Reviews of the
2021 - 2022 Season
The Importance of Story: An Evening with the Alias Brass Company By Craig Thomson On November 6th, 2023 (due to pandemic-era delays) the Kelowna Community Concert Association presented the Alias Brass Company, a quintet of masterful performers from across the United States. Each boasts an impressive resume of international performances, recordings, and awards, and each holds prestigious positions at American universities. Comprising Jonathan Bhatia and T.J. Tesh (both playing trumpet, piccolo trumpet, and flugelhorn); Natalie Brooke Higgins on horn; newcomer Gregory Freeman on trombone, and Clayton Maddox on tuba, Alias Brass combines diverse elements from multiple musical styles and cultural traditions to create engaging performances. While their chosen repertoire showcased their impressive technical and emotive skills as instrumentalists and combined many diverse musical styles from classical to jazz, I was most engaged by their ability to weave a compelling narrative and connect to the crowd through their stories. The concert opened, as it should, with some well-staged drama. The group entered the darkened hall with their instruments illuminated by string lights and were backlit by brilliant, fanned lances of white light from spotlights on the stage. They began with Anthony DiLorenzo's Fire Dance, a piece depicting fire trucks racing through the streets of Philadelphia. Performed from memory in the darkness, the musicians demonstrated impeccable internal pulse with clean, technical melodic lines. Deprived of their sight, their intonation was at its best, and I was particularly impressed by the tone-matching of the unison trombone and trumpet passages. The song's crisp ending reverberated through the venue, and I held my breath to savour the lingering echoes. Freeman's nimble trombone technique was apparent early and continued to impress throughout the night. The trombone is not typically associated with fast, acrobatic melodic lines, but Freeman is hardly an average trombonist. This was his inaugural performance with the Company; they live in separate cities, and so can only ever rehearse on tour. Freeman had his first rehearsal with the others the day before the show in Kelowna. I happened to be seated beside Wade Dorsey, one of the Okanagan valley's finest trombonists (and a descendant of trombone royalty). Wade's comment about Freeman was simply stated: "That's what a trombone is supposed to sound like!" I was struck by Alias Brass's use of impactful storytelling to frame each song. As a teacher and musician, I enjoy learning about the history of a piece and its composer. It makes the music more interesting and relatable when you can connect the art with the humanity and soul of the person who created it. The story of Adoration by Florence Price, a female African American composer, and how the piece was discovered in a chest of unpublished works while tearing down her house after her passing, will remain with me long after I have forgotten the wistful, melancholic chords and the beautiful sound of Higgins's high register on the horn. Learning more about the somewhat-troubling history of Amazing Grace reframes the entire composition for me, but somehow makes it even more poignant. The Alias Brass Company staged a lively, fun, and often amusing show. They demonstrated excellent technique and planned a diverse and interesting program. They performed with passion and panache. And they left us with the stories of the people behind the music, which we will remember long after the memories of the music fade. Saxophonist Craig Thomson is Artistic Director of the annual BC Interior Jazz Festival and was named Okanagan Musician of the Year in 2013. A public school music teacher, he was named a Yamaha Artist Educator in 2014. In 2016, he received the Greater Westside Board of Trade's Performing Arts Business of the Year Award.
The Fitzgeralds: Toe-tapping feel-good concert By Neville Bowman Sometimes, you just know something is going to be good. Within moments of smelling the meal, finding that perfect beach or hearing the first few notes of a song, you can tell, something special has started. And sometimes, it's better than you imagined. I had no idea what the KCCA crowd was in for when the music started on June 28. I've seen Celtic groups before, they can be fun if repetitive, and sibling groups can be quaint and certainly unique. The Fitzgeralds however are on another level. Hailing from the Ottawa valley (I know, who knew something positive could come from Ottawa...) Kerry, Tom, and Julie Fitzgerald were joined by guitarist Kyle Waymouth, and the four of them held the almost full Kelowna Community theatre spellbound for the entire evening. Playing a collection of music with a style of fiddle playing unique to the Ottawa valley, they brought an energy and emotion to the room that I've seldom seen. With multiple awards between them, for both fiddle playing and step dancing, the technical skill on stage was intimidating, yet never took away from the unabashed joy that this style of music often possesses. It's not an easy task to create a balance within a show. I found this performance to be very well crafted, blending elements of Canada's East coast traditions with a little of some American swing, and some contemporary writings and harmonies, written and arranged by the Fitzgeralds themselves. Tom's arrangements were brilliant, with hints at modern jazz harmonic concepts and rhythms that never pulled the listener out of the flow of the song and always respected the heritage of the music. With one piece, he paid homage to the Irish pipes and created a piece of music that was one of the most beautiful moments I've ever heard. It needs to be on your playlist. (He's got a nice voice too, yet another talent!) Kerry and Julie are both writers as well, with Julie performing two pieces of her own, Billy the Bully being a fun and diverse crowd pleaser and the other a gorgeous lullaby for her daughter. (Kyle's contribution to that piece I know brought a tear to more than a few audience members.) Kerry's music is more modern, edgy and harmonically challenging, and yet again, the skill of the entire group just makes it work so well, it's seamless. They dance too. Wow, can they dance. Their step dancing is similar to American tap, and was incorporated flawlessly within portions of the evening. At times, they literally just danced, no music, and still the crowd was captivated at the skill on display. At other times they danced while playing, or danced in chairs, always with precision and energy. The addition of Kyle to the dancing lineup in the second half was a brilliantly-timed surprise, and befitting of such a well-crafted performance. The encore upped the ante yet again, with some remarkable displays of "trick" playing, so those who left a bit early missed some fun! It's not always easy to be objective. I went into the theatre a little wary, maybe even cynical. I came out thinking that that had been one of the best concerts I've ever seen. Technically tight, musically inspiring and always entertaining. Instrumental skill that would make the best symphony players smile, delivering a music that transcends all else and just leaves you tapping your toe and feeling better, regardless of where you're from. I don't think many Kelowna Community Concert members would have objected to another hour of the Fitzgeralds. What a great way to end the season, and thank you for the music. Neville Bowman is a local actor and musician
The Breaking Winds Bassoon Quartet: Great Talent Shown with Humour by Neville Bowman In all areas of life, there are people drawn to the greater challenges. Those who want to beat that highest mountain, reach the pinnacle of a career, make a choice well beyond that which is necessary to fit into the general ranks. The world of music is no different, some opting to train well past the level of merely skilled to the point of exceptional (we had young Andrew Chen taking on Liszt for example) and / or selecting an instrument that few dare to master. An instrument such as the bassoon. The four women who comprise The Breaking Winds (Brittany Harrington-Smith, Nellie Sommer, Kara LaMoure and Lauren Yu Ziemba) not only chose to take on the bassoon, but to form a quartet that often does its best to pull the 17th century instrument right up the present, complete with the apparent prerequisite sense of humour. I have to mention the humour because, right from the very name of the group and the opening number, they came out playful and energetic, including inflatable hands at the top of the instrument to "high-five" each other. However, such humour only really works when there is sufficient skill to balance it out. Thankfully, all of these players possess musicality and dexterity (and air!) in ample supply to manoeuvre what is arguably one of the most difficult orchestral instruments to play, period. (Take that, sax players). Full disclosure, I love the sound of a bassoon. Nothing else sounds like it, and when four of them create perfect harmonies (such as on a stunning rendition of Danny Boy), it really does lift the instrument out of its oft supporting role to show off the gorgeous melodic range. It's equally at home producing percussive elements, as showcased throughout the evening in pieces such as the William Tell Overture and Ravel's Bolero. The Bolero in particular was cleverly created by breaking down the bassoons into constituent parts and adding in some other sound sources, eventually "rebuilding" the bassoons to produce the full tone. It was quite effective. I should also mention that almost all of the pieces performed were arranged by members of the group themselves, an impressive and rare feat. I did find that the more traditional pieces were more successful when performed by the quartet. The instrument, to my ears, feels more at home with those melodic ideas, the nature of its sound having a depth and age to it that when applied to more modern pop songs, feels out of place. (An exception to this would be the arrangement of Somebody To Love which worked very well, but then again, Mr. Mercury was no ordinary writer). As well, the apparent limited dynamic range of the horns in such a large theatre meant that the sound got kind of "compressed", leaving us with mostly one volume level throughout the evening. I'm sure that's merely a technical issue, as the bassoon in the hands of players this good is capable of a beautiful expressive range. To take such a challenging and misunderstood horn and present it in such an effective and unique manner is no easy job! Presented by the Kelowna Community Concert Association at the Kelowna Community Theatre, the Breaking Winds Bassoon Quartet gave us a fun and diverse show, with a relaxed humour that belied the remarkable skill displayed throughout the evening. As the season winds down, keep an eye out for next season’s performances! Once again, it looks like an amazing lineup of acts from many differing realms of performance. Until next time. Neville Bowman is a local musician and actor
TAKE 3: Sparkling performers combine technical artistry with energetic fun By Neville Bowman At various times in my musical career I have had people make the comment "you make it look so easy". It's a nice compliment, to appear that comfortable in one's craft. TAKE 3 makes it look easy — so easy and fun in fact that we forget just how highly skilled the musicians are and how carefully they've crafted their music. When musicians are at the level of these three, it takes us past the simple analysis of technical ability and programming. We as an audience get to relax and enjoy the artistry, the entertainment, and the personalities of the performers, all of which were in ample supply onstage at the Kelowna Community Theatre. Lindsay Deutsch (violin and voice) led off the evening with an energetic entrance and never let the energy drop for the rest of the evening. Fun, very sparkly and just at the right edge of cheesy, she balanced great storytelling skills with big stage presence, all backed up with a remarkable and versatile skill on the violin. On cello, equally sparkly Mikala Schmitz was mesmerizing, perfectly finding all the voices of one of my favourite instruments, at times synching up with Lindsay so precisely in musical expression one wonders just how many hours are behind each song. Finally, on the piano, Jason Stoll morphed seamlessly from accompanist to soloist throughout each piece, truly showcasing his talents in a solo rendition of Rhapsody in Blue. The show was excellently programmed, with some songs using electronic soundtracks to help create a bigger sound. Sometimes this can be a gamble, distracting from the musicians, even hiding them, but in this case it provided a foundation to permit the players to express their instruments to their fullest. I feel it worked well, and was used relatively sparingly. Song choices ranged from the opening with Despacito (contemporary) to a Beethoven mix, to country (Orange Blossom Special), and pop, all carefully arranged in a unique and very listenable form. At some moments it felt like a masterclass in film scoring. In other moments, it was simply stunning music to move you. Their arrangement of Hallelujah was, for me, a breathing of life into what has become a tired song. And then the Encore... For me, art is balance of technical ability, intelligence and creativity. When one is too far out of balance, somehow it doesn't work. The encore, a seemingly simple mix of Bach's Cello Suite #1 and Amazing Grace, was stunning. A beautifully balanced piece of music that crossed the line from entertainment to artistry and a wonderful way to finish the night. TAKE 3 has once again set a very high bar for the Kelowna Community Concert Association season. I look forward to the rest of year, hopefully going ahead as planned! If you know someone who is a member, and they have a spare seat, I highly suggest you take it. Or better yet, put your name in the membership list. You won't be disappointed. Neville Bowman is a local musician and actor
The Moanin’ Frogs Sax Sextet: Unique and entertaining, with high sax appeal By Lyndsey Wong Prior to seeing The Moanin’ Frogs, I must admit to having reservations about listening to six saxophones at once, sans accompaniment. Wouldn’t six saxes be five too many? However, I was terribly wrong. My fear of many horns blaring loudly at me, while simultaneously blinding me with their reflectiveness, was dispelled the moment they played their first note. The Kelowna Community Concert Association brought this unique and entertaining saxophone sextet to the Kelowna Community Theatre on Saturday night, and they did not disappoint. The Moanin’ Frogs is comprised of highly accomplished musicians, all classically-trained university professors in the field - most of whom have their Ph.D.s. The sextet features Edward Goodman (soprano sax), Gabriel Piqué (alto sax), Jeff Siegfried (tenor sax), Jonathan Hulting-Cohen (tenor sax), Jeffrey Leung (baritone sax) and Lucas Hopkins (bass sax). The evening began with “Wedding Dance from Hasseneh” by Jacques Press, a strong choice which set the tone for the night. The bold decision to jump right into the piece without introduction was an effective one, grabbing (and holding) my attention. Their technical skills, musicianship and cohesiveness as a group were obvious immediately, with dramatic dynamic shifts and clean cut-offs to boot. Following that, three different rags were played in a row, displaying some of their tightest and cleanest playing as a group. The next song, “Malagueña”, by Cuban composer Ernesto Lecuona, was a majestic and polished rendition, one of the highlights of the night. The iconic “Yakety Sax” by Boots Randolph, played by Siegfried, demonstrated the liveliness of both the instrument and the musicians. The second half began with more classical fare, with a beautiful version of “Danny Boy” halfway through the set. All six members joined in for an acapella verse, demonstrating their impressive ability to sing together as well. For the penultimate piece, Hulting-Cohen gave us a stunning rendition of “Bohemian Rhapsody”, a dynamic and tuneful solo that was reminiscent of Freddy Mercury himself. Every few songs, a different member of the group would present the upcoming selections and give us a bit of history, which was endearing, illuminating and often humorous. Most memorable was their account of how the airline lost their bass sax en route to Kelowna, leaving them without one of rarest instruments today. While alto and tenor saxes are almost ubiquitous, finding a bass saxophone last-minute is no easy feat. Local student Harmon Jardine graciously lent his bass sax (with the help of highly-esteemed music teacher Craig Thomson), an act that was most appreciated by the group. Not only were public thanks given, but they went so far as to videotape the show for Jardine, who was unable to attend. While Hopkins’s own bass sax is a modern one, the lent model is from 1921 and fingerings have changed since. As a result, he had a mere few hours to re-learn finger placement. Quickly. While an entire audience is watching. Luckily, Hopkins wrote his thesis on the exploration of the bass saxophone, and is credited with essentially writing the handbook on it. He gave a seamless performance and other than occasionally having to readjust the 25-pound instrument around his neck - which is often played on a stand - he gave no sign that it was new to him. Despite the stress of the missing instrument (and therefore losing precious rehearsal time), the group performed magnificently. With a wonderfully varied programme, they kept it mostly light and playful, often employing humour and simple choreography. Each member was outstanding in their own right, shining in their solo moments. Their use of these instruments resulted in an incredibly joyful, clean and balanced sound - one to be envied by anyone that has ever attempted performing as a group. Thank you to KCCA and Betty Skilbeck for their persistence in bringing The Moanin’ Frogs, as this group was rescheduled multiple times due to the pandemic. This was a fun, impressive show — one that I would see again. As it turns out, six saxophones really are better than one. Lyndsey Wong, MD is a local singer