Sunday, February 1, 2015

Primavera Concerts Celebrates 10 years with music

This afternoon I ventured out in the snow to enjoy the first concert of the New Year by Primavera Concerts, the little concert series with big ambitions.

Primavera Concerts is celebrating 10 years this season, and it is nice to see them continue to grow and expand their reach in Niagara.  That being said, I was a little disappointed by the rather sparse turnout at St. Thomas' Anglican Church on Ontario Street for the concert this afternoon.  Could it be the change of venue for this one concert?  Perhaps.  The nasty weather outside?  Could be, especially for seniors venturing out today.  Could it be the big football game today?  Possibly, but two different audiences and the actual game was still a good couple of hours away.

So what's the problem?  Here in Niagara we have such a wide array of choices for classical music of every description and size:  Niagara Symphony; Chorus Niagara; Choralis Camerata; Gallery Players; Niagara Concerts; Mercredi Musique, Brock's Department of Music and the list goes on and on.  But often, there are plenty of seats to be had even at the door prior to the concert.

I find this a troubling prospect given the fact in less than a year we have a big, shiny new Performing Arts Centre set to open and it will not be the most inexpensive venue to rent for a concert, I would imagine.  How many of these smaller ensembles in Niagara will forsake their customary homes at fine old churches in the area for the new space downtown is open to conjecture at this point, but I would venture a guess some will and do their best to sell more tickets to these concerts at the PAC.

But if people are not supporting them now, why would they next year?  I mean, the new venue will bring in more people initially due to the nature of the new space, but the performances will have to attract a wider audience and yes, a younger demographic than many of them presently do in order to survive the transition.

Classical music is at a crossroads here:  the ensembles have to reinvent themselves while still remaining true to their core clientele that has been with them from the beginning.  Not an easy task, but creative minds can come up with some pretty clever ideas at times, and they had better get at it if the growth they need to see in the future is to materialize.

And that brings us to today's concert by Primavera Concerts, now headed up by new Artistic Director Guy Few.  Guy is enthusiastic, talented and knowledgeable about what works with concerts such as these, and his slightly wordy description of what's to come with Primavera Concerts in the coming weeks and months was encouraging.

It is up to the Artistic Director to come up with ideas and sell them not only to the board but to the audiences at large, and I get the feeling Few is preparing the faithful gathered at St. Thomas' Church today for a more dynamic, creative and inventive mix of musical performances in the future.  Let's hope so, because the future of classical music concerts everywhere depends on those winds of change.

Today's concert, entitled A Soft and Golden Fire, blended more contemporary music with some traditional selections, so audience members would not have to wait long to hear something else they might like if the present piece was not their cup of tea.  It's a fine balancing act, and the three musicians performing today were certainly up to the task at hand.

Featuring mezzo-soprano Patricia Green, Lisa Cella on flute and the ageless Judy Loman on harp, the concert ranged from music by Andre Caplet and Maurice Ravel, two late 19th-century/early 20th-century composers to modern composers such as Adam Greene, George Crumb, Canadian composer Harry Freedman, and Timothy Sullivan.  Rounding out the concert was music by Benjamin Britten and Carlos Salzedo featuring Judy Loman giving a masterclass on the harp in the solo spotlight.

The calibre of all three soloists was first-rate, with Ms. Cella especially impressive on a host of flutes ranging from very large to quite small.  Her performance of Greene's Ripples, written to commemorate the Japanese tsunami of 2011 was especially breathtaking.

Patricia Green has a lovely, rich and expressive voice, and ably handled her song-cycles with authority and impressive control.

But it was Judy Loman I watched closely from beginning to end.  I have enjoyed her performances for years now, and still treasure some of her recordings made on the Marquis label years ago for their utter virtuosity, including a tribute album to Carlos Salzedo.  Judy owns the harp, plain and simple, and watching her performance today made me almost wish she were doing a solo concert this afternoon.

Two rather odd occurrences marred an otherwise enjoyable afternoon of music-making, and both out of the control of Primavera Concerts.  About halfway through the first half of the programme, the air conditioning in the church unexplainably kicked in, sending most of us reaching for our winter coats as the temperature in the church quickly dropped as a result.  The harp being a very difficult instrument to keep in tune at the best of times presented some tuning challenges to Loman due to the fluctuating temperatures, I suspect.

But the most embarrassing moment came in the finale when the trio performed a song cycle by Timothy Sullivan that gave the concert its title.  After the first song, Ms. Green sensed someone was recording the concert and politely yet firmly asked them not to do so.  The response from the person in the audience was they were recording it for Mr. Sullivan himself and nothing more.

As I understand it, clearance was obtained by Primavera Concerts to record the piece privately, but somehow the lines got crossed resulting in a rather awkward moment for all concerned, as the musicians were clearly not pleased with the recording of a live performance.

Other than that, it was a great afternoon of music making, and everyone in attendance appeared to be more than pleased with the talent and musical selections chosen.

The next concert, as Mr. Few enthused prior to today's concert, comes up in just a couple of weeks on February 15th at Silver Spire United Church on St. Paul Street.  Entitled Sonic Escape, the concert features what are described as "daredevils with instruments", so we'll have to see how that plays out.   But it does sound intriguing...

Tickets to that concert can be purchased in advance by calling 289-990-3630 or online at  You should also be able to pick them up at the door.

If today's concert is any indication, the future looks bright indeed for Primavera Concerts.

Have a great week!

February 1st, 2015.

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