Concerts movies and

Concerts, movies and skiing crowded in to city visit

My wife Pat has been in Vancouver the last couple of weeks adjudicating piano examinations for the Toronto Conservatory. Not one to turn down staying in a fancy hotel in the big city I tagged along.

The Vancouver Canucks were playing their first game after the infamous NHL strike. Having never seen the Canucks play live, I thought it might be great to attend a professional hockey game. That is until I went online to see if there were any tickets available. Talk about sticker shock. Cheap seats in the nosebleeds started at $95. Sitting anywhere near ice level was priced at $206.00. Really! Do families actually attend NHL games? I decided to skip the hockey and take in a concert instead. 

The Vancouver Symphony with their musical director Bramwell Tovey was doing a launch concert before heading out on the road for a Western U.S. two week tour to Washington, California, Nevada and Arizona. I went online and got an excellent seat at the Orpheum for a fraction of the cost of watching the boys of winter, skate around the Rogers’ rink. Just as well, the Canucks got dumped by the Ducks.    

                                                                               Pianist Jon Kimura Parker 
Soloist for the VSO concert was pianist Jon Kimura Parker. For the tour Parker had selected the Grieg Piano Concerto in A minor. He was dazzling and if the concert I heard is any indication, U.S. audiences will be greatly impressed with this British Columbia raised Canadian export who currently teaches at Rice University in Houston, Texas. Unfortunately Pat was unable to come with me to hear him. Adjudicating is not easy work. The hours are long and Pat needs to spend evenings going over all the marks and comments given during the day before Purolatoring everything off to Toronto. 

Specially written for the U.S. tour was a piece called Totem by VSO composer in residence Edward Top. My ears can handle some very far-out contemporary harmony but I’m afraid nothing could have prepared me for such a mish mash of sound. Pounding percussion, wailing sirens, gut wrenching brass and edgy string sounds that seemly led nowhere. I found the composition a tad painful to listen to. However, in fairness, the work did in the final bars morph to a very beautiful closing. I can’t imagine what the U.S. audiences will make of it. 
Wrapping up the concert was Symphony No. 5 in B-flat Major by Prokofiev. The score for the symphony is complex and it was a demanding workout for both the conductor and the orchestra who played the work brilliantly. 

 I had some excellent skiing on Grouse Mountain. There was a weather inversion with sun on the slopes and the city below encased in thick fog. 

The outdoor ice rink on Grouse Mountain.

With oodles of movie theatres scattered around the lower mainland I was able to see all the Academy Award nominees. The late night TV talk shows had been raving about a flick called Zero Dark Thirty so I started with that one. 
In the running for 5 Academy Awards, Zero Dark Thirty is a chilling thriller concerning the CIA’s decade-long search for Osama bin Laden. Jessica Chastain is outstanding as the single-minded CIA analyst who figures out where bin Laden is holed up. Her portrayal garnered her a best actress nomination.  It’s always been puzzling to me, if a movie has been nominated for best picture, shouldn’t the director be automatically nominated as best director? Case in point. The director of Zero Dark Thirty Kathryn Bigelow was completely ignored. 
Although not a blockbuster academy award nominee, one of the most enjoyable films I saw this week in Vancouver was called simply Quartet. I heard about the film after listening to an interview with the film’s director Dustin Hoffman on Jian Ghomeshi’s morning talk show “Q,” on CBC Radio One. 
Quartet is set somewhere in Britain in a retirement home for performing artists and named after the famous conductor Sir Thomas Beecham. The film is loaded with great music played by actual retired musicians who perform as extras throughout the film. Playing a quartet of retired operatic stars are famed British movie stars Maggie Smith, Pauline Collins, Tom Courtenay and Billy Connolly. As you may have surmised, the target audience for Quartet is, shall we say mature, like myself. 
Quartet is currently playing at the Galaxy in Nanaimo. If you do attend be sure to wait until the credits run at the end showing photos of the musicians and singers in their heyday. As they say in the film, getting old isn’t for wimps. Having just seen Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Last Stand and Jason Statham’s Parker, it was a relief to sit through a film without scads of violent gunplay and perpetual car chases. 
Before I forget, while attending a film at the Metropolis Theatre at Metrotown , I slipped into the theatre showing Les Miz to have a second look. When I saw the movie a few days after Christmas in Nanaimo I felt the balance between the singers and the orchestra left a lot to be desired. However, the sound was much improved at the Metrotown venue. I could hear the orchestra very clearly right down to the deepest bass notes although the voice mix continued to be tweaked on the loud side for my taste. 

A few days after this second viewing, a colleague emailed me an interesting review written by Emma Gosnell that had appeared in the UK’s Daily Telegraph newspaper. The critique was titled Why I walked out of Les Miserables. Echoing my sentiments, Gosnell had been very excited about seeing the movie ever since the trailer screened that had “Anne Hathaway sob-singing her way through I Dreamed a Dream.”  
Her review paralleled the thoughts I expressed in my last blog about my lack of an emotional connection through the music as presented in the film version. I’ve read so many outstanding reviews of Les Miserables (with its 8 Oscar nominations) I was beginning to think I had a chunk of defective genetic material wedged in my cranium for even suggesting the highly nominated film has some musical flaws. 
The bottom line, unbalanced sound track aside, is that most of the actors in the film version are brilliant actors first, not singers. This is not live theatre and I need to acknowledge that’s likely why I found little emotional connection to the film. However, this was not the case with the three weeping women sitting in the row in front of me at my second viewing. 
Reviewer Emma Gosnell, as part of her article for the Daily Telegraph, had interviewed Marni Nixon an 82-year-old Hollywood musicals veteran. I quote: Nixon “is known in the industry as the ‘ghostess with the mostess, having been a singing double for everyone from Audrey Hepburn in My Fair Lady, Deborah Kerr in The King and I and – without her knowledge – Natalie Wood in West Side Story.”  In Nixon’s opinion, “the Les Misérables film was misconceived. If you’re making a musical, you should hire singers who can act. In a musical, you want singing that’s technically good. It’s cruel to make people who can’t sing, sing,” 

Enough said. I confess, my love for live Broadway theatre taints my opinion about filmed musicals.

For those interested, the link to Gosnell’s complete review in the Daily Telegraph can be read at:

I don’t like to be away from the piano too long so when possible I bring my digital keyboard along with me. I use earphones so the hotel guests in the next room don’t start complaining. 

Another film I viewed in Vancouver was the Life Of Pi with 11 Academy nominations. The film should only be seen in a big-screen 3-D format in a good theatre. Life Of Pi has to be the most beautiful film of the year. It is unquestionably a technical marvel. There is a Canadian connection with Winnipeg born composer Mychael Danna receiving a nomination for best musical score as well as best song.
In support of the performing arts I’ve been asked by readers to post the following information for anyone in the mid-Vancouver Island area who may be interested.
Summer 2013 – Village Theatre in Qualicum 
General Auditions for the 2013 Summer Season are being held in Parksville – Shelly Road Centre, 186 Shelly Road on Sunday, Feb 03 (1:00-5:00 pm & 6:30 to 9:00 pm). Nanaimo – St. Paul’s Hall, 100 Chapel Street on Saturday, Feb 2, 1:30-5:00pm.
Singing and non-singing roles for males and females aged 13-70. Open auditions for all three shows at all audition sessions. Please prepare a 1-2 minute monologue, and about 16= bars of a song (if auditioning for musical). No appointment necessary but please be prepared to stay for about 2 hours.
The shows:
SEXY LAUNDRY – A marital comedy-poignant and funny, Special Guest Director Norman Browning.
THE DROWSY CHAPERONE – A terrific, tuneful, toe-tapping tribute to the Twenties. Directed by Gary Brown & Eric Gow. 
LITTLE WOMEN – The timeless classic by Louisa May Alcott. Directed by Eileen Butts.
Role descriptions may be found in B2B’s November newsletter online at For further information contact: Eileen Butts ( or 250-248-3782). Gary Brown ( or 250-468-9545). Don Harper ( or 250-752-3502).

NANAIMO CONSERVATORY OF MUSIC presents pianist Krzysztof Jablonski – Sunday, March 17, 2013

Nanaimo Conservatory of Music presents its annual gala concert featuring international piano superstar Krzysztof Jablonski. Fresh from a touring engagement in Japan, Mr. Jablonski will present an afternoon of Frederic Chopin’s greatest hits. Program highlights include the Polonaise in A flat major (Op. 53), the Prelude in E minor (Op. 28 No. 4), and Andante Spianato & Grand Polonaise in E flat major (Op. 22).

For tickets and more information, please call Nanaimo Conservatory of Music at 250.754.4611