Saturday, October 26, 2013

Heads Roll At Edmonton Opera's Salome

Edmonton Opera opens its 50th season with a striking offering: Salome. It is a one-act, no intermission, Opera that runs less than two hours. The story centers around Salome's lunacy as she wants the one thing she cannot have which, in this case, happens to be the affections of prophet, St. John the Baptist. She stares into the fragmented moon and mirror, trying to piece herself together throughout the Opera. While there is an array of supporting characters: Herod, Narraboth, Priests, and Slaves... the story is truly about Salome.

The stage is striking. Chains are suspended from the ceiling, creating the walls of the cage on stage that surrounds the characters. The hollow metallic rustle introduces an eeriness to the entire stage feel, and depending on the lighting, the chains were able to look like rain in the moonlight or the dripping blood from a severed head. The set design is minimalist but effective for completing the story. One of my favorite moments was when the suspension of red fabric was severed from the ceiling and Salome cloaks herself in red.

Salome is not an easy Opera to stage. The erotic Dance of the 7 Veils has a controversial history. While some sopranos have gone entirely nude for the dance, others Salome's have been replaced with a dancer in order to perform this scene. Edmonton Opera decided to document the process from young girl to womanhood using 6 dancers, as her stepfather, Herod, lusts on as he watches her. However, it is hard to know who has the power.  Herod for treating her like entertainment and property or Salome for manipulating Herod with her sexuality in order to obtain St. John's head.

Regardless, Salome is a brave choice for the Edmonton Opera to launch its 50th season and it is perfectly timed for the arrival of Halloween.

Purchase Tickets Here

Saturday, October 26, 2013 » 8:00pm
Tuesday, October 29, 2013 » 7:30pm
Thursday, October 31, 2013 » 7:30pm

Photography by Nanc Price

Monday, October 14, 2013

The Canadian Chamber Choir Brings Their Voice To BC

Every year, 18 professional choristers unite from across the country to form the Canadian Chamber Choir, under the leadership of conductor, Dr. Julia Davids. Their mandate is to foster choral music performance, perform works by Canadian composers as well as provide education opportunities for apprentice conductors and community workshops. Even though the CCC only assembles for a short time, their temporary presence has the ability to unite individualized pockets of the choral community wherever they visit.

The upcoming New Waters progam by the CCC will take them to Vancouver Island and the lower BC mainland. A feature work on the program revolves around the merging of two Icarus works. When I asked Davids about her inspiration behind pairing these two entities, she likens the design of the program to an artistic process, “sometimes you bump into something at the right time," she states with intuitive clarity. Erik Ross's Icarus in the Sea was initially a blind commission, which meant that Ross could write any piece for any choir and he decided to set poetry by Lorna Crozier to music for the CCC. The story of Icarus is a famous one:

Trapped on the Isle of Crete, Icarus dons wings made of wax in an attempt to escape. Consumed with the grandeur of flight, he ignores his father’s warning not to fly too close to the sun. The wings melt and Icarus falls into the sea ... 

Ross' Icarus in the Sea encapsulates the descent of Icarus and describes the hazy underwater images he sees. The CCC has toured with this piece before but Davids notes “works may completely evolve as we perform them throughout the tour.” The constant evolution and editing process is due in part to the close collaboration between the choir and composers. Sensing the audience focus required in Icarus in the Sea, the choir has since paired their performance with visual movement, choreographed by Claire Leger. Dancer, Matthew Peach, plays Icarus who has wings made out of bamboo and the choir participates in the movement of the performance as well.

Most recently, Davids was referred to work by Vancouver-based composer, Kristopher Fulton. She took a listen to Fulton's Icarus on his website and found it was the perfect compliment to Ross' Icarus in the Sea. Fulton's piece encapsulates a rhythmic excitement and describes the ascension of Icarus into the sky, finishing in D major. Ross' piece, chronicling Icarus' decent, begins in D minor. "I feel like these pieces were meant to be together," Davids says while revealing she has goose bumps just reminiscing about this realization.

The role of music education plays an important role with the CCC. “It’s so much a part of who we are,” Davids states with honesty. Davids custom designs every workshop that the CCC holds. This may include vocal technique discussions or perhaps providing support to male singers in a highschool choir by having the CCC singers modeling different types of tones that can be produced with male voices. “It depends on what the organization needs," for example, “the CCC will function as a lab choir [at UBC] and instead of just conducting a class of their peers, conducting students get to work with a top-level choir and really see what the nuances of their gesture can do and what sort of effect they’ll have on their music when people are really sensitive to what they’re doing.”

Conductors, teachers, composers, pianists, and many other professional comprise the fabric of the CCC. The diversity of the CCC highlights the ability to unite the love of choral music we have across this country. Davids reveals that she wishes to visit communities of all sizes across Canada in the future, citing hopeful tours to Newfoundland, New Brunswick, and Manitoba. 

Until that time, I’d encourage BC audiences to take in performances by the CCC this week. It's always empowering to see local choral communities assemble to greet new voices in town. 

Wednesday, October 16, 2013 

School workshops in the Victoria Area.
In Concert with Victoria’s Vox Humana

Date & Time: October 16th @ 8pm
Venue: St. John the Divine, 1611 Quadra St, Victoria, BC
For tickets and info, visit

Thursday, October 17th, 2013

Workshop with the Douglas College Chamber Choir
Date and Time: October 17th, 2013. @ TBA
Church Choir Workshop
Date and Time:
October 17th, 2013. @ 7pm
Venue: Holy Rosary Cathedral, 646 Richards St, Vancouver, BC
Click here for e-poster

Friday, October 18th, 2013

School workshops in the North Vancouver Area.
Workshop with Capilano University Cap Singers, North Vancouver

Saturday, October 19, 2013 


BC Choral Federation Community Workshop
Kerrisdale Presbyterian Church
2733 W 41st Ave, Vancouver, BC
10:00am – 12:00pm
Click here for e-poster

In Concert at St.Mary’s

Date & Time:
October 19th @ 7:30pm
Venue: St. Mary’s Kerrisdale, 2490 West 37 Ave., Vancouver, BC
Cost: $25
Tickets can be purchased here
Sunday, October 20, 2013
Date & Time: October 20th, @ 11am
VenueHoly Rosary Cathedral, 646 Richards St, Vancouver, BC

Thursday, October 10, 2013

It's All in the Community


The first production of the season with Pro Coro Canada was a special one. Instead of just blogging my whole rehearsal process, I decided to immerse myself in the experience and see what thoughts surfaced as a result. The one that has been lingering in my mind is the concept of artistic collaboration.

Pro Coro Canada paired with Booming Tree Taiko in order to incorporate taiko drumming within choral pieces. Tormis' "Curse Upon the Iron," R Murray Schafer's "Magic Songs," and Eric Whitacre's "Cloudburst" was infused with an array of varying taiko drums. Two seemingly unrelated artistic forms: choir and taiko drumming paired perfectly together. It was as if the pieces should have been written to incorporate the dramatic forms of taiko drumming expression. The sheer showmanship of power and grace demonstrated by Booming Tree Taiko duo, Greg and Twilla, elevated the performance.
Booming Tree Taiko
Pro Coro also commissioned a piece from Vancouver-based composer, Kristopher Fulton. Pro Coro's Artistic Director, Michael Zaugg, met with Kris to discuss the inspiration for the commission, which led Michael to introduce Kris to the Belgian Graphic Novel, Twilight Cities or Les Cités obscures. The visual images from this series inspired the five part soundscape series for this world.

It is amazing how bringing together two elements eager for artistic collaboration can synthesize such a compelling musical compound. There is a trust within the relationship in addition to the flexibility for exploration and discovery. I loved watching Greg and Twilla try out different percussion sounds they could generate for each of the movements of Schafer's "Magic Songs," each creating a different tone until the desired mood was isolated. I can only imagine the excitement when a unified chord was struck between Michael and Kris to discover their joint passion for artwork and stories.

There is also a sense of discovery that comes from commissioning a Canadian composer. In the last season alone Pro Coro premiered works by Canadian composers, Cy Giacomin, Jason Noble, and Peter Togni. I hadn't even heard of some of these composers prior to singing in Pro Coro. The first time I heard one of Kris' works was at the end of the Cantata Singers' "Sh*t Choristers Say" video. When Kris arrived to rehearsed Twilight Cities, it was a huge luxury to be able to turn to him and ask in an inquisitive tone: "What were you thinking while writing this passage? Did you want the tonality to be in A?"

Kris Fulton with his gifts from the University of Augustana Choir

I vividly remember Michael mentioning how musical collaboration was something he was planning in his Artistic Director role. At the time, it seemed like an excellent thought to me; however, I don't think I truly grasped what it would look like upon execution. Pro Coro's opening concert this season solidified for me what successful collaboration can look like.

The music community is a small one... and the choral one is even smaller. Sometimes it feels like we are pitted against each other, as if only one type of choir with a certain demographic can exist or only one composer's work will be accepted for a commission. Can't we all agree that there are enough external forces making it difficult to thrive as Artists that the last thing we need is animosity between Artists? I know it is not easy when the structure of our system is not always conducive to this thinking. There are only so many pools of audience members and limited grant dollars.

However, I have seen positive things result when we recruit the talents of other artistic community members. We work alongside each other with trust and respect and we are a stronger community because of it. I am not saying that our musical community fails to function in this way. In fact, I am delighted with the sheer frequency of collaborative overlap between groups, but I am also aware of those moments when it isn't so easy to maintain "the more the merrier" philosophy and survival instinct sets in.

We are all looking for a medium to share our music, voice, and culture with the world; it is a great feeling when we are unified in that goal and are able to do it together.