Building a Symphony

Sarah McLachlan will have a much larger backing band than usual when she takes to the stage at the Orpheum. The pop singer is joining forces with other world-renowned musicians – the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra – to kickstart MusicFest Vancouver 2011. The annual event, which mixes classical music performances with world music and jazz, is now in its eleventh year.

Sarah McLachlan will be an honorary member of the VSO for a night.

Conductor Leslie Dala, who flew to California recently to watch the Grammy-winning artist perform with the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra in order to prepare for MusicFest, said he is very excited about the collaboration.

“It was remarkable,” said Dala over the phone from Banff, where he is in rehearsal for a production of the new opera Lillian Alling. “I was sitting among 14,000 people and there were clearly some people who were not all that familiar with her work who were probably subscribers through the classical series. As the evening wore on, you could tell people were becoming more and more into the show. She’s really a magnetic performer and it was kind of like a tidal wave of emotion and attraction.”

While many of McLachlan’s fans might not know Bach from Brahms or VSO regulars a Fumbling Towards Ecstasy track if they stumbled over it, Dala said the chance to expose audiences to unfamiliar music is part of the appeal for him. Symphony-goers are generally a sedate crowd, and he said orchestra members all enjoyed the atypical audience at last year’s performance of The Lord of the Rings Symphony.

“That was really something. The crowd that was there was certainly not your average classical music crowd and they were really enthusiastic and just extroverted with their response, although the music from he films, Howard Shore’s score, is actually quite symphonic and clasical.”

He added that pop music being given the classical treatment isn’t as unusual as some might think. “I think it’s great when there is cross-fertilization between the pop music world and the classical world. It’s been true throughout history. Bach treated all kinds of popular tunes and wrote counterpoint all around them, Beethoven used popular music, so did Mozart, and it’s not a new thing.”

Maestro Leslie Dala

George Laverock, the festival’s program director, said the chance to open up new forms of music to people is what the festival is about. “That’s the thing that make us kind of unique in Canada because most festivals really specialize in one specific genre of music,” said Laverock. “We wanted to do something to open the festival to be an attention-getter and it certainly has done that. There are a lot of people who may not have heard the Vancouver Symphony before, so it’s an opportunity for them to reach a new audience too. It was a very smart thing for Sarah McLachlan to do to invest in orchestral arrangements; it’s a brave thing to do but I really think it’s going to pay off for her.”

MusicFest’s marquee event may be the biggest collaboration between high-profile B.C. musicians since Bryan Adams and Nelly Furtado shared a stage at last year’s Olympics, but it’s far from the festival’s only big draw.

“We have people coming from 13 different countries, every corner of the world from Taiwan to Norway,” said Laverock. “We’re not putting the spotlight on any one country, but we are proud to emphasize collaborations between some of our own best musicians and visitors from abroad.”

(This story was first published Aug. 3, 2011. © Copyright (c) Vancouver Courier)

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