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Reviews of the 2022- 2023 Season

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Don Vappie and Jazz Creole: Legendary Banjo Artist Brings New Orleans Heat to Kelowna By Neville Bowman Kelowna was given a little bit of southern warmth on a cool rainy night in late-May, with a performance by Don Vappie and Jazz Creole. Featuring Don Vappie on a traditional four-string banjo, the quartet brought the sounds of New Orleans to the Kelowna Community Concert Association's final presentation of the 2022-23 season at the Kelowna Community Theatre, rounding out more than decades of KCCA support with a fun, relaxed energy and that indefinable melancholy that southern music can have. It seemed to take the audience a while to warm up to the sound, but Vappie had a laid-back stage stage presence that won them over, after which the music held them. KCCA audiences have always recognized and appreciated high-quality musicianship, and this quartet really delivered. Don Vappie himself is a multi-award-winning legend, and a brief conversation after the show revealed that he regularly works with some true jazz royalty. David Horniblow on clarinet was remarkable in his control and dynamic use; it was lovely to hear a clarinet played so well. David Kelbie on rhythm guitar was amazing, playing the role so precisely, creating the foundation for the others. And, on bass, Tom Wheatley was a crowd pleaser, using techniques unique to such jazz and always getting a good response to his solos. The banjo is an instrument that is admittedly not taken as seriously as some, not helped in part by media depictions of both music and some banjo players. Its origins go back to parts of Africa, and Vappie does an excellent job of presenting it as a lead instrument in its own right, worthy of respect. More traditional songs, such as Redwing and La Ville Jacmel, gave the listener the expected sound of a banjo, but others, such as Abandon (a crowd favourite), displayed the more melodic capabilities. Some of my favourites, written by Vappie himself, showcased the harmonic complexity available. Don Vappie is great with an audience—relaxed (perhaps more casual than we are used to) but inviting you into his world. It's obvious he really loves this music (and why not?), at times getting the audience to sing along in response, which went surprisingly well. There is a lot of history behind creole jazz; Vappie has a way of showing respect for that while being able to incorporate newer elements into it, which is, of course, what jazz and creole are—a "gumbo" of a multitude of styles and voices. The performance I saw definitely convinced me that I have to get down to New Orleans and experience more of it, at the source! As mentioned earlier, this was the last KCCA concert of the 2022/23 season in the current venue. (The final concert of the 2021/22 season, featuring True North Brass, has been postponed more than once and has yet to be rescheduled.) Next season will be presented at a new location, the Evangel Church Auditorium, which has room for more people, so season passes remain available. Early-bird pricing of $100 expires May 31, when the cost of a season passes rises to $120. Given the high calibre of the concerts brought in, it's a remarkably good deal for five shows. With performers such as Don Vappie and Jazz Creole on the roster, I highly recommend a membership in the KCCA. These are musicians of the highest level, excellent ambassadors for a style of music that is less familiar here in the valley, and a prime example of the quality and variety we get to see with the KCCA. For more information, contact Deb Meldram at (250) 765-3571. See you next season!

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Leonard Elschenbroich and Alexei Grynyuk: An exceptional evening of pure classical music By Neville Bowman There are some instances in life when we meet people who are so good at what they do, they are considered among the best, performing at a level where the very word "best" becomes subjective, hard to quantify. As a musician myself, I have an understanding of what it takes to get there, and just how remarkably rare it is to hear such people perform. The most recent Kelowna Community Concert Association presentation gave us two such people, a rare evening of "pure" classical music in the form of cello and piano. Leonard Elschenbroich and Alexei Grynyuk presented "just" three pieces for the entire evening. The first half consisted of Brahms' Cello Sonata in E Minor, followed by his Vier ernste Gesänge (Four Serious Songs). Very little was said by the artists (Leonard spoke only once after the first Brahms selection), leaving the music uninterrupted, something to which even the relatively experienced KCCA audience was unaccustomed. An amusing consequence of this occurred after the first sonata, when the lights came up and some of the crowd left their seats, thinking it was intermission. We aren't used to such concert formats here. I am quite honestly not qualified to say much about their performance. They are on another level. What was most remarkable to me was the connection they both had with any given piece. Every entrance, every crescendo, tempo change, tenuto, note cutoff — all were done seamlessly to create a single sound out of the two very different instruments. Alexei was excellent at balancing the volume of the big Steinway with Leonard, only once briefly overpowering the cello. It wasn't surprising, considering how long they have played together and the multitude of awards and accolades earned by both. There was a particular polyrhythmic section in the third movement of the Brahms Sonata that just left me shaking my head at how easy they made it sound — a sign of true masters of their craft. The second half of the evening was devoted to Rachmaninoff's Cello Sonata in G Minor. This sonata was much more energetic and aggressive than the Brahms, and really showed the power that both instruments can have. I suspect some people found the Brahms a bit sleepy and left afterwards, which was a real pity. The Rach was spectacular. I must make special mention of Lyndsey Wong, who stepped in as a page turner for Alexei, a very intimidating task to do for performers of this calibre! I also want to make a very special mention of Betty Skilbeck, one of the driving forces behind KCCA for many years. Having been president and concert programmer, Betty is now stepping away to manage other aspects of her life, and was directly involved in the initial (pre-Covid) booking of Leonard Elschenbroich. She will be very much missed, in her drive, charm and some quite memorable gowns! Please all welcome Sharon Attree as the new Programme Chair; she’s already off to a strong start, judging by next season's lineup. Classical music in such a pure form is not something we often hear. It's a rare treat to hear, and much rarer to hear two musicians whose skill and passion can bring new life to old music. Leonard and Alexei delivered an evening more often reserved for the great halls of historic cities, and it was nice to speak with them afterwards and find them easygoing and relaxed (especially considering the value of the 330-year-old cello sitting in the back). Once again, thanks to KCCA for bringing in this renowned duo. I highly encourage people to get on the waiting list for next season! Neville Bowman is a local actor and musician


Percussiano3: The skill and communication of musicians gives KCCA audience a thrill By Neville Bowman When is a trio not a trio? If there are three people but two musicians are on one instrument, does that count? Then again, one musician was playing over 30 instruments, so perhaps it's a small orchestra...either way, what it is, is something unique. That is Percussiano3. Percussiano3 consists of percussionist Rod Thomas Squance, who teaches at the University of Calgary, and Elizabeth and Marcel Bergmann, who themselves perform and record as the highly regarded Bergmann Piano Duo. The trio joined forces 20 years ago at the prestigious Banff Centre for the Arts and present a musical experience you simply won't hear or see anywhere else. The evening started with an Aaron Copland piece, the stage split between the grand piano and an impressive array of percussion instruments. Unusually, the two pianists sat at the piano side by side, four hands on one piano. This is done at times for effect but not that often, yet the Bergmanns played the entire evening in this manner, creating a density and fullness of sound that one player cannot manage. Opposite them, Rod Thomas Squance perfectly wove his way through the music, at times seamlessly slipping into the spaces between, or at other moments leading the piano using the marimba or vibraphone. The arrangements were all done by one or all of the members and really showcased both the instruments and the abilities of the players. At times, only the pianists were in the spotlight, performing Mozart's Fantasy for a Musical Clockwork to great effect and Malaguena, a beautiful piece by Ernesto Lecuona. The percussion featured on a solo marimba version of Bach's Prelude from Lute Suite 3 and an original composition by Rod himself, titled The Pleiades. I would venture that few in the audience had heard percussion instruments played in such a manner. It really gave a different perspective on what can be done by a master. In most instances, however, the group played as a trio and that's what most impressed me. The piano being essentially a percussion instrument, it has an instant "attack" to a note. What that means is that when notes don't land at the same time precisely, it sounds very evident (as opposed to strings for example which can have a slower attack). The skills and excellent communication of these three musicians left me wholly impressed how often they achieved a singular sound. Even between the two pianists it would be difficult, but with the marimba added, almost impossible. Yet they managed it, far more often than not. The standout for me (and many others, based on a quick survey) were the Selections from West Side Story. The arrangements were brilliant, fiery when needed, beautiful and melodic elsewhere, respecting the genius of Bernstein, but with their own signature on every piece. I suspect they could do an entire concert just on that musical, and people would rush to hear it. It was so strong, in fact, I was curious as to why they swapped it with Blue Rondo a la Turk to end the evening. The Brubeck piece is fun (I have often played it with my own quartet) and I enjoyed some of the re-interpretations of the original, not to mention the chance for Rod and Marcel to improvise, but it did seem a bit anticlimactic after West Side Story. Unique is an over-utilized word, I admit. Yet Percussiano3 offer something I've never heard. The originality of arrangements and well-spoken, affable musicians made the evening a memorable experience worth repeating. A trio? Sure. Definitely unique.

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The Winnipeg Singers: Truly magnificent painters of sound By Jessie Rivest I was one of the last to be seated in the nearly sold out theatre. Betty, beside me, asked what I knew about Winnipeg. I said “Well, I know they have the most restaurants per capita, and they’re the front-runner to be named a Music City, ahead of Toronto and Vancouver.” We discussed how the Winnipeg arts scene is flourishingly with talent and is highly underrated. We shouldn't have been surprised when Pat Wray, Executive Director of the Winnipeg Singers, let us and the audience know that the choir had received multiple international recognitions, including "Best Choir Award" at the Barcelona International choral festival. The group is in the planning stages of its next international tour. Vocalists floated onto the stage one by one, singing I Wonder as I Wander (Loomer), a striking entrance that let us hear some of the beautiful individual voices that made up the 24-person ensemble. The concert was segmented into 5 Lessons, which Donnalynn Grills led with contemporary anecdotes that set a conscious tone between the singers and the audience. For instance, Gabriel coming to Mary to let her know she was going to have an unusual birth experience. How could that apply to today? Sudden changes can present gifts of possibility, and magic we feel over the holidays can effervesce throughout the entire year, were only some of the thought-provoking applications. Gabriel’s Message (Balfour), amalgamated overtone singing from the bass section with the familiar melody, creating an affecting sonic experience. Artistic Director and Conductor Yuri Klaz has some of the highest pedigree you can imagine, such as “Honoured Artist of Russia”. His direction was impeccable; at one point I wondered “did the choir have a special meeting to decide who was going to put the “s” on the end of words?”—they were so crisp and together, but far from militaristic. Soul sailed through the vowels, as Klaz highlighted each section at the appropriate moment to honour the music. It was like watching a painter of sound. At the end of Away in a Manger (Ramsey), it was as if Klaz was unrolling a delicate scroll across the sky to evenly distribute the decrescendo. Truly magnificent. Each choir section, particularly the first sopranos, were incredibly pristine and well blended—very challenging to do when up in the rafters in full voice. The tenors also displayed that they knew how to harness great power with great responsibility. Soloist Criag Kremer let his strength shine in In the Bleak Midwinter (Parrotta) as did soprano Ainsley Wray, with outstanding clarity and control on the tag-like ending. In Noel Nouvelet (Wiebe) the singers suddenly transformed into handbells with a billowing undercurrent of running “dugga doo’s”. The laser-exact ictus signalled the basses to end with a single “dmm” which warmed the hearts of the crowd. “Wow!” and “Beautiful!” were being said all over the house throughout the afternoon; it was nearly impossible for the audience to keep their exclamations to themselves, the Winnipeg Singers are just that good. Another highlight was the choir splitting into 2 ensembles to lead carolling sessions in each half of the programme. While some of the carols were not super well-known, most of us were able to chime in on the refrains, which was fun! Kudos to the KCCA for their persistence in organizing such a phenomenal group to bless the Okanagan with a visit. I’m really excited to know that they are pivoting to a new venue — the Evangel Church in 2023: 1,600 seats, free parking for members, and acoustics with raised roof are plenty of silver lining. The Kelowna Community Theatre has a shortened ceiling over the performers and a ton of carpet: not ideal for choirs. We will have to get the Winnipeg Singers to return to the new venue so we can savour those ringing chords and hold applause until the conductor’s hands slowly come down, rested humbly at his side.

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Christopher Hall and the Alma String Quartet: Humour and talent take audience on delightful journey through classical music By Neville Bowman Humour is a tricky thing. It's ultimately subjective, seldom cross cultural, and when applied to certain subjects (especially ones which don't typically have a sense of humour), it can be disastrous. It can also be an incredibly effective way to reach and teach those who may not understand or connect with a given subject. Christopher Hall knows this very well and with the assistance of the Alma String Quartet (and a special guest appearance by amazing KCT tech Kelly) he took us on a very humorous journey through, around, and past classical music. An excellent speaker and entertainer, Christopher never let the energy drop, with a constant delivery of interesting facts, amusing one-liners, and sometimes self identified cheesy jokes. With a goal to "democratize" classical music and point out that it didn't used to be so serious, he managed to keep the audience laughing and even singing along for the entire show, no easy feat on a spectacular fall afternoon. Yes, there was music too. Sometimes excerpts, sometimes entire movements from known pieces by Mozart, Bach, Vivaldi, and many others, all played quite nicely by the quartet and Christopher himself on clarinet. The Alma String Quartet consists of YiYi Hsu (first violin), David Lee (second violin), Alexander Beggs (viola..."it's like a nice-sounding violin"), and Lyla Lee (cello). All young players, they played along with the joyful madness and when given a chance, showed that they could all play seriously too. They displayed this right at the beginning, playing Mozart's Quintet for Clarinet and String Quartet, lulling us in with the music, only to have it interrupted by a phone ringing. The phone was Christopher's, and the caller was "Justin Trudeau" (complete with the strings playing Girl From Ipanema as on-hold music). Thus, the show had begun! From then on in, he never slowed, speaking with never an "umm" or "ah", relaying facts and jokes continuously. In fact, I found it an almost welcome break when the group simply played a gorgeous piece for its own sake, one standout for me being a Bach Arioso adapted for clarinet and string quartet. Christopher showed his real skills there. It's important to note those skills. With lesser players, such attempts at humour would have fallen flat or even just been annoying. These five players, while perhaps not "perfect" in their every note (though I doubt it's easy playing while someone stands behind you "reading your mind"), gave the legitimacy necessary to make the humour come to life. There were too many highlights in this show to mention, from bringing up a young guest conductor Noah, to sound tech Kelly holding up cards as subtext to a Brahms piece, to having an entire room singing Beethoven....not to mention some truly lovely musical moments. Christopher Hall is an excellent presenter and humorist, not to mention a fantastic clarinetist. His journey of teaching and opening up classical music is a very worthy one, done well, and made for a perfect start to the Kelowna Community Concert Association season. Neville Bowman is a local musician and actor

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