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Maestro Johannes Debus: Building a house of music

Maestro Johannes Debus and the 2013 Banff Festival Orchestra. Photo: Rita Taylor.

Maestro Johannes Debus and the 2013 Banff Festival Orchestra. Photo: Rita Taylor.

During the last week the Banff Festival Orchestra was here, I sat down for a chat with Maestro Johannes Debus, one of our guest conductors here for summer music residencies. Current music director of the Canadian Opera Company, he conducted two programs at Banff this summer. Maestro Debus first aspired to be an orchestral conductor, but after studying La Traviata he began to be fascinated with opera and theatre. I asked him to tell me about:

His favourite part of the job?

During researsal the house is kind of built. We know, so to speak, where the bathroom is, and where the living room is in this house, and how to open this window and this door and so on, we know how that functions. And now maybe we have a party in this house, or we paint the walls in a certain colour…and this is spontaneity, something that has to do with communication, and maybe that’s the most rewarding thing, that through this non-verbal communication you have the chance to get on a journey, and you reach something, a region you might have dreamt of, and you might see it, maybe, in the eyes of musicians. You might just feel it: this kind of bond, this kind of energy. And you do one thing and suddenly something happens, there is a reaction, there is a connection, that’s incredible.

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Afiara String Quartet's June 2012 performance in the Rolston Recital Hall is featured on Banff Centre LIVE. Photo: Frank Wang

Afiara String Quartet’s June 2012 performance in the Rolston Recital Hall is featured on Banff Centre LIVE along with a growing list of other high quality recordings produced at the Centre. Photo: Frank Wang

What if you were able to instantly access the art and ideas created at The Banff Centre anytime, anywhere on your computer, phone, or mobile device? That’s the concept fuelling Banff Centre LIVE, a long term project aimed at broadening the reach of the content created at the Centre.

“The idea behind LIVE is a simple one,” says Banff Centre president Jeff Melanson. “We believe that great music deserves to be heard, great art deserves to be seen, and great ideas deserve to be listened to. Through LIVE, the art and ideas born at the Centre every day will be accessible by anyone, anywhere, on any device. It means artists will gain new audiences, and new solutions in leadership will be considered not just in Banff, but around the world.” Continue Reading →

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The Spirit of the Rockies: Donation fuels new creative work

(l-r) Joel Landsberg and Uwe Kruger of the Kruger Brothers perform with the Banff Festival Orchestra.

(l-r) Joel Landsberg and Uwe Kruger of the Kruger Brothers perform with the Banff Festival Orchestra.

On August 25, The Banff Centre premiered an innovative new symphonic work for chamber orchestra, guitar, bass, and banjo. Commissioned by the Centre and composed by Jens Kruger of the legendary bluegrass group the Kruger Brothers, The Spirit of the Rockies was made possible by the generous support of David and Christine Anderson.


Christine and David Anderson. Images: Kim Williams.

During a pre-performance residency, musicians in the Centre’s Banff Festival Orchestra program collaborated on the creation of work under the skilled tutelage of the Kruger Brothers.

“The experience of working on The Spirit of the Rockies was for us an intense journey on many levels,” says guitarist Joel Landsberg. “The opportunity to research a region’s history and mystery is a powerful path for artistic development.”

A musical meditation on the history, culture, and beauty of the Canadian Rockies, the new work delighted the audience in the Eric Harvie Theatre during the premiere performance. “The Spirit of the Rockies was an amazing piece,” said Melissa Callaghan. “I hope we will see parts of it in the future, used to inspire people to come to Banff.”

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Youth orchestras deepen skills and passion for music at The Banff Centre

Michael Massey conducts members of the Edmonton Youth Orchestra during a rehearsal at The Banff Centre. Three youth orchestras were in town for a symposium Nov. 16 to 18. Photo by Drew Hoshkiw

Every year, The Banff Centre brings together three youth orchestras for three days of music instruction and collaboration, and did so again this November.

Mark Wold, director of operations for Music at The Banff Centre, said the symposium has been running for nearly 20 years.

“It’s a chance for us to invite the next generation of musicians, give them a taste of The Banff Centre experience,” he said. “We’ve worked with Edmonton and Calgary for a long time, and in recent years we’ve added a Saskatchewan group also.”

These youth range in age from 12 to 20 and are the top music students in their communities, explained Wold.

“The goal is to support them where they’re at now, and it’s fun for them to see a professional arts centre, play on our stages, use our rehearsal spaces, and mix with the sectional leaders who are in residence in Banff,” he said. “And it’s a chance for those guys also to reach out to the next generation.”

With more than 200 youth and dozens of music professionals participating in the event, the symposium for many is a one-of-a-kind experience.

Samantha Leech, concert master with the South Saskatchewan Youth Orchestra (SSYO), was just one of the many youth excited to be there.

“I love it, it’s a great experience, especially working with other musicians in sectionals and using their space,” she said. “Ever since I was four years old, I was begging my mom to play violin. I just like it because music’s been a part of my family.” Continue Reading →

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Banff Summer Arts Festival Report: Week Seven

I spent my last weekend in Banff taking in two concert performances at The Banff Centre: Samantha Savage Smith in The Club and Lior Shambadal with the Banff Festival Orchestra in the Eric Harvie Theatre. Both shows had elements that were soothing and soft and at times, loud, brash, and powerful.

Canmore-based band The Eerie Green opened for Smith on Friday night and it was clear the audience was there as much for them as for the lead act. As an all-but-one-male band, with a hidden gem as their female vocalist, The Eerie Green’s music is reminiscent of new wave indie bands like Said The Whale, The Naked and Famous, and Of Monsters and Men. All their songs centered around love, relationships, and breakups, and the Bow Valley audience – clearly more lovestruck than I would have thought – heartily appreciated it. The band was clapped, cheered, and wooped offstage before Smith came on.

Smith certainly didn’t start out loud or brash. She strolled onstage with a crew of hip, high-ponied musicians and began performing as if she was unaware the audience was even there. Later she mentioned how the low atmosphere in The Club was making her nervous – she’d never played to an audience that was entirely seated before - yet she delivered a self-assured, strong show.

On Saturday, I ditched my own going-away party to catch conductor Lior Shambadal leading the Banff Festival Orchestra in a Russian program. The house was quite packed, definitely with an older crowd than Friday night. That said, the atmosphere in the room was more animated than Friday’s laid-back, relaxed show in The Club. I asked an audience member afterward why he thought the crowd was so into the music, he said, “People either came tonight for Shambadal – he’s a big deal in the classical music world – or they came for Russian music. Whichever the reason, the evening delivered and everyone is satisfied.”



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Justin Beere: anything’s Pozible

Sourcing funds beyond the revenue generated from busking, casual cinema work, or those wonderful things called parents (if you’re lucky enough), is an interesting and enlightening challenge, especially if you’re supporting yourself as a full-time student. I don’t know about you, but asking for money or “acquiring funding” has never been a strong suit of mine and most likely never will be, but I have certainly learned a lot from my experience in raising enough funds to embark on my Banff adventure.

Music resident Justin Beere made it to Banff (and beautiful Moraine Lake).

Upon acceptance to the Banff Centre’s master classes and Festival Orchestra programs, it dawned on me that I needed money and fast, so I began the search for arts grants, foundations, and scholarships to help fund my first overseas trip. The results of this research were not as positive as I would have liked, as only one foundation was open for applications with a due date that hadn’t already passed.

My school’s director suggested Pozible, a crowd-funding organization that assists artists by providing a platform to promote a project or endeavour, so they can search out financial support from a pool of people rather than a singular source. After more research and friendly convincing I thought it might be worth a shot. It struck me odd that people, be it friends, family or strangers who, in their extremely busy and stressful lives, would be generous enough to support anyone in this manner, let alone a clarinet player! O me of little faith.

The next step was to develop the website and think about how to “sell” my product. The great thing about this is that the options are endless — social media and networking, word of mouth, flyers, business cards, mail outs and performances are some really great ways of bringing attention to your crowd-funding website. Initially, my promotion skills were rather inadequate, and my funding reflected that. I found it very uncomfortable to be the product, which I needed others to support. Over time, I managed to remove myself from the fundraising and began to treat the “begging” as merely a means to undertake the project.  Over two months I raised over $2000 from crowd-funding. I cannot express how grateful and humbled I am to have received such amazing and generous support. Their investment will never be taken for granted.

Justin Beere is a clarinet player on full scholarship at the Australian National Academy of Music in Melbourne. He is in Banff for the summer music residency.

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