Scotia Festival of Music’s latest classical music stars are cellist-conductor Kenneth Woods and electric guitar improv virtuoso Tim Brady.
The festival opens Monday night with Woods, violinist Caroline Chin and violist David Yang of Ensemble Epomeo playing the Schnitke String Trio.
Schubert’s E Flat Major Piano Trio with returning favourites pianist John Novacek, cellist Denise Djokic and violinist Mark Fewer will be sharing the opening program, and violinist Philippe Djokic opens the festival with Bach’s Chaconne (solo violin).
Woods, a Scotia Festival alumnus, has a big career in full stride, both as conductor and as cellist with his Epomeo Ensemble. His waggish sense of humour can be sampled at his blog in his impassioned, tongue-in-cheek defence of repeating the Exposition in symphonies, chamber music and piano sonatas.
At this year’s festival, Woods will conduct three concerts: the final Gala concert June 9, the John Adams Violin Concerto (with Philippe Djokic), a version for winds of the Threepenny Opera, and Benjamin Britten’s Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge (Scotia Festival Strings).
On June 7, Tim Brady premieres his We’re Hardcore with soprano Janice Jackson and string quintet (with double bass).
Brady, who calls Halifax “a very special place,” is contributing not only his skill as an improviser and composer to Scotia Festival Young Artists but an original composition for oboe, electric guitar, string trio (Epomeo) and piano called FLOW.
“I’m giving three 90-minute workshops for students to work on understanding how to approach a new piece, but also doing a bit of improvising to loosen them up. Just because you are learning a Beethoven sonata doesn’t mean you have to turn off your own creative ideas.
“There’s not an inherent contradiction between playing classical music and having your own ideas,” he says.
The biggest barrier to improvising and musical creation, he says, is fear.
“It’s that simple. People are afraid of making mistakes.
“The main thing is to get in a room, start talking, take these basic concepts and ideas and adapt. Once you get into creation mode, you have to let go of the concept of mistakes. It’s a new piece so there can’t be any mistakes. That’s a big leap for people to take.”
With master classes, rehearsals and outreach programs in Halifax schools, Brady will be a busy guy. He also has to find time to practise. “I can probably find an hour or two here and there. You find the time. You can’t live without it, partly because you don’t want to lose your chops. But at a certain point you practise because you like practising.
“There is a certain pleasure in practising, even if I didn’t have shows coming up. I can’t imagine getting so old and crotchety. I’m pretty sure I’m going to practise guitar until they rip it out of my — what’s the Charlton Heston line? — my ‘cold, dead hands.’”
He’ll be busy. Yet, says managing director Chris Wilcox, “this festival is really the Ken Woods Scotia Festival. He came here as a young artist in 1993. He’s been back several times and came back when we did Messiaen’s Turangalila and Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire.”
“He’s playing in four concerts, conducting three, giving a master class, and two outreach programs with his trio in schools.”
Wilcox pointed out other highlights of this year’s festival, including the rest of Friday’s program, where Brady’s premiere (We’re Hardcore) shares space with Kurt Weill and Benjamin Britten.
Brady’s electric guitar recital (June 2), Airi Yoshioka’s violin recital and also solo works (June 2), the Berg Concerto for Violin and 13 Winds (June 4), the Adams Violin Concerto, along with the Threepenny Opera (version for winds) and, among other treasures, Denise Djokic playing the Shostakovich Cello Concerto (June 9) — all are highlight concerts and almost all the works are 20th century masterpieces we don’t hear played in Halifax often, if at all.
Plenty of music for learners, plenty of masterpieces for gourmet concert-goers, plenty of opportunities for young artists getting a taste of how insanely busy things can get in the life of a professional musician.