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Guildhall’s guilty pleasures

Ben Appl as Owen, Lauren Fagan as Mrs. Coyle, Charles Sy as Lechmere, Marta Fontanals-Simmons as Kate, Zachary Finklestein as General Sir Philip, Roisin Walsh as Miss Wingrave, and Joseph Padfield as Mr. Coyle. Photo: Don Lee, The Banff Centre.

Ben Appl as Owen, Lauren Fagan as Mrs. Coyle, Charles Sy as Lechmere, Marta Fontanals-Simmons as Kate, Zachary Finklestein as General Sir Philip, Roisin Walsh as Miss Wingrave, and Joseph Padfield as Mr. Coyle. Photo: Don Lee.

The Guildhall School of Music and Drama, which co-produced our Summer Arts Festival opera Owen Wingrave, is one of the Europe’s most prestigious conservatories. Cast and crew presented the opera in London earlier in the summer, and then some of them were out in Banff for a few weeks to stage it here. In the midst of prepping for the Benjamin Britten piece, I thought I’d ask them about other music on their playlists. A handful of the Guildhall students came clean to me about their most embarrassing pop favourites.

Rodrigo de Vera, assistant conductor: “I love Rammstein, particularly in concert. There’s such showmanship, there’s fireworks, and it’s rude. I have such fun.”

Joseph Padfield, singer – Coyle:  “Like Rodrigo, I’m a huge Rammstein fan. I listen to a lot of heavy metal in general, including Korn, who I’m embarrassed to like. But Rammstein I’m proud of.”

 Lauren Fagan, singer – Mrs. Coyle: “I really love listening to indie bands, and going to indie music festivals. I also like when the Backstreet Boys and Spice Girls come on the radio. But that’s normal, right?”

Roisin Walsh, singer – Miss Wingrave: “I love karaoke singing. I also really like Garth Brooks, but not necessarily to sing.”

Soojeong Joo, répétiteur/orchestra – piano:  “I’m a native of South Korea, where I lived until I was 14. PSY’s not really my cup of tea, though I like the Korean pop from earlier generations.”

Marta Fontanals-Simmons, singer – Kate Julian: “I was listening to Feist this week, though she’s too good to be a guilty pleasure. I’m embarrassed to say that I bought Beyoncé and Rihanna’s latest albums, but I can say they’re good to run to.”

Raphaela Papadakis, singer – Mrs. Julian: “I never feel guilty about listening to music. I like Lady Gaga, Kate Bush, and the Talking Heads, but there’s no shame in that!”

Alex Rider, orchestra – piano:  “I have so many guilty pleasures musically! I just got into musical theatre, and I have to say Sondheim’s Follies, which actually has some incredible moments, is my morning music. Other than that, disco music. It can’t be helped; it’s a pure physical reaction.”

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Adrian Thompson: the Benjamin Britten letters

The Banff Centre-Guildhall recent production of Benjamin Britten’s Owen Wingrave, a gothic opera resonating with supernatural undertones, seems haunted by the original 1971 production for television. Adrian Thompson and Benjamin Luxon sang in that production (with Luxon in the title role), and this year were in Banff as faculty for Opera As Theatre, developing Owen Wingrave for the Banff Summer Arts Festival.


Tenor Adrian Thompson (left) and the Benjamin Britten letters. Photo: Meghan Krauss.

Thompson brought dozens of letters he received from Britten throughout his teens and early 20s, when Britten was a friend and mentor to Thompson. “I had just performed a solo in Children’s Crusade, a piece that he’d written for my school choir, when I wrote him my first letter,” Thompson says. The young singer was surprised to receive a friendly reply from Britten that seemed to invite further correspondence.

A couple of months later Thompson sent Britten a letter of an even bolder, if all the more endearing, nature. This time, he asked England’s most famous opera composer to write a piece for his school chamber orchestra (Thompson played the double bass). In Britten’s deadpan reply, he asked Thompson some technical questions about the orchestra, and to be patient as he was “fearfully busy” with other compositions. “The horror was that I couldn’t really play the double bass. But I never mentioned it again and neither did he,” says Thompson. “Yet that’s the measure of him, that’d he take the time to at least say that he’d consider writing the piece.”

While he may never have played an original Britten in his school orchestra, Thompson now regularly sings the composer’s music in England and across Europe. A small favour to the man he credits as having jump-started his career. “His guidance made a huge impact on me,” says Thompson. “If it hadn’t been for it, I doubt I’d be here today.”

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“Incantation” with Rodney Sharman

Rodney Sharman has been to The Banff Centre many times before, but his most recent was a very different visit for the Canadian composer.

While Sharman works in many different musical genres, he usually focuses on one piece while he’s here. However, when he came to the Centre last Fall, he planned to work simultaneously on four projects:  a piano piece; a piece for Duo AttemaHaring, which consists of bass trombonist Brandt Attema and harpist Astrid Haringo; a cabaret song; and finally to complete touch ups on a dance opera.

Under our interview, you can hear his piece “Incantation”, which was a commission from Kathleen McLean for her CD Nightsongs. This piece was selected by NPR’s Performance Today to represent the year 2004 in their series on music of the 21st century. The abstract piece is written for bassoon, harp, and string quartet. Abstract composition, pieces without an explained narrative, is something that Sharman is not only interested in but sees less and less in modern composition.

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Arts residency inspires “radiantly innocent hope” for Anna Pidgorna

Composer and media artist Anna Pidgorna was at The Banff Centre recently in a residency supported by the Canadian Federation of University Women’s Alberta chapter. Photo by Gavin Schaefer

Composer and media artist Anna Pidgorna was at The Banff Centre recently in a residency supported by the Canadian Federation of University Women’s Alberta chapter. Photo by Gavin Schaefer

I just returned to Vancouver from a three-week creative residency at The Banff Centre. The 15-hour bus ride through Beautiful British Columbia gave me some time to take stock of the last 18 months of my life. Since August 2011, I have moved between Canada’s coasts three times, officially held three addresses plus four transient ones, attended two composition workshops, gave three public talks, and wrote 39 minutes of music in addition to completing a 36-minute chamber opera. My three months’ stay in Ukraine last fall, though offering some incredible opportunities to hear authentic performances of folk music, was a psychological nightmare from which I came back feeling broken and depressed.

In that mind state, the Banff Centre, despite everything it has to offer, seemed like yet another place to travel to, yet another place to have to work very hard at. I was still trying to finish my chamber opera. I was terribly behind on a piece I was supposed to be workshopping with the Thin Edge New Music Collective and was absolutely dreading having to face them. I was too worn out to enjoy the prospect of yet another three weeks away from home.

But I went. And it ended up being exactly what I needed. Continue Reading →

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Don Giovanni’s puffy shirt

Actor Scott Shpeley gets his wig fitted for the upcoming performance of Don Giovanni. Photo: Kim Williams.

Backstage can be an intimidating place during rehearsals. Crew and actors walk around purposefully, each helping transform a score to an opera – decision by decision. From set to makeup to the costumes, no detail is too small. This is just as true for The Banff Centre’s presentation of Don Giovanni. There are many decisions that go in to a costume, from the obvious to the subliminal. Every member of the show has a responsibility, including getting their costumes and wigs fitted for the show. I dropped in on Opera as Theatre singer Scott Shpeley and Patsy Thomas, head of wardrobe, to talk about leprechaun shoes, bone bodices, and large bottoms.

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Weekly podcast #7: Charlotte Gill, Don Giovanni, Dr. James Feng, more…

We talk about what goes on under the surface and what these hidden processes can reveal scientifically, motivationally, and artistically.

Author Charlotte Gill discusses why she came to write about her experiences as a tree planter. We meet Dr. James Feng, the organizer of the Banff International Research Station workshop on morphogenesis. And we take a look backstage in the Banff Centre Costume Shop to find out why Don Giovanni’s waistcoat has a red lining.

The Banff Centre Weekly Podcast brings you stories of the diverse projects that artists from around the world are working on, here in Banff.

Subscribe to the weekly podcast on iTunes here.

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