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Songfire to ignite venues

The Vancouver Sun

by David Gordon Duke

We could quibble about whether SongFire – the performance arm of the annual Vancouver International Song Institute – should be considered the last event of our spring classical music season or the start of our summer festivals. What matters is that concert venues will erupt in a celebration of songs and singing.

Even the most dedicated supporters once debated whether such an extensive program, devoted to one of the harder-to­sell branches of classical repertoire, could ever take root. That the art-song event is in its sixth year should provide a sense of relief as well as satisfaction.

Composer Lloyd Burritt has served on the VISI board for four years and explained how things have changed. “Everything has taken shape, all from [founding artistic director] Rena Sharon. It’s unfolded magically this year; VISI is growing by leaps and bounds.”

VISI goes far beyond concerts and classes. Burritt describes how more local composers are featured in SongFire programs, which encourages composers and writers to create fresh repertoire.

Burritt has three works on tap this year, including a new song cycle. Knowing the performers he’s writing for as people is one of the reasons he’s so enthusiastic about the project: connections have been forged over the years, and now it’s dividend time.

From the beginning, VISI set out to be a “no-stars” proposition: distinguished veterans mix and mingle with youngsters just starting.

Things kick off June 8 with Playing with Fire. The new Orpheum Annex is the venue for an evening of works from VISI’s Song Lab project, which mates contemporary composers and poets.

The emphasis stays local June 9 with Here and Now, a showcase for works by some of our more established vocal composers, including the premiere of Burritt’s Triptych: Three Songs on Three Abstract Paintings. The idea is multi-disciplinary: Burritt has made musical settings of texts by poet Marilyn Lerch, which were inspired by paintings of artist Liberia Marcuzzi, images of which will be projected during the performance.

B.C. composers, including Imant Raminsh and David MacIntyre, are featured June 10 at West Vancouver United Church, an event focused on ensemble music with guests EnChor.

The single biggest name in this year’s SongFire is Thomas Allen, in recital with pianist Joseph Middleton at the Chan Centre on June 13 with a program heavy on English repertoire.

SongFire pays affectionate tribute to the late Harold Brown, a legendary Vancouver-based collaborative pianist, June 19 at the Vancouver Unitarian Church. VISI stalwarts baritone Tyler Duncan and pianist Erika Switzer (the latter recently awarded her doctorate from Juilliard) perform works by Samuel Barber, Oscar Morawetz and Lloyd Burritt.

Debussy Birthday Salon will be presented June 22, an evening focused on the music of Claude Debussy, and a sequel to last year’s Schubertiad. Here the idea is context: not exactly, or only, a concert, but rather an experience summoning the whole ambience of fin-de-siècle Paris.

Finally, on June 24, will be the latest instalment of a virtual VISI invention: Song Theatre, which marries song and narrative in interesting ways. Brenda Sparks’s original script Seaworthy and Thomas Pasatieri’s Lady Macbeth will be presented in Granville Island’s Waterfront Theatre.

This is by no means all at the University of B.C. There are not just concerts, but series of concerts. Post-lunchtime events are organized around themes (for example, June 18, Unconditional Love explores the idea of songs about parenthood); five other concerts showcase emerging artists.

Thu May 31, 2012