Israeli mandolinist Avi Avital joins Vancouver Symphony Orchestra for a concert in the spring. (photo from vancouversymphony.ca)
The Vancouver Symphony Orchestra’s 101st season opens Sept. 20-21 at the Orpheum Theatre with Canadian diva Adrianne Pieczonka singing Franz Schubert’s orchestrated lieder, including Der Erlkönig (The Elf King), paired with Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 1 (Titan) and the world première of a new work commissioned from Juno-nominated Bekah Simms.
The VSO’s upcoming season also features several performers from the Jewish community, including cellist Gary Hoffman, originally from Vancouver, who provides a definitive interpretation of Edward Elgar’s Cello Concerto. Part of the 2019-2020 Masterworks Gold series, the Nov. 29-30 concert includes Modest Mussorgsky’s Night on Bald Mountain and Jean Sibelius’s Symphony No. 5.
Also as part of this season’s Masterworks Gold series, Gidon Kremer joins the VSO Jan. 31 and Feb. 1 in a performance of Robert Schumann’s Cello Concerto, in a transcription for violin. Anton Bruckner’s fourth and most popular Romantic symphony is part of the program, as is Orpheus by Canadian composer/conductor Samy Moussa.
This season’s Musically Speaking series includes Israeli mandolinist Avi Avital in a May 9 concert of works inspired by Italy, playing Ludwig von Beethoven’s Symphony No. 8, perhaps Beethoven’s most experimental symphony. Likewise, Giovanni Sollima’s new Mandolin Concerto, written for Avital, mashes up musical styles from baroque to rock ’n’ roll. Antonio Vivaldi’s Mandolin Concerto and Igor Stravinsky’s Pulcinella Suite round out the program, which will also be performed in North Vancouver on May 7 and in Surrey on May 8.
On May 22-23, Barenaked Ladies co-founder Steven Page brings an arsenal of songs from his 30-year catalogue for a sweeping set backed by the VSO. Together with trio mates Craig Northey and Kevin Fox, Page will guide audiences through an evening featuring songs from his solo career as well as Barenaked Ladies classics. This concert is part of the London Drugs VSO Pops series.
Brentano String Quartet launches Music in the Morning’s new season at Vancouver Academy of Music Sept. 11-12 and at Christ Church Cathedral Sept. 13. The quartet – Mark Steinberg (violin), Serena Canin (violin), Misha Amory (viola) and Nina Lee (cello) – will perform Ludwig von Beethoven’s String Quartet No.12, Opus 127, one of the pillars of the modern string quartet.
Music in the Morning’s Main Series also features Russell Braun, baritone, with Carolyn Maule, piano (Oct. 9-11); Anagnoson & Kinton, piano duo (Nov. 13-15); the Calmus Ensemble (Dec. 18-20); Stewart Goodyear, piano (Jan. 15-17); Colin Carr, cello, with Thomas Sauer, piano (Feb. 12-14); and Afiara String Quartet (March 18-20).
While the dates of Music in the Morning’s Summer Music Vancouver have not been announced, Noon with June: Lunch with the Artists, now in its second season, starts with an interview by host June Goldsmith of Brentano String Quartet on Sept. 11. The series of four conversations with mainstage artists continues with interviews of James Anagnoson and Leslie Kinton Nov. 13, Calmus Ensemble Dec. 18 and Afiara String Quartet March 18.
Erica Dee curated the show Weaving Voices, which takes place Aug. 9 at CRAB Park at Portside. (photo from Vines Art Festival)
Weaving Voices features Jewish community member Erica Dee, Tonye, Miss Christie Lee, Janelle Reid and Sara Cadeau, with instrumentalists Sean Mitchell and Jonny Tobin. The performance at this year’s Vines Art Festival on Aug. 9 is based on Dee’s singing workshop, Sing for the Soul.
Dee has been offering the group singing classes over the past two years. “This has been one of my favourite projects I have ever created and it has inspired me to write a whole new album and live performance,” Dee told the Independent. “Sometime in 2020, I will release this new project with a new name and it is very different from anything I have performed. It will be a live, multi-sensory experience that is meant for listening rooms and theatres, or parks. And I will activate the spaces with my singing workshop prior to the show and then include the participants in my live performance. I won’t share the name yet, but it does include my family’s name in it.”
Dee’s cultural heritage includes Jewish and Italian roots, and jazz on both sides of the family. Her paternal grandparents are Evelyn Stieglitz (z’l) and Murray Landsberg, who she described as “the sweetest Jewish couple, who met in the Bronx in the 1930s. They were 13 and 15 and they were together until my grandmother past away a couple years ago. My father, Paul Landsberg, is a prolific jazz guitarist, who started his career teaching at Berklee College of Music in Boston, Mass. My mother, Rita Marie, was born to Rita Shirley Dallesandro and Jim Smith. Rita Shirley’s brothers, Frankie and Arthur, started a jazz big band in the ’50s called the Dellasandro’s, where they played saxophone and clarinet.”
Born Erica Dee Landsberg in Boston, Mass., Dee goes by only her first and middles names. She grew up “in the mountains of the Sinixt Territory (Nelson, B.C.). My mother, father, sister and I moved to the Kootenays in 1989 because my father helped start Selkirk College’s music program.”
Expressing her gratitude at being a Canadian citizen, Dee said she first moved to Vancouver in 2005, a couple months after graduating high school. “I followed my passion,” she said, “as I had already been performing and writing and I was ready to move to the big city to expand my artistry. I also followed my heart here, after falling deeply in love with a female DJ and producer who was running Vancouver’s only lesbian bar at the time.”
Dee is a vocalist, DJ, writer and producer. She released her first recording, Golden Mixtape, a combination of remixes and original work, in 2011. Her debut album, New Skies, came out in 2016.
“I am firstly a singer,” she said, “which means I get to connect to my instrument (aka my body) in such a deep and intimate way. I usually have some burst of inspiration come to me, whether it’s a hook, or a bass line, or a drum beat. Then I spend time developing the tone, feeling and resonance. Words usually come after, as I find when I add words to my art, it brings it into the mind and I like to stay in the body for as long as possible.
“As far as production goes, I have been producing music for over 10 years and have yet to release something that is completely self-produced. I use production as another way to get my ideas out, using drum pads, keys and programs like Logic and Ableton, and then eventually collaborate with other musicians and producers to complete the creation.
“Recently,” she added, “I have been creating on a loop pedal, which has taken my artistry to a completely new level. I started DJing when I was 20, when I realized that I could be my own band mate, and started touring a performance where I would sing and MC over top of my DJ sets, fusing together the music that I love and moves me with my originals and remixes.”
Dee collaborates a lot, both in performances and in the creation of new work. Her bio notes that she has “supported and toured with artists such as Lil’ Kim, Mos Def, Quest Love, A Tribe Called Red and Bad Bad Not Good.” Past guest artists have included Snotty Nose Rez Kids and Desiree Dawson.
“I love the magic that happens when artists share space together,” she explained. “Each person is unique, with their own experience, tone, voice, stories and inspirations. It activates every part of my soul to witness artists coming together in this way, harmonizing, improvising, and the dynamics of different voices coming in and out of the music. I always say, sometimes just having another person in the room is enough, without a word shared. I can feel every piece of music they have absorbed since their creation lighting up the space. It is truly is my favourite part about being an artist.”
For the Vines Art Festival show, Dee said, “I have brought together a group of such powerful artists…. Each of these artists shares their stories and truth in such a real and accessible way.”
Dee said she is honoured to be part of the festival, as she really connects to its core values. Part of the festival’s mission is to offer “platforms for local artists and performers to create with and on the land, steering their creative impulses toward work that focuses on the environment – whether a deep love of nature, sustainability, or climate justice.”
“Growing up, I spent a lot of time outside and I find a lot of my inspiration in nature,” said Dee. “I attended Waldorf School as a kid, where I learned how to use my hands to connect and create with the natural world in a sustainable way.
“Since then, I have always had a very strong connection and appreciation for the land I occupy. Wherever I travel, I always take the time to educate myself on whose land I am on and acknowledge that within my show. I use my platform to share information about the social and environmental issues that I feel are important – I actually got fired from a festival in Calgary for speaking about the pipeline and how much harm it will cause to indigenous communities.”
For the performance at Vines, Dee shared that there is going to be “an extra special element.”
Of that element, she said, “I have never done this before and I am so excited. During the first time I sat down with Heather [Lamoureux, the festival’s artistic director], I had a vision and I am really looking forward to bringing it to life!”
Weaving Voices on Aug. 9 takes place at CRAB Park at Portside, at 7 p.m. Other Jewish performers in the festival include mia susan amir, Ariel Martz-Oberlander and Rabbit Richards, and it features more than 80 artists overall, performing at parks throughout the city. Every event is free admission and more information can be found at vinesartfestival.com.
Byron Schenkman performs in the concert called Chopin Preludes on Aug. 1 at Christ Church Cathedral. (photo from Byron Schenkman)
“I think Chopin was an exceptionally sensitive pianist and composer – more of a poet than most. Sometimes his music is almost painfully beautiful. And, these days, I think we need all the poetry and beauty and sensitivity we can find!” Byron Schenkman told the Independent.
Schenkman returns to the Vancouver Bach Festival this year. Presented by Early Music Vancouver, they will perform preludes by Frédéric Chopin on Early Music’s 19th-century Broadwood fortepiano on Aug. 1, 1 p.m., with a pre-concert talk at 12:15 p.m., at Christ Church Cathedral.
The concert is a collaboration with the Vancouver Chopin Society. Describing Chopin as “a central figure of 19th-century Romanticism,” the program summary notes that “his connections to Bach are clear in his own preludes, which were directly inspired by Bach’s The Well-Tempered Clavier.” To place “Chopin’s music in the context of Romantic composers who influenced his work,” Schenkman’s performance will include pieces by Maria Szymanowska, Robert Schumann, Clara Schumann and Johannes Brahms.
Of playing Chopin, Schenkman said, “I think the biggest challenge – and the greatest joy – is honouring the delicacy of Chopin’s music even when it is intellectually complex and emotionally very deep. Compared with performing most other composers’ work, it’s like creating art out of glass instead of marble or bronze.”
Schenkman performs on piano, harpsichord and fortepiano, which is, simply, a piano made in the 18th and early 19th century. They also have contributed to more than 40 CDs, including some on which they have played on historical instruments from the National Music Museum, in Vermillion, S.D., and from the Museum of Fine Arts, in Boston. The award-winning musician is a founding member of several ensembles, and teaches music history at Seattle University, as well as being a guest lecturer on the harpsichord and fortepiano at other institutions. In 2013, they launched Byron Schenkman & Friends, a Baroque and classical chamber music series in Seattle.
A graduate of the New England Conservatory and Indiana University, Schenkman said, “I grew up in a home with lots of music. I often heard one of my older sisters practising the piano and it is still a very comforting sound for me, especially the repertoire that she practised most: Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert and Chopin.”
In past Bach Festivals, Schenkman has performed Bach, Ludwig van Beethoven, Johannes Brahms, Felix Mendelssohn and Ignaz Moscheles.
“I am really happy to be returning to Vancouver, one of my favourite cities,” they said. “And I am honoured to be part of the wonderful Vancouver Bach Festival along with so many inspiring colleagues.”
This year’s 14-concert festival, which runs July 30 to Aug. 9, begins with EMV’s ensemble-in-residence, Les Boréades, in a performance over two nights – July 30 and 31 at the Chan Centre for the Performing Arts – of Bach’s Complete Brandenburg Concertos. It also closes at the Chan Centre – with Henry Purcell’s Hail Bright Cecilia – but the other concerts take place at Christ Church. For tickets and more information, visit earlymusic.bc.ca or call 604-822-2697.
Gabriel Paquin-Buki, far right, founded the band Oktopus, which started performing in 2010. (photo by Rémi Hermoso)
Among the Jewish performers at this year’s Mission Folk Music Festival, July 26-28 at Fraser River Heritage Park, are Vancouver’s Jesse Waldman and Montreal’s Gabriel Paquin-Buki. For both musicians, family has been a key inspiration.
Waldman is a guitarist, singer-songwriter, studio producer, sound designer, and film and TV composer. Originally from Thornhill, Ont., just north of Toronto, his bio describes a cassette of his grandmother singing the Yiddish folk song Papirosen to his mother as one of his “most cherished possessions.”
“That recording was from the late ’50s, most likely 1957,” Waldman told the Independent. “My family had one of the first consumer-level tape recorders, they also had one of the first eight-millimetre film cameras, too. They always loved documenting the family, taking time capsule-like snapshots to cherish and enjoy later on in life.
“The recording of that particular song – which is about a young girl selling cigarettes on a street corner – has a beautifully haunting melody. I believe my grandmother learned it from her mother, my great-grandmother. At some point, it was transferred onto a stereo cassette recorder and a few copies were made. The same tape also contains interviews with my mother, a toddler at the time, and other family members, since passed away.”
A guitar he found in his parents’ basement also played a part in the start of his musical career.
“The guitar was an old beat-up nylon-string classical guitar that belonged to my Aunt Sherri,” said Waldman. “Actually, I suspect it belonged to one of her ex-boyfriends. I figured out how to play ‘Smoke on the Water’ on one string and was hooked for life! That was back in 1989.”
Waldman made his way to Vancouver in 1995 “on a whim,” he said. “I wanted to go somewhere where no one knew me and reinvent myself. From the moment I saw the mountains and smelled the ocean, I instantly felt at home. Then, after meeting the people and getting a feel for the laidback vibe of the West Coast, I was sold on Vancouver.”
For Paquin-Buki, whose group Oktopus began performing in 2010, it was his father who introduced him to klezmer.
“My father was born into a Polish Jewish family and has carried klezmer music with him all his life. His transmission to me of this cultural legacy occurred quite naturally. The cassettes he would play in the family car, the klezmer recordings during parties at our home, the live bands at family weddings and those rare times he would play songs on the piano were enough for me to access the roots of this musical tradition,” said Paquin-Buki.
“As it is for many children, I believe it was the rhythm of this music that excited me. The recordings we listened to were mostly of fast songs and, for me, were synonymous with joy. My love for this music today has so many facets! When we listen to klezmer, we can somehow feel the richness of the Jewish people’s millennial history and hear their encounters with musicians from all over the planet and across centuries. Also, major-minor ambivalence in the main klezmer scale (the freygish) embodies the dichotomy between laughter and tears so characteristic of Jewish culture. And it’s always fun music to play.”
Waldman has similar views. “I’ve always enjoyed klezmer music,” he said. “The mile-a-minute dance numbers, the sorrowful ballads and the cheeky vocals. Many klezmer compositions use melodies based on the harmonic minor scale, which includes a minor third and a major seven, which makes it sound particularly haunting and mournful to me. In terms of culture, all of my band mates in my early days were Jewish. I definitely cut my teeth with fellow Jews who know the delights of Shabbos dinner and a good bagel with lox and cream cheese!”
While he enjoys klezmer, Waldman’s music is predominantly folk and blues. “I love the sound, the rawness and heavy emotional weight of those styles,” he explained. “I also love the storytelling aspect of it, specific life experiences, places and relationships. Real folk and blues is unique to each artist but also has a tradition of carrying classic songs through the generations. I also love how blues has a way of transforming deep pain into something beautiful.”
Waldman’s debut album, Mansion Full of Ghosts, which was released in 2017, is described as “an exploration of the city’s vast duality, a backdrop of beauty mirrored by a fierce underbelly and a need to keep a light on in the dark.” It includes songs about his neighbourhood, the Downtown Eastside, and, in talking about what drives him to make socially conscious music, he said, “I think mostly my compassion for other people, particularly those less fortunate than myself. I also yearn to connect with people on a deeper level and music and honest lyrics are a good way to achieve that.”
Among the talent featured on that album is his partner, Megan Alford. Currently, the two are working on a recording of her music, Field Guide to Wildflowers, scheduled for an early 2020 release. “My role is producer and guitar player,” said Waldman. “She is an outstanding songwriter with a great voice and poignant and deeply personal lyrics. We’ve been working together for a couple years now and the songs have really come to life.”
As can blues music, klezmer holds space for both happiness and sadness. In addition to being a musician, Paquin-Buki holds a master’s degree in comparative literature. In his first semester, he took two courses that focused on literature from the concentration camps. Le Verfügbar aux enfers (The Lowest-Class Worker Goes to Hell), written by Germaine Tillion, a prisoner at Ravensbrück, particularly caught his attention. “This work has a substantial musical dimension and contains a lot of humour…. I was very keen on exploring this taboo subject of laughter and the Holocaust and especially on trying to understand what its benefits were and what shapes it could subsequently take…. For the time being, there is no direct connection between this topic and Oktopus’s music but, in performance, it allows me to flesh out historical intros between pieces. It also adds a new dimension to these tears that are halfway between laughter and sorrow, since klezmer music – and particularly the clarinet – reproduces vocal inflections that convey laughter and sorrow.
“I would very much like to compose a piece based on one of the works I used in my thesis, ‘La danse de Gengis Cohn.’ I also have a mind to add a work from KZ Muzik, a vast box set recording that traces and publishes many works composed in concentration camps. But, overall, the fact remains that my own academic project on such a profound and terrifying topic has changed my general view of the world and impacts everything I do.”
Paquin-Buki is the driving force behind Oktopus’s mission to perpetuate klezmer. “By striving to perpetuate this musical tradition, I am keeping the culture of my ancestors alive and this is of special significance to me,” he said. “Nevertheless, since klezmer carries universal values, our approach also makes substantial room for the musical traditions of Quebec.”
Indeed, Oktopus combines elements of different cultures.
“The klezmer repertoire is so vast that we cannot possibly cover it all in our lifetimes,” said Paquin-Buki. “But we have also chosen to incorporate classical melodies – we are all classically trained and so we necessarily view klezmer through the lens of classical music, in the way our ears have been trained to hear it – as well as Quebec chansons [folk songs] and, sometimes, songs from other cultures around the world.
“Trying to somehow recreate these songs as they were played decades or even centuries ago is not really in line with our view of tradition, which is not a static concept for us. Tradition is something that evolves and so, in certain respects, we try to imagine what the klezmorim repertoire might have been like if they had settled in Montreal. They would have necessarily incorporated Québécois and Canadian songs and styles. Historically, klezmer absorbs the different cultures it encounters along its way, while staying true to its deep roots, which colour everything it touches. The important thing is to remain connected to those roots.”
One challenge in maintaining that connection for Paquin-Buki has been that his “classical training got in the way in some respects because klezmer is largely an oral tradition.” He couldn’t find any scores for a klezmer ensemble and, he said, “In the environment in which I functioned as a musician, nothing was possible without written-down notes. But, to make a long story short, I finally decided to write out the arrangements myself. They turned out very badly at the beginning, but with help and a lot of work, they evolved into something presentable.
“The group’s configuration,” he said of Oktopus, “is loosely based on what I heard on recordings of the Klezmer Conservatory Band: clarinet, violin, flute, trombone, tuba (now bass trombone), piano and drums. Back in 2009, I was not acquainted with that many musicians, so I recruited a few friends and other promising students from the faculty of music. The group began playing in 2010 – three pieces performed in a chamber music concert at the Université de Montréal. The following year, we were offered our first professional engagements.” Oktopus has two albums – Lever l’encre (2014) and Hapax (2017) – both of which were nominated for Juno and Canadian Folk Music awards.
“Dueling pianists” Lester Soo and Marilyn Glazer entertain at the last Empowerment Series session of the season. (photo from JSA)
Co-sponsored by Jewish Seniors Alliance and the Kehila Society of Richmond, the fifth session of this season’s JSA Snider Foundation Empowerment Series took place at Congregation Beth Tikvah. It more than lived up to the series’ theme this year: “Renewing and Reinventing Ourselves.”
As usual, the program was preceded by a lunch provided by Stacey Kettleman. Beth Tikvah’s Rabbi Adam Rubin did the Hamotzi and Toby Rubin, co-executive director of the Kehila Society, welcomed everyone. Among the 120 or so attendees were members of the Kehila Society and of JSA, as well as a group from L’Chaim Adult Day Care.
The entertainment portion of the program took place in the sanctuary, where Ken Levitt, president of JSA, spoke briefly and Rubin introduced the “dueling pianists”: Marilyn Glazer and Lester Soo, both of whom are accomplished musicians and piano instructors. The two have known each other for 35 years and have been playing duets for much of that time – one piano, four hands. At the Empowerment Series performance, they began with four Hungarian rhapsodies and continued with Mozart’s Eine Kleine Nachtmusik. They then played a number of Gershwin tunes and ended with Cole Porter.
Rubin thanked the pianists for their wonderful performance, which was the last event of the 2018/19 Empowerment Series. The series will begin again in the fall, with a new lineup of events presented by JSA with other seniors groups in the community.
Shanie Levinis an executive board member of Jewish Seniors Alliance and on the editorial board of Senior Line magazine.
On July 12, Strings for Peace will have its world première at the Indian Summer Festival, which is described as “a multi-disciplinary arts festival ‘where worlds meet’ in Vancouver.”
Produced by the Indian Summer Arts Society, the festival’s mission “is to offer daring, multi-arts events that bring together diverse artists, audiences and artists in a spirit of global dialogue and citizenship.” Sharing a similar spirit, it is fitting that Strings for Peace – created and performed by sarod masters Amjad Ali Khan and his sons Ayaan and Amaan Ali Bangash, and guitarist Sharon Isbin – will be unveiled at the festival.
“The legendary sarod master Amjad Ali Khan emailed me 10 years ago to invite me to a concert of his in New York and to explore the idea of a collaboration,” said Isbin, a three-time Grammy Award winner whose repertoire includes Baroque, Spanish-Latin music and jazz fusion. “I had long admired Indian classical music, and was bowled over to hear his performances with his sons…. A warm friendship developed and, six years ago, he conceived the idea of composing ragas for us all to perform together. I received the music last December and loved it. They said that’s good because we have already booked a tour with you in India in February 2019! I had little time with my schedule, but was motivated because the music was exquisitely beautiful, as is their artistry. It was a magnificent experience to perform together in Kolkata, Mumbai and Delhi. I cherish our friendship and the opportunity this has given me to explore an inspiring new genre and collaboration.”
The four performers have made a recording for release in 2020, said Isbin, “and I am excited that Strings for Peace will be touring in the U.S. during summer and fall 2020.”
In an article earlier this year in the Hindustan Times, Isbin speaks about the difference between the Indian classical, mainly oral, tradition and the written Western classical music tradition. “Indian classical music has long pieces. You are taken on a journey,” she notes. “It is a very expansive state of consciousness, whereas a Bach or a Beethoven piece has a clear and defined sense of enclosure.”
“Performing together in India last February,” she told the Independent, “I was amazed to hear similarities between improvised embellishments in Indian classical music and melismatic nuances in Spanish, flamenco and Sephardic music.”
Born and raised in Minneapolis until age 18, Isbin lives in New York City. She is the founding director of the Juilliard School guitar department and director of the guitar department of the Aspen Music Festival. She performs around the world and has appeared as a soloist with almost 200 orchestras.
“When I was 9, my family moved to Italy for my father’s sabbatical year as a scientist and professor of chemical engineering,” she said of her beginnings as an artist. “My older brother Ira asked for guitar lessons, hoping to be the next Elvis. My parents found a great teacher who had studied with [Andrés] Segovia, but when my brother learned it was classical, he bowed out and I volunteered to take his place. I loved that an instrument was built for me, and that you held and caressed it to make music.”
Of the role, if any, Judaism or Jewish culture plays in her life, Isbin said, “My grandparents came to the U.S. as refugees from Russia and Poland to escape deadly pogroms, and I have many relatives who live in Israel. I have always felt a cultural connection to Judaism and to Israel. In fact, I was a teenager when the first work ever composed for me was a concerto by the late Israeli composer Ami Maayani, which I premièred with the Jerusalem Symphony and the Minnesota Orchestra. Since then, I’ve premièred more than 80 works written and arranged for me.”
Her experience with the Khans highlights how she views music’s potential to bring together different cultures. “There is only one human race, and we all need to appreciate and celebrate that commonality,” she said. “Music, because it transcends language, can be wonderfully uniting.”
Strings for Peace premières July 12, 8 p.m., at the Chan Centre for the Performing Arts. For tickets and the full schedule of the Indian Summer Festival, which opened July 4 and runs to July 14, visit indiansummerfest.ca.
Itamar Erez’s new CD, Mi Alegria, is being launched with a concert at the Annex. (photo by Wolfgang Vogt)
Composer, performer and teacher Itamar Erez releases his new CD in a concert June 20 at the Annex. The title, Mi Alegria, or My Happiness, is a play on words: his daughter’s name is Mia.
Originally from Tel Aviv, Erez teaches guitar at Vancouver Symphony Orchestra School of Music and collaborates with renowned musicians from numerous cultures and musical traditions. His music is infused with the melodies, instruments and rhythms from across the Middle East and beyond.
Erez traces his love of music to his childhood home. His father was a pilot who brought many stories and gifts home from overseas trips – food, clothes, shoes and the music.
“You couldn’t get a lot of records. My father would always bring music with him,” said Erez in an interview with the Independent. “Really interesting music: Bartok, Stravinsky, Coltrane and Bach. I absorbed a lot of it.”
There was also live music in his home, he said. He tells these stories with ease, which is reflected in his style of composition, with its shifting, fluid themes and nuanced moods.
“At 6, I asked to play the piano, so we got one and my older sister and both parents took lessons. We’re all musical,” he said.
Added to all the different traditions in Israel, Erez got a well-rounded education in music, which shows in his eclectic repertoire.
“I remember the first piece I wrote that was performed in a theatre: a piano and upright bass duo. I was 16 or 17,” he said. “It was a magical experience to come out with my own music.”
The relationship between father and son, through music, is mirrored in his relationship with his own son, Yahli. The new album features a song written for his son, “Yahli’s Lullaby.”
“It came about when I was improvising in my room and my son was playing,” said Erez. “He was really listening and asked me what it was.”
Erez derives inspiration from a wealth of other sources: literature, history and myriad musical traditions. “My muse is constantly changing,” he said. “It alternates between world music and jazz, with a lot of classical music.” About Mi Alegria, he said, “this release is definitely going towards jazz.”
“I focused on classical composition at one time, and I felt limited,” he explained. “At some point, I just decided to let go of figuring it out. Something wants to come out, influenced by different traditions, meeting musicians from all over the world, like the Turkish musician I met.”
These influences can be heard on his new album.
“‘Samai’ is based on a Middle Eastern melody that I’m ‘quoting’ – a very traditional piece. The original is a folk tune based on a metre of 10/8; classical Arabic or Turkish tradition,” he said by way of example.
“In my daily practice, I play Bach. It’s really important to me, but not in concert because it’s not my tradition.”
Instead, he prefers to perform his own compositions. “I love the freedom of playing my own music because it doesn’t have to fit a standard of performance,” he said.
Erez writes down his compositions, but only when he needs to share them. When he is composing in the moment, improvising on the piano, “I rarely play a piece the same twice,” he said. “When you’re learning to compose and improvise, it’s important to try things out for hours, transcribing, figuring out what other musicians are doing … just getting lost in the sound.”
Of his new release, Erez said, “I’m super-excited. It’s been awhile since my last release and this is a really fresh new sound.”
For Mi Alegria, Erez worked with percussionist Hamin Honari, with whom he has been collaborating for several years, as well as musicians François Houle, Dani Benedikt, Celsa Machado, James Meger, Kevin Romain and Ilan Salem.
The piece “Tides” evokes the ocean so clearly, with eddies of rapid notes below the slower, tidal shifts in the music, with the cymbal taking the role of the surf, crashing on the shore. “Requinto” is a mischievous piece that moves quickly, with many rapid changes, including the sudden arrival of a sweeping clarinet solo – it calls to mind the swift footsteps of children chasing butterflies. “Shesh” is syncopated, laden with whirling rhythms and pregnant pauses. The intense, mesmerizing repetitions and rising tensions evoke the intelligence of Dave Brubeck or Moe Koffmann, while the wind section takes the listener to the Middle East and China.
The new album is fueled by Flamenco-sized passion but also the playfulness of Bach. The result is a work of both tremendous discipline and unbridled freedom. All in all, the mood of the album suggests so much of human experience and emotion, from joyous to the pensive, from comical to introspective and brooding, and beyond.
In addition to the concert June 20 at the Annex, with opening band the Giving Shapes, Erez also performs on July 11 at Hermann’s in Victoria and July 28 at Frankie’s in Vancouver, with his quartet.
Shula Klinger is an author and journalist living in North Vancouver. Find out more at shulaklinger.com.
The June 12 performance of Moshe Denburg’s The Longing Sky features Yuji Nakagawa on sarangi, left, and Harrie Starreveld on shakuhachi. (photos from VICO)
This year’s Vancouver Inter-Cultural Orchestra (VICO) Global Soundscapes Festival highlights the instruments and traditions of Japan. It features a concerto by Moshe Denburg, and percussionists Jonathan Bernard and Niel Golden, both members of the Jewish community, are among the performers.
“As an organization committed to bringing forward and collaborating with all cultures of the world, we have had a connection with Japanese musical culture since our inception in 2001,” explained Denburg, VICO founding artistic director, of the festival’s focus. “Our present artistic director, Mark Armanini, studied composition with the late Elliot Weisgarber, who was my mentor and friend as well, and was, in a real sense, a progenitor of interculturalism in Vancouver. His own studies and musical explorations took him to Japan and into Japanese music. This is one longstanding Japanese influence in our midst.
“The VICO has collaborated with Japanese musicians on many occasions in the past,” he continued. “The first major encounter was in 2010, at a concert production called Imagined Worlds: Japanese Interventions, at which concert we had two visiting Japanese musical virtuosos. In 2013, we produced a mini-festival, together with the Japanese consulate and the Japanese community here, called Chrysanthemums and Maple Leaves. One of the main soloists of this festival, Naomi Sato, has been with us for further iterations of this festival concept, in 2014 and again this year. She plays a traditional Japanese mouth organ called the sho. This year, in addition to Ms. Sato, we have Miyama McQueen-Tokita on koto and Harrie Starreveld on shakuhachi.”
The festival’s opening concert on June 5 at the Waterfront Theatre features Debris, a new mini-opera by Rita Ueda, “inspired by the 2011 tsunami and the debris that washed up along the West Coast of North America,” works by Weisgarber, as well as traditional Japanese music. Denburg’s The Longing Sky is part of Raga-tala-Malika! A Garland of Ragas and Talas with VICO and Friends, at the Rothstein Theatre on June 12.
About The Longing Sky, Denburg said, “After my tours of musical study in India and Japan, which took place in the mid-’80s, I returned to Canada to begin realizing some of my global fusion ideas. Around 1994, I sketched a work which brought together the two traditions I had previously been exposed to, and conceived of a double concerto for shakuhachi (Japanese bamboo flute) and sarangi (Indian bowed string), instruments that, in their own unique ways, spoke to me of longing.
“The Longing Sky originally came to me as part of a two-movement work that I conceived of then, called Between the Source and the Longing Sky. The source represents our life here on earth, while the longing sky represents the possibility of reaching out to a new life in space. This was and still is our global situation today: we have the means to explore other worlds, but the early promise of moving into space has hardly been realized. The sky is within each of us, and represents our longing for a better world, a larger creative palette, a future vast and free.”
The work premièred in November 2013, with featured soloists Dhruba Ghosh on sarangi and Starreveld on shakuhachi. “In 2017, at the young age of 59, Dhruba-ji passed away suddenly of a heart attack,” said Denburg. “This remount of The Longing Sky is a tribute to him, our dear colleague, mentor and friend. Appropriately enough, his student and disciple, Yuji Nakagawa, will be the featured sarangi player, and Harrie will reprise his role on shakuhachi. May Dhruba’s memory always be a blessing.”
Learning the techniques involved with playing an unfamiliar instrument, in order to compose for it, begins with one-on-one sessions with the performer, said Denburg.
“I did this with several shakuhachi performers over the years, studied many materials and listened to many recordings,” he said. “Regarding sarangi, I found, in the early ’90s, a very well-known Canadian ethnomusicologist, cellist and sarangi player, Regula Qureshi, who taught, until her recent retirement, at the University of Alberta. My first learning sessions were with her, and I supplemented these with certain materials that I found in ethnomusicological treatises. Of course, one can never really ‘know’ how to write for an instrument until one has tried to transmit the composition to a performer and listened to the result. In my case, I am still learning how to write for sarangi – actually, the process never ends.
“Another aspect of composing for such an instrument, and indeed for many instruments of the world, is that as they are part of the great ‘aural traditions’ of the world,” he added. “One prime example of this is the music of India – the composer needs to supplement written materials with aural aids; audio materials that are sung, or played on synthesizer or another instrument. But, most importantly, the composer has to sit down with the performer and work on the musical lines he has composed, and sincerely take advice from the performer as to what works and what does not work. This is one aspect of intercultural work that cannot be emphasized enough – the written composition is not the only way, nor even the best way to create great music. This is humble pie for most Western composers, and one might say an added benefit of intercultural exploration.”
On the topic of cultural appropriation, Denburg said, “We have been aware of these issues and, in fact, we may be convening, in 2020 or 2021, a cross-Canada series of discussions exploring best intercultural practices.
“One thing that we have done over the years,” he said of VICO, “which we believe has been acceptable practice, is that we have always emphasized the collaborative aspect of the work. We are not expressing someone else’s narrative, but rather our own, new intercultural narrative. And, when we present other cultures, this is precisely what we do – we present those cultures in performances by accepted exponents of them. So, in a VICO concert, you will often find some demonstration pieces of the collaborating cultures themselves. For example, in Raga-Tala-Malika, we will have a traditional raga presentation, probably featuring our guest sarangi player together with our guest tabla player; and a shakuhachi solo may also be presented. These are the undiluted presentations of ‘other’ cultures. Then, in pieces like The Longing Sky, and others on the program, a truly intercultural piece will be performed.”
Golden will be playing tabla on Denburg’s piece on June 12, and likely accompanying the sarangi player on tabla for a traditional Indian piece in that show. He is also scheduled to play with Starreveld and Nakagawa at the closing concert of the festival, June 13, at the Annex.
According to his bio, when Golden moved to Victoria from Toronto in 1986, “he helped form the world, folk fusion trio, New Earth. Their self-titled CD took them to Seville, Spain, where they represented Canada for six weeks at Expo ’92.… Blending African, Indian, Western and other world music, their first CD, Indiscretion, earned them a Juno nomination as best global recording of 1995.”
Throughout the years, Golden has continued to study tabla and has collaborated with many artists, including Denburg for the past 18 years – Golden is a member of the VICO. He is also a member of the new world music quartet Saffron, performs in the trio DNA, as well as the trio Three Worlds, which recently released a self-titled CD.
Bernard – principal percussionist with the Vancouver Island Symphony – will be playing in the Global Soundscapes Festival on June 8, in Zen and Now, and in Raga-Tala-Malika. His bio notes: “His interest in world music has led him to perform Chinese, Javanese, Balinese and Korean music and study traditional and contemporary Chinese percussion in Beijing, Arabic percussion in Cairo and Carnatic rhythm in South India.” He has premièred more than 70 chamber works with various ensembles, and has toured throughout Canada, the United States, Europe and Japan.
For Global Soundscapes concert tickets ($20-$35), more information on the artists and the full performance schedule, visit vi-co.org.
Vancouver composer Itamar Erez will have a world première of his work at the Sound of Dragon Ensemble (Vancouver) and Melody of China (San Francisco) concert May 30, 7 p.m., at the Western Front. Erez will be playing guitar with Sound of Dragon, as well. His composition, Migrant Voices, was inspired by Italo Calvino’s book Invisible Cities, which Erez read when he was younger. It is an imagined set of conversations between Marco Polo and the emperor of the 13th-century Mongolian empire, Kublai Khan. Each chapter of the book is a prose poem, describing an imaginary city that Marco Polo “discovered” in his travels. “I remember being deeply inspired by it as a young person,” said Erez. “In a similar way, perhaps, the music of Migrant Voices is a kind of a ‘discovered’ folk song, from an imaginary city, country or culture. Based on a 9/8 and 7/8 time signature, it definitely has elements taken from certain Balkan/Greek music, Turkish or Armenian. Not sure, to tell you the truth, exactly why and how – it just came to me one day as if a voice whispered it in my ear.”
The May 30 concert – in celebration of Asian Heritage Month – is the first collaboration of two professional music ensembles with Chinese roots from across the border between Canada and the United States. For tickets and more information, visit soundofdragon.com.