Bear in Mind

One of the stars of Winter Fantasia, the first of MRU Conservatory’s two holiday shows, is familiar to many. Straight from the storybooks, it’s that duffle-coat-wearing, marmalade-sandwich-craving bear named Paddington.

unnamed-1Michael Bond’s beloved character will be brought to life by four senior MRU Conservatory Speech Arts and Drama students. The tale of Paddington’s Christmas was adapted for stage by program coordinator Jennifer Orr. “Who doesn’t love Paddington,” she says. “His appeal is his sweetness, curiosity, spirit of adventure…and all the misadventures that spring from those qualities.”

The narrative seems like a perfect fit for a concert featuring the music of MRU Choirs Arietta, Arioso and the Calgary Boys Choir along with the Conservatory Strings performers. “It takes us through pre-Christmas planning at the Brown household. There are a few bumps for Paddington,” she mentions which are fine plot point for some musical accompaniment, but she assures, “Paddington comes out of the celebrations feeling lucky to be a bear.”

All four of the Speech Arts performers are excited to bring this tale to an audience, especially in the new Bella Concert Hall. “They are thrilled at the opportunity to try out the Bella,” Orr explains, and adds that this theatrical component provides some wonderful scope for imagination, “all of them are in high school, so they are loving the chance to step back into a children’s story.”

Undoubtedly, the all-ages audience at the Bella on Dec. 6th will be in full agreement.

Konstantin Shamray is in the Building

FullSizeRender_3The Russian-born pianist arrived from Adelaide, Australia and is, at present, rehearsing onstage at the Bella Concert Hall.

There’s a sense of calm in the hall as Konstantin completes another seemingly impossible glissando while counting the remaining beats in the bar aloud. Echoing his count is Edmond Agopian, the director and conductor of the Calgary Youth Orchestra who will join him onstage for the show on Sunday.

“Would you like to make that an eighth?” Agopian suggests a change to suit his headliner. Shamray dismisses the suggestion demonstrating how he can cover the pickup with a slightly different release. An accommodating artist.FullSizeRender_1

Sharing the stage with the pianist and the orchestra will be MRU’s choral ensembles, Artio, Cum Vino Cantas and Kantorei. Each will offer a different texture to the concert and to the hall.

Through his performance, the Bella sounds fantastic. The acoustic design amplifies his musicianship in both technique and emotion. He seems to be enjoying it.

As in most rehearsal settings, empty theatre seats are the only witnesses to this astounding preview.   When the seats fill up on Sunday, November 22nd the calm of this moment will become infused with the excitement of performance. Only then, at 7:30pm, when the lights go up on this world-class pianist and MRU Conservatory’s orchestra and choirs, will we know for sure what decisions have been made on this stage. But, whether or not they decide to, “make that an eighth,” you can be sure the glissando will remain perfect.

FullSizeRender_2Tickets are still available by clicking here.

Harp Strings Eternal

1617377_10205929173249266_3831900375687360238_oBoth travel and music can bring you to new worlds and open your mind. That’s exactly what has happened to MRU Conservatory Harp instructor Gianetta Baril.

Gianetta has returned from a life-changing trip which took her to many places including Rio and Nepal where she personally donated three harps and taught local children how to play them.

One of the reasons these regions don’t have emerging harpists is that the heavenly instrument costs a princely sum. “A harp is about $3500,” she reveals, “They can buy twenty violins for the cost of one harp.”

When this self-proclaimed ‘Crazy Canadian,’ garnered interest from the locals, she recalled, “You can’t audition per se, you just have to see who’s interested.”

Across the two programs, fourteen students signed up for her tutelage. One boy, a bored violinist, needed a new challenge. At age twelve, his attention was divided between music and beach volleyball. “We wrote a simple harp part for him.” Baril explains, “He got to the end of the first run through of (Breinschmid’s) the Typewriter and the conductor and ensemble gave him such a huge applause.” Catching his reaction, she relayed, “his smile just exploded!”

That has been a common reaction whether playing or listening to the harp. But Baril herself has grown as a result of her travels, “I feel much freer to make music; the freedom to communicate what’s inside. That’s what’s really changed. I think,” she continues, “it was the experience of letting go…. To know that whatever I’m going to be faced with, I can handle that and it’s all going to work out fine.“ She describes being on stage now, “where in the past I might have been maybe inhibited by the fear that I was going to get a pedal wrong… which is pretty dramatic on the harp when that happens, I just don’t worry about that anymore. If it happens,” she concludes, “I’ll just solve the issue.”10360782_10206235269421479_6732763555709696666_n

The concert is called Wayfaring – Gianetta Baril & Friends. It’s at St. Stephen’s Anglican Church, a new venue for the Instrumental Society of Calgary, on Sunday, November 22, 2015 at 3:00pm.

Open your mind and expect to experience some other worlds.

To hear Gianetta play, click here.


Just Imperfect

Pinchas Zukerman isn’t perfect and he seems proud of that.

“Don’t be afraid to play ouimage1t of the box,” he tells MRU Conservatory violinist Isabella Perron. “Let me tell you when it’s too far.” In this masterclass, the celebrated violinist and conductor plays from memory to demonstrate. He mentions that the tone is, “fine for Brahms,” which he played last night as a featured soloist for the 40th Anniversary concert of the Calgary Civic Symphony, “but this is Bobby Schumann.”

His nicknamed reference clearly indicates how intimately he knows the composer.

Perron, a Grand Prize winner at the Canadian Music Competition, goes toe to toe with the maestro, who has been featured under the baton of fellow greats including Leonard Berstein and has been Music Director of Canada’s National Arts Centre Orchestra since 1999. He mentors effectively, pushing harder when he senses her talent. “That’s a bad habit,” he warns about a vibrato technique she employed. “What are you… fifteen? At 17 it’ll be worse.” She makes the correction with ease and they carry on.

“Let’s play the Bach,” he requests. She shifts gears as they discuss finding the tempo. Not just the tempo that was conceived by the composer, but the one that’s right for her. “Find your colour,” he continues, “find your DNA.” The directions are seemingly on a profound and professional level while the teenager takes it in stride.

FullSizeRender (7)The onlooking handful of fortunate students at the MRU Conservatory’s TransAlta Pavillion in the Taylor Centre for Performing Arts are indeed getting a life lesson in music performance. Zukerman addresses the classroom, “Playing perfect is wrong.” The stunned silence is followed by an explanation of how dynamics and emotion are the goal, mistakes are forgivable if they are in service of the musical idea. “Digital recording has ruined that,” he emphasizes, “Music should not be bland.”

After this afternoon, you can be sure that Isabella will remember that.

Cello Again

Amanda Forsyth is at MRU.

FullSizeRender (5)The youngest principal cello ever selected by the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra has returned. Forsyth played with the CPO for six years and was featured as a soloist in each of them.

Since then, she has graced the world’s stages, played with the likes of Yo-Yo Ma, Wynton Marsalis and recorded the sound track for Ken Burns’ 7-part television film about World War II.   She and her husband, violinist/conductor Pinchas Zukerman are back and giving back in Calgary at the MRU Conservatory.

In her masterclass in the TransAlta Pavillion, about a dozen lucky cellists are getting an insight into what it takes to take their craft to the next level. Nervous fingers clutch the instruments awaiting the master’s critique. “More strength,” Forsyth suggests, “if you can play with a stronger tone, then you’re four bars in and you’ve already had some fun.”
Her passion fFullSizeRender (6)or the instrument is very much apparent. It is an extension of her body whether she’s playing, coaching or tucking it in the crook of her arm as she sips some much needed water. “Welcome to Calgary,” she jokes about the dryness she once knew.

The MRU Conservatory students are a bit shell-shocked. But, one by one, they sit taller and play, learning some valuable insider information from a master. A master who was once in their shoes; raw developing talent ready to take the world stage.

Forsyth smiles as she coaches, maybe reminiscing about her time as a student cellist, maybe about her time in Calgary, and just maybe about the potential of adding the names of these budding students to the list of artists she has collaborated with.

Backstage at the Bella

billMurrayInterviewScreen2_1200x675We’ve all seen and heard many inspiring stories on a concert stage, but what inspiration goes into building the stage itself?

The Bella Concert Hall in the Taylor Centre for the Performing Arts is the newly opened crown jewel of the MRU Conservatory.   Both aesthetically stunning and acoustically sound, Calgary’s newest concert hall is an artistic masterpiece.

Bill Murray is the visionary architect behind the scenes.  You can get some backstage insight into his design concept with inspirations drawn from the Alberta landscape, prairie symbols and origami.  Aspects of the hall’s interior and exterior structure were based on the concept of a prairie barn.

While pondering a visually pleasing yet acoustically versatile ceiling design, Murray explains, “It occurred to me, if we abstracted the Alberta Rose and made it out of wood, that it would be quite a wonderful element.”

The ‘barn’ was raised to much acclaim from audiences and performers alike in the Bella’s grand opening festival featuring the likes of the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra, featured soloists, several choral ensembles and pianist Yuja Wang.  Seeing and hearing the space upon completion, a satisfied Murray lauded, “It’s better than I ever imagined.”

We couldn’t agree more.

To hear Bill Murray, the Architect of the Bella Concert Hall talk about his design…“>click here.


High Needs

FullSizeRender (1)MRU choirs need more Sopranos

It’s a rare musical predicament.

Jean-Louis Bleau, the director of MRU’s Artio choir explains, “Unlike other choirs in the city…we have a shortage of sopranos.”

Sopranos are routinely plentiful in the choral world. There’s often an abundance of talented ladies willing to carry the melody, while choirs scrounge for supporting female voice parts and men’s voices. “Other choirs are struggling for guys to sing bass and tenor.” Bleau resounds, “Two-thirds of the choir are guys. We are unbalanced on the top-end, so we need some strong sopranos… especially sopranos that can sing high A’s.”

That’s a high order.

As the new Program Administrator for MRU Conservatory’s General and Orchestral Programs and director of Artio, Bleau has the perfect pitch for ladies who are interested, “The music we do is very challenging. We’re doing these aggressive style pieces like (Mozart’s) Dies Irae and Flame by Ben Parry.” The latter includes a two-minute finale featuring a staggered soprano section continuously singing a high A.

“People are always welcome to pop by and see what we do,” Bleau attests. “We have a couple extra chairs we set up in rehearsal.” When asked what the general reaction is of those who venture into the rehearsal hall, the director admits that most who come to listen stay to sing.

Artio will be seen next in concert with pianist Konstantin Shamray at the Bella Concert Hall on November, 22nd.   Then, they will be featured in the MRU Conservatory’s holiday show Sounds of the Season on December 12th. If you have a high voice and a passion for choral music, perhaps you can join them.