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Music, what’s it MEME to me?

MEMEEnter the Vancouver Recital Society’s RU35 Collaborative Art Project and You Could Win!

Looking for a way to experience heart-stopping classical music recitals without breaking the bank? RU35, or Recitals Under 35, is the Vancouver Recital Society’s new program for discerning young Vancouverites between the ages of 18 and 35. RU35 tickets for all recitals are only $18, a savings of up to 75%.

In the spirit of youth, music, and collaboration, we’ve created a art project based around the poster and internet memes. We want your answers to the following question:

“Music, what’s it MEME to me?”

Tell us what music “memes” to you in one short sentence. Be as creative with your response as you like. To enter, post your submissions on Facebook (on the Vancouver Recital Society Facebook page) or Twitter (using the #RU35 hashtag) from February 15, to April 15, 2012.

The Vancouver Recital Society will commission a Vancouver-based design team to take our favourite submissions and transform them into series of six internet memes and collectible posters. If your submission is selected for a poster, you’ll win two tickets to the performance of your choice and be entered into a draw for a subscription to the Vancouver Recital Society’s 2012/2013 season.



Please read the “Music, what’s it MEME to me?” Collaborative Art Project Contest Rules below before submitting your entry. By submitting your entry into the Contest, you automatically agree to these rules.

Who is Eligible?
British Columbia residents 18 years of age or older. Staff and partners of the Vancouver Recital Society are encouraged to enter but will not be eligible to win a prize. There is no purchase necessary to enter or win.

How Do I Enter?
Post your answer to the question “Music, what’s it MEME to me?” in one of two ways:

1)      Like the Vancouver Recital Society Facebook page and post your entry on our wall.
2)      Follow @VanRecital on Twitter and tweet us your entry (including the #RU35 hashtag).

Feel free to include images or video with your entries. Your space is limited only by the space on Twitter and Facebook. Enter as often as you’d like.


When is the deadline for entry?
Be sure to post your entries by April 15, 2012 at 11:59PM PST.

How are the winning entries selected?
All entries will be reviewed by the Vancouver Recital Society team and judged for relevance and creativity. If your entry is selected, a Vancouver-based design team will transform your response into a sharable internet meme (in the form of a jpeg image) and collectible poster. There will be six winning entries in total.

What are the prizes?
The six winning entries will each receive two tickets to the Vancouver Recital Society performance of their choice in the 2011/2012 season. Additionally, those six finalists will be put in a draw for a subscription to the Vancouver Recital Society’s 2012/2013 season. Prizes are non-refundable and cannot be returned for cash.

When and how are winners contacted?
The Vancouver Recital Society will contact the six finalists via their method of submission (Facebook or Twitter) by April 20, 2012. If they do not respond within 7 days, they automatically forfeit their prize. Winners must provide proof that they are 18 years of age or older to obtain their prize. Prizes can be sent to a mailing address provided by winners.

The Vancouver Recital Society is not responsible for any failure of the Facebook or Twitter websites during this contest. Nor is it responsible for any problems or technical malfunctions of computer online systems, servers, access providers, computer equipment, software or any e-mail, online or internet entry lost due to technical problems or traffic congestion on the internet or at any website or any combination thereof, including any injury or damage to an entrant’s or any other person’s computer or property related to or resulting from playing or downloading any material in the promotion.

The One Who Got Away

QuasthoffFor a good many years I have been an ardent fan of the wonderful German bass-baritone, Thomas Quasthoff.  I had the good fortune to hear him in recital at the Wigmore Hall and remarkably, despite his 4ft height he was a towering presence on the stage.

He was a “thalidomide baby” who soared above his physical challenges, and became one of the greatest baritones of this generation.  His lieder singing was powerful and communicative as you will see from this video.

Thomas Quasthoff sings Schubert Winterreise

He was also a jazz singer of repute as you will hear in this video where he performs the great “Georgia on my mind”.

Thomas Quasthoff sings Georgia on my mind

The Vancouver Recital had engaged him for a performance at the Chan with the Freiburg Baroque Orchestra on February 15, 2003. Regrettably, he had to cancel the tour due to some health challenges at the time, and we have not had another opportunity to engage him.

Last Wednesday he announced “After almost 40 years, I have decided to retire from concert life. My health no longer allows me to live up to the high standard that I have always set for my art and myself. I owe a lot to this wonderful profession and leave without a trace of bitterness”.

I read a review of a concert of his at Carnegie Hall in which he is reputed to have shouted at a few people in the audience who tried to rush away right after the last song (the reviewer said “probably to catch the last bus to Hoboken!”)…”wait! I haven’t finished singing!”.  Now that takes courage.

Thomas Quasthoff will continue to teach and to run his Lieder Competition.  He is a one-of-a kind.

There is an illuminating interview he did with the British music journalist, Norman Lebrecht on the BBC.  Here is the link.  Make a nice cup of tea, settle back and enjoy.  


Listening Room Revealed

headphonesOver the past few weeks we asked our readers for their favourite recordings, performers and repertoire. We received many responses.

Perhaps it is not surprising that J. S. Bach ranks high with our listeners. One wrote, “I’m listening to Bach piano transcriptions performed by Dinu Lipatti, Yvonne Lefebure, Egon Petri, Solomon, Myra Hess, and Wilhelm Kempff.” Other entrants cited Yo-Yo Ma’s recorded performances of the six cello suites, and Glenn Gould’s 1981 recording of the Goldberg Variations.

The latter work received a second suggestion with the “authentic, ethereal, definitive” recording by Wanda Landowska, and, as an alternative to the Goldberg Variations, another listener suggested Angela Hewitt’s Well-Tempered Clavier Book 1 and 2.

Mozart also got a nod with the third violin concerto played by the “WONDERFUL and Canadian” James Ehnes. This listener added, “I can’t decide which movement I love best!”

Another listener added Helene Grimaud’s new Mozart album, which debuted at #1 on the Billboard Classical Traditional Chart in the US, and made it into the iTunes 10 top classical albums in the US, France and Germany.

Taking a different approach, one respondent samples “the spectrum of Jupiters [as an example] from the great number of conductors who’ve taken a stab at it. Classical Archives is a great place to try these out without buying every disc.”

Other repertoire/performer recommendations included:

  • Beaux Arts Trio performing Arensky Piano Trios: “not a staple repertoire, but a delightful rendering. Beaux Arts Trio is always my favourite.”
  • The music of Chopin performed by Alexandre Tharaud, Samson Francois and Alfred Cortot.
  • Chopin’s Mazurkas performed by Yakov Flier: “No-one comes even close! This is “Mazurkas Rediscovered!”
  • Folk Songs by Trio Mediaeval
  • Glassworks by Philip Glass (this listener puts the opening track on repeat and says it is “terrific!”)
  • Mendelssohn’s Piano Trios as interpreted by Yo-Yo Ma, Itzhak Perlman and Emanuel Ax
  • Prokofiev’s Romeo & Juliet with the London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Valery Gergiev
  • Symphony No. 3, Sibelius, recorded by Sir Colin Davis and the Boston Symphony
  • Rachmaninoff piano concertos performed by Jean Yves Thibaudet
  • Richard Strauss’s Metamorphosen performed by the Strings of the Berlin Philharmonic and conducted by Herbert von Karajan
  • Healey Willan’s 2nd Symphony

Rounding out the list is:

  • Anything by Paul Lewis
  • Ma Vlast by Smetana
  • any CDs featuring two piano and piano duet CDs
  • and any live performance on

On the pop end of the spectrum we received recommendations for Billy Joel’s Fantasy and Delusion performed by pianist Richard Joo, Iggy Pop’s album The Idiot, Annie Lennox’s album Bare, and Deva Premal’s The Essence (“a great restorer of peace and balance”).

So, there you have it: a fantastic and varied listening list. Thank you to everyone who participated in our competition… and congratulations to Robin Bajer the winner of our six autographed CDs and DVDs.

Enjoy and happy listening!

Parking at the Chan Centre

parkingMany of our patrons have pointed out the increasing cost of using the Rose Garden Parkade adjacent to the Chan Centre.

In the past, parking at UBC was underwritten by UBC Parking Services with a small charge ($1-$1.50) applied to organizations using the Chan Centre for each ticket that was sold. UBC Parking absorbing the balance of the cost. The result was the appearance of “free” parking at the Chan Centre.

This came to an end in 2009 when the Chan and its clients were informed by UBC Parking that they, on instructions from the UBC Board of Governors, could no longer underwrite the cost of event parking. This began a two year ramp-up to what UBC Parking perceived as revenue neutral rates.

We have discussed ths situation with our colleagues at the Chan Centre a number of times, but they are not in control of the parkade and are not able to offer any cost-reducing solutions.

While we do not have an ideal solution, we would like to suggest a few parking alternatives that you may wish to try. The North Parkade and the Fraser Parkade are short walks (5-7 minutes) from the front doors of the Chan. Neither are likely to have line-ups and they offer evening and weekend parking for $6. Both of these alternate lots are unattended.

You will find UBC parking maps here, and a searchable map can be found here. Additional information, including Translink information, can be found on the Chan Centre website.

Everyone at the Chan Centre and Vancouver Recital Society thank you for your patience and understanding. If you do have comments about this or any other topic, please feel free to send a message to Paul Gravett (VRS executive director).

Picture source:

Listening Room

One thing we all share in common is a passion for listening to music.

Of course, we regularly come together to discover new talent and marvel at internationally-acclaimed artists on Vancouver’s stages. But our appetite for music does not end there.

In a world where recordings have never been more readily available, we can now have our pick of music at any time, anywhere.

This prompted us to ask the question: what are you listening to?

We decided to put the question to Alexander Melnikov. Perhaps not surprisingly, much of his listening centres on the music he is performing. In other words, his listening is his work and his study.

Melnikov added that his late-night listening lately has been Bruno Walter’s recording of Mahler’s ninth symphony with the Vienna Philharmonic. But he really wanted us to know about the Comedian Harmonists, an all-male vocal group who performed in the 1930s. You will find background on this ensemble here; try this YouTube channel for recordings and excerpts from a movie.

Let us know what you have been listening to by posting your favourite recordings on our blog, or by emailing them. Everyone who shares their personal playlists will be automatically entered to win an attractive CD package specially picked by VRS staff.

Happy listening!

photo from

A growing apprecition: Preludes and Fugues by Shostakovich

Melnikov and ShostakovichPerhaps it has been a deficiency in my musical education, but I have found it hard to warm to Shostakovich’s Preludes and Fugues.

Written in 1950-51 and influenced by Bach and in a lineage of prelude collections by Chopin, Scriabin, Busoni, Debussy, and Rachmaninoff, these works have generally remained on the outskirts of the repertoire.

This is changing however, in part due to the championing of Alexander Melnikov, who will give us a still rare opportunity to hear a significant portion of Shostakovich’s Preludes and Fugues on November 13. This will certainly be the first time I will hear more than one or two of the prelude-fugue pairs at one time.

Because of Melnikov’s program, and more because I am turning pages for this performance, I thought it incumbent on me to learn more about this great composer’s magnum opus.

My new appreciation began with the arrival of Robert Markow’s programme notes. He wrote: “In their vast range of textures, figurations, rhythmic devices, characterizations, compositional procedures and moods, Shostakovich’s 24 preludes and fugues rank as one of the monuments of twentieth-century piano literature.” You can read the full set of notes here.

Alexander Melnikov wrote in the liner notes to his own recording, “we hear the voice of a tormented man, finding again and again the superhuman force to face life as it is – in all its variety, ugliness, and sometimes beauty.” Hear more about Melnikov’s thoughts on Shostakovich in this video.

There is no doubt all of this is revealed in Melnikov’s 2010 recording, which has contributed to a rediscovery of the Preludes and Fugues and the next stage of my appreciation.

Played with “clarity” and “virtuosity and audacity” (The New York Times), the Neo-Classical elements of the pieces resound, and Shostakovich’s response to his self-imposed aesthetic restriction is endlessly inventive and inspired (imagine writing in a clearly defined tonal centre in the 1950s!).

Each listening of Melnikov’s recording exposes the depth and breadth of these bold works and, as suggested in The Guardian, “Alexander Melnikov makes you wonder why these works are considered monotonous or didactic.”

Indeed, I now have to wonder why it is we do not hear these works more frequently, and how it is they have been missing in my musical appreciation. That has all changed in the hands of Alexander Melnikov.

Paul Gravett
Executive Director

Alexander Melnikov performs at the Chan Centre for the Performing Arts on Sunday, November 13 at 3pm. Tickets are available from the VRS Box Office, call Cory at 604-602-0363. Tickets are also available from Ticketmaster either online at or call 1-855-985-2787 (service charges apply).

Music and Politics: a perspective

The connection between music and politics has had a long, varied and interesting history. National anthems inspire a country’s patriotism, and protest songs rally a down-trodden populace. Music has become so important to today’s political campaigns that their success can almost hinge on a well-chosen song.

Classical music has had many great moments of political connections, whether or not it was initially intended by the composer. A hymn by Hebrew slaves longing for their homeland in Verdi’s Nabucco (“Va pensiero”), resonated during a period of Italian emancipation from the Austrians and French.

Beethoven was an earlier proponent of political statements with Wellington’s Victory and the “Eroica” Symphony. Benjamin Britten wrote his masterpiece War Requiem, underscoring the futility of war, and John Adams’s opera The Death of Klinghoffer examines the killing of an American Jew by Palestinian terrorists.

Recently, classical music performances have been targeted as forums for political protest due to the alleged affiliations of the musicians. Just last month a concert by the Israel Philharmonic was interrupted by a chorus of chanting protesters in London’s Barbican, and not so long before that, audiences in London and Edinburgh endured stop-and-go performances as protesters continually interrupted the Jerusalem String Quartet.

The latter ensemble, a long-time Vancouver Recital Society favourite, gave a very fine performance at the Chan Centre on Sunday, October 2. At this event, our patrons were ‘greeted’ by peaceful protesters handing out leaflets; happily the performance proceeded without an accompanying chorus.

Two days before the performance we learned of the potential presence of protesters, setting off a little flurry of emails and phone calls with the Chan Centre staff, UBC security and even the RCMP. The goal was not to prevent a protest, a civil right, but rather to ensure the safety of, and be respectful to, the ticket-buying public.

This goal was achieved for our patrons, but a similar respect was not, unfortunately, offered to the musicians. The distributed pamphlet, which was cleverly designed to complement the VRS program, effectively put words into the mouths of the four musicians. It was written in such a way that it was misconstrued by a few as coming from the Quartet or, as the pamphlet claims, “the ambassadors of apartheid.”

Responding to an earlier situation, first violinist Alexander Pavlovsky said, “I don’t think we are controversial as musicians. The protests that happened [in London] were based on a wrong assumption — that we are presented, employed or supported by the Israeli government. That is categorically untrue.”

Regrettably, without balanced information some of our patrons took the information to heart and have expressed anger with the Jerusalem String Quartet. In some cases the anger has extended to the Vancouver Recital Society for (supposedly) providing a forum for political ideology.

It is our hope our patrons take the time to learn more about the Jerusalem String Quartet, as there is most definitely more to this than the singular point-of-view distributed on Sunday. A starting point could be the VRS Facebook page where you will find a letter by violist Ori Kam who wrote in response to the recent protest against the Israel Philharmonic.

Paul Gravett
Executive Director

Ru35: Recitals for young Vancouverites

Ru35Ru35 is a new program for discerning young Vancouverites between 18 and 35 who want to broaden their cultural horizons, impress a date or influence their network in a new way.

Young adults get the opportunity to experience live solo performances by world-class classical artists, meet new people, and never break the bank doing it.

Tickets are only $18, a savings of up to 75%. After taking in some great classical music continue the experience at one of our fantastic partner restaurants.

We launch this program on September 25 with pianist Boris Giltburg. See details on our Facebook page. (you do not need an account to view this information)

Tickets and information are available through the VRS box office at 604.602.0363.

The Season Begins

Murray PerahiaOnce again we have a season of musical treasures that will be yours to discover over 21 performances, plus one very special presentation. To start this season we present the Vancouver debuts of two young musicians: pianist Boris Giltburg and violist Maxim Rysanov.

Boris Giltburg first came to our attention through a long-time friend of the VRS, who had heard him in Kansas City. Following what was obviously a stirring performance, she immediately called to say we MUST book this pianist. With that recommendation, his marvellou s reco rded performances and critical comments (including comparisons to the legendary Artur Rubinstein, no less), how could we not bring Boris to Vancouver so that you could hear him for yourselves?

As a violist, Maxim Rysanov has chosen the much-maligned instrument that, for some, is known more as the butt of jokes than as a solo instrument. But that is not the case with Maxim, who has staked out a solo career typically the domain of the violinist or cellist. Moreover, when you hear Maxim’s performance of Bach’s Suite, any thought of his instrument’s status will quickly vanish when you are treated to a sound and interpretation that seems “just right”. We are also pleased to welcome back Eldar Nebolsin, who made his recital debut on our series in 1998.

The third performance is our beloved Jerusalem String Quartet. We love them, and our audiences love them, and that is why we keep bringing them back to Vancouver.

Hopefully you know we have slipped in a very special presentation this season: the return of Alfred Brendel to Vancouver on Friday, October 21. Delivering a very special illustrated lecture, titled Does classical music have to be entirely serious?, this is a rare opportunity to hear the unequalled insight of a great pianist and musician. Tickets have sold very quickly for this presentation and there are very few remaining at this time.

We look forward to seeing you very soon as discover together the great musical treasures that lie ahead.

Leila Getz and Paul Gravett

Trousers, Duct Tape and the Jerusalem String Quartet

Duct TapePaul Gravett, hasn’t worked at the VRS long enough to know that to ask me “to write a few words about something” is like asking me to fly a jumbo jet!  Here is the response to his most recent request… “Would you mind writing a few words about your first encounter with the Jerusalem String Quartet?”

My first encounter with them in the 2000/2001 season was indeed memorable.  I picked them up at YVR when they arrived on a flight from Colombia at around noon. They were to perform at the Playhouse at 8pm that evening.  Kyrill, the cellist was the first one through Immigration and Customs by a long shot. He explained to me that not all their luggage had arrived in Vancouver with them.  And so it was….four instrumentalists and luggage for two.

You can imagine the hullabaloo in the car on the way to the hotel to check in just before their rehearsal and soundcheck at the Playhouse. There were heated discussions about what might be in Sasha’s (first violinist) luggage and what he could lend his two colleagues with missing luggage.

I tried to convince them that I really didn’t care whether or not they played the concert that evening in their jeans and t-shirts…that all I cared about was the quality of the concert.  And I told them that if they played wonderfully I was sure the audience would forgive them.

The run through was absolutely wonderful and I had no doubts that we were in for a great evening.

I took them back to the hotel to rest, and when I fetched them that evening to take them to the theatre they told me that they had solved the problem.  Kyrill had his dark suit and Sasha had his.  They went down to the dressing rooms to put their things down and then came up on stage to do a quick run through again.

I was sitting in the audience waiting for them to appear. And when they did, I thought I was going to collapse. I cannot recall when I have ever laughed harder, longer or louder.  Tears were rolling down my cheeks.  The stage crew came out to see what was going on. I could see them really trying not to laugh.

Sergei, the 2nd violinist had borrowed a pair of dark trousers from Sasha. Sasha is quite tall and very slim, and Sergei is shortish and squat. The trousers were dragging on the floor and he was walking in a manner which clearly demonstrated that the pants didn’t fit him.

The stage manager, offering to be helpful said “wait a minute, I have some duct tape. Duct tape fixes everything”.  He came back with the tape, got down on the floor and taped the trousers Sergei was wearing to the correct length…and which point I could see that the shoes he was wearing were at least three sizes too big.  The shoes stuck out way beyond his heels, which probably accounted for the comical way in which he walked.  Of course, that provoked more gales of laughter from me.  When I could breathe and speak again I told them that there was absolutely NO WAY that they could come out on stage like that, and that the entire audience would collapse in laughter and that they had to play in their travelling clothes.  So we reached an agreement. They would do just that, if I made an announcement at the beginning of the performance.

I made the announcement, and I demonstrated the way Sergei walked on stage, by which time both the audience and I were shaking with laughter. I described the shoes, the duct tape and the whole deal.

Some people said they didn’t know whether they had bought tickets for a concert or a comedy show.

What a great concert it was.  That’s why they are regular visitors to our series.

Leila Getz