of the scenes, the songs’ lyrics fit with the spirit of the scene but don’t necessarily do much to move the already slow story along.  As with the film, the story is a slow burn, at once nostalgic but also melancholy, until the last scenes reveal with the heartfelt message about family and friends.

The story starts with George Bailey’s (Nick Fontaine) life at a crossroads and recaps what leads him to this point. Fontaine has a commanding stage presence and voice, but rather than making George Bailey his own, it felt like he was trying to emulate the great Jimmy Stewart. While he found a similar voice to Stewart, he didn’t quite nail the emotional range, instead seemed to be perpetually perturbed.  As George’s wife, Mary, Studio 58 student Erin Palm is a stand-out in her Gateway debut, charismatic and possessing a voice beautifully suited for the standards. Just like we could all use an angel on our shoulders, It’s A Wonderful Life was at its best when Clarence, the Angel, played by Greg Armstrong-Morris, was involved.  Armstrong-Morris brought a fun, kind-hearted portrayal of the wingless angel.  Gateway Theatre’s Artistic Director Jovanni Sy does triple-duty as George Bailey’s father, the sheriff of Bedford Falls and the villainous Mr Potter.  The evil Potter allowed Sy to have some fun with the egomaniacal character, he just needed a moustache to twirl.

Fans of It’s A Wonderful Life, the film, will find something new to add to their holiday repertoire with this new musical adaptation.  It’s A Wonderful Life, the musical plays at Gateway Theatre, 6500 Gilbert Road, Richmond, until December 31, 2018.


A Night at the Movies with China Broadcasting Film Symphony Orchestra

Cinema In Concert with CBFSO

The China Broadcasting Film Symphony Orchestra (CBFSO), brings the sounds of movies to The Orpheum Theatre on January 12th for one night only.

The Canada-China Culture Development Association presents an evening of cinematic masterpieces.  Cinema In Concert find the internationally-renowned CBFSO, led by acclaimed conductor Pang Ka Pang, performing dramatic scores from Oscar-winning films, while iconic scenes are projected above them.  One of China’s oldest and finest symphony orchestras, the 80-member ensemble will bring life to film scores of five Academy Award winning composers, including Braveheart, Casablanca, Jurassic WorldLegends of the Fall, and Pirates of the Caribbean, as well as works from China’s cinema.

CBFSO Conductor Pang Ka Pang

Since forming in 1949, the CBFS Orchestra has performed and recorded music of nearly 2,000 films, TV dramas and documentaries. First touring abroad in 1992, the orchestra has now performed in more than 40 countries on five continents, working closely with renowned conductors, composers, dancers and performers.

During its performance at The Orpheum, the 80-piece orchestra will perform with special guest soloists from  the local Vancouver music community, including the 100-member local community choral group, the Vancouver Folk Song and Dance Troupe.

Cinema in Concert with the China Broadcasting Film Symphony Orchestra takes place Friday, January 12, 2018 at 8pm at The Orpheum Theatre in Vancouver. Tickets are on sale at

Handel’s Messiah from Early Music Vancouver

This weekend, Early Music Vancouver (EMV) presented Handel’s Messiah for the first time in their repertoire.  EMV welcomes music lovers to four performances over the weekend, at the White Rock Baptist Church, Vancouver Playhouse and Kay Meek Centre in West Vancouver.  Virtually sold out for the whole run,  there was definitely an appetite for the classic work.

Pacific Baroque Orchestra photo: Jan Gates

Since Handel wrote Messiah in 1742, the oratorio has been performed countless times due to its enduring popularity and familiarity of the famed Hallelujah Chorus.  Over the years the productions of Messiah have swelled to epic proportions, with some performances reaching orchestras and choruses of 100+, as the producers tried to outdo other versions.  EMV had a trimmed down vision for their first foray into the Baroque work.  Music director and harpsichordist Alexander Weimann lead the 20 piece Pacific Baroque Orchestra, playing period instruments. The 30 member Vancouver Cantata Singers, nimbly brought the chorus to life .  Bringing extensive experience in Baroque music, four internationally acclaimed vocalists joined the EMV ensemble;  Yulia Van Doren (soprano), Krisztina Szabó (mezzo-soprano), Charles Daniels (tenor), and Tyler Duncan (baritone).

Vancouver Cantata Singers

Watching our first full performance of Handel’s Messiah, I wasn’t sure what to expect, other than knowing it was a long work.  I was happy to find that while it was long at nearly 3 hours, EMV’s Handel’s Messiah was a fast paced (impressively so, at times), easy to grasp classical work.  The Chorus, and soloists filled the room with their voices and the orchestra was tightly rehearsed to sound as one. Of course, a highlight was the Hallelujah Chorus, bringing the audience to their feet for the uplifting moment.

With the popularity of these performances, I won’t be surprised to see Handel’s Messiah on next year’s Early Music Vancouver calendar. In the meantime, get another Seasonal music experience when EMV presents Festive Cantatas – Vivaldi – Gloria & Magnificat on December 23rd at The Chan Centre for Performing Arts.

Vancouver Christmas Concerts for 2017

Christmas has a long association with music;  carols, hymns and cantatas, bringing spirit to the Season’s concerts.  Calendars are filled with school and church concerts, and to help you get in the song-filled spirit, here’s a list of concerts around Vancouver to take in this Season for your listening pleasure:

Handel’s Messiah: Friday December 1 & Saturday December 2, 2017, Vancouver Playhouse
Early Music Vancouver presents Messiah for the first time, with Pacific Baroque Orchestra and Vancouver Cantata Singers.

Kenny G The Miracles Holiday & Hits Tour: December 3, 2017, Queen Elizabeth Theatre
Award winning instrumentalist Kenny G performs some of his biggest hits as well as holiday classics from his best-selling Miracles: The Holiday Album.

A Jann Arden Christmas with the VSO:  Wednesday, December 6, 2017, Orpheum Theatre
Join Canadian pop songstress as she joins the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra for an evening of song and her quick wit.

A Traditional Christmas: Friday December 8, Saturday December 9, 2017, Sta Andrew’s Wesley Church, plus dates all around Metro Vancouver through December 17th.
Join the VSO and host Christopher Gaze (Bard on the Beach) for the 25th Anniversary of this Christmas favourite.

Making Spirits Bright with Vancouver Men’s Chorus

Vancouver Men’s Chorus are Making Spirits Bright:

Saturday December 9, Sunday December 10, Thursday December 14, Friday December 15, 2017, St Paul’s Anglican Church
Are you naughty or nice? Doesn’t matter the VMC will entertain you for their lighthearted Christmas concerts.

Good Noise Vancouver Gospel Choir by Leigh Righton.

Good Tidings, a Good Noise Gospel Christmas:  Friday December 15 and Saturday December 16, 2017, Christ Church Cathedral
Good Noise Vancouver Gospel Choir with special guest vocalist Maureen Washington and the 90 voice choir bring joy of the season.

Christmas with Chor Leoni: Friday December 15 and Monday December 18, 2017, St Andrew’s Wesley Church (twice/night)
A Christmas tradition to gather friends and family together to enjoy old Christmas favourites and encounter new ones as sung by the men’s choir.

Festive Cantatas – Vivaldi – Gloria and Magnificat: Saturday December 23, 2017, Chan Shun Concert Hall at Chan Centre for Performing Arts
Early Music Vancouver presents Vivaldi’s Gloria and Magnificat as they were originally performed, by an all-female ensemble.

Vancouver Symphony Orchestra – Harry Potter Live Film Series

This weekend, the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra (VSO) played the second edition of the Harry Potter Film Series; Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets live.  A full house at the Orpheum Theatre was filled with fans of the Potterverse.

Plenty of little wizards in robes roamed tried hard to contain their excitement as prepared to watch the second movie of the series, with the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra lead by guest conductor Justin Freer perform the film’s score live.  Perfectly in sync with the film, the live orchestra gave more depth to the film score and filled the auditorium with the familiar notes.  As the film progressed, the orchestra members faded into the background as the action took the fore and the music meshed perfectly.

VSO’s Harry Potter Live Film Series continues with the third film in the cinematic phenomenon, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, July 13, 14 & 15, 2017. Tickets go on sale for part three April 19th.

The cinema also comes to the Orpheum May 10 and 11 when VSO at the Movies celebrates the 35th Anniversary of E.T. The Extra Terrestrial. Conductor Constantine Kitsopoulos leads the orchestra through John Williams classic sci-fi score.

For more information and tickets visit 

VSO Pops – As Heard On TV

VSOPops_2016-01-08, 19 52 47Last Friday, I was treated to my first visit to hear the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, for the VSO Pops performance “As Heard On TV”.

Guest conductor, Steve Reineke, musical director of The New York Pops, brought extra swing and charisma to the show as he lead the VSO through the show which highlighted music from television. Starting off with a History Of TV Overture, the opening number took the audience on an aural history of TV themes, from the 50’s to today; I Love Lucy, The Dick Van Dyke Show, Bonanza, Bewitched, I Dream of Jeannie, M*A*S*H, The Simpsons, X-Files and many more.  The nostalgic Overture has something for everyone’s television theme memories.   Conductor Reineke then introduces vocalist Christina Biano, making her Vancouver debut, for a medley from the musical show Smash and a singing Petula Clark’s “Downtown” during the tribute The Ed Sullivan Show which also included a orchestral medley of Beatles tunes.  Highlights from Game Shows and Sports with the Hockey Night in Canada and the Olympic Fanfare.  British TV was represented by the themes from Monty Python;s Flying Circus and Downton Abbey.
Christina Bianco, the award-nominated stage musical singer has gained a huge YouTube following for her amazing vocal impressions which she showcased during a multi-voiced rendition of Neverland from Peter Pan; featuring her voices of Celine Dion, Kristen Chenoweth, Julie Andrews, Liza Minelli, Britney Spears and many more.  More TV theme favourites were featured during a sing-a-long segment with the words to the themes played on screen for the audience to join in.
Children’s TV brought a twinge of nostalgia to the audience with a tribute to Jim Henson with the Sesame Street, The Muppets and Fraggle Rock themes. Ms Bianco wrapped up the show with more of her vocal skills on a Judy Garland Show segment.  No TV theme show performance would be complete without The Golden Girls theme which found the audience joining in to sing during the encore.

As a TV junky, As Heard On TV was a perfect first visit to the VSO for me but it definitely won’t be my last.