Vancouver International Song Institute’s SONGFIRE Festival – May 30 – June 26, 2013

Vancouver International Song Institute's SONGFIRE Festival - May 30 - June 26, 2013

This June, the Vancouver International Song Institute (VISI) presents its anticipated SONGFIRE Festival, a month-long celebration of the wondrous pairing of poetry and song, highlighting the rich and intimate connection shared between storytellers throughout history. The annual festival unites local and international artists and scholars through a series of inspiring concerts, workshops, and masterclasses held at UBC and various Vancouver venues from May 30-June 26, 2013.

“Song brings people together across boundaries of time, place, language, and culture. Singing the world’s great poetry with intense music helps us sense deep commonalities while discovering our unique ways of experiencing our world,” says Rena Sharon, Artistic Director of VISI. “Our annual SONGFIRE Festival brings together Art Song performers, scholars, and enthusiasts from all over the world to unite in a grand celebration of this powerful and timeless art form.”

SONGFIRE festival goers will be treated to a diverse array of stirring concerts, interactive workshops, and inspiring masterclasses featuring internationally acclaimed classical vocalists, pianists, composers, scholars, poets, and actors, including renowned American opera composer Jake Heggie, Vancouver’s own celebrated artists Lloyd Burritt, Marilyn Lerch, and Joy Coghill, and very special guest performer and lecturer, Britain’s revered pianist, Graham Johnson, OBE (Officer of the British Empire).

One of the world’s leading vocal pianists, Johnson is the founder of the Songmakers’ Almanac and has collaborated with such distinguished vocalists as Sir Thomas Allen, Matthias Goerne, Angelika Kirchschlager, Lucia Popp, Peter Schreier, and Sarah Walker, among many others. A multi-award winner, Johnson was created Chevalier in the Ordre des Arts et Lettres by the French government in 2002, was made an Honorary Member of the Royal Philharmonic Society in 2010, and in 2013 was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Music by Durham University.

“Graham Johnson has been a treasured guest of the SONGFIRE Festival in the past. He is a remarkable performer and he’s also one of the world’s top experts on Art Song as a gateway to history,” notes Sharon. “We’re particularly thrilled to have him with us for our festival’s centennial celebration of legendary composer Benjamin Britten. No one understands his music better, and he brings the songs alive in ways that are unforgettable.”

Author of The Vocal Music of Benjamin Britten, Johnson was mentored by the composer as a young musician. He will share his deep recollection and passion for that era as VISI commemorates the renowned British composer, conductor, and pianist through a special concert, Let the Florid Music Praise!, on June 15. Johnson will also host a series of fascinating Britten masterclasses from June 10-14 at UBC, to which all are welcome.

In addition to VISI’s concert series celebrating Britten (Britten’s Centennial), the SONGFIRE Festival presents two additional thematic concert series hosted at various venues throughout its month of festivities, including an intimate look at North American tales from our times in Living Song, coupled with an immersive celebration of French Art Song in La Musique Poétique, including a tribute concert to the great Francis Poulenc.

Concert series highlights include:

Living Song (June 4-10)

A carefully crafted selection of interactive workshops, concerts, and presentations highlighting the innovative music of our times, including:

  • SongSparks! (June 4-6) – Three workshops at the Art Song Lab that engage audience members to provide critical feedback to actively create and transform 12 new songs as they’re performed for the first time.
  • An Evening with Jake Heggie (June 6) – A personal discussion of the composer’s contemporary work, At the Statue of Venus.
  • Playing with Fire (June 7) – Eighteen international and B.C. artists will present a series of world premiere performances following a week of rehearsals and workshops in the Art Song Lab.
  • Living Song (June 8) – A performance of At the Statue of Venus, followed by the world premiere of Quintessence by Lloyd Burritt and Marilyn Lerch, among other works.
  • Antiphons (June 9) – Vocal groups Stellaria and EnChor join VISI artists in a celebration of new works and favourites from the Middle Ages and Renaissance vocal cannon, covering nearly a millennium of song

Britten’s Centennial (June 10-24)

A celebration of British composer Benjamin Britten’s 100th birthday through a series of concerts featuring his folk arrangements, cabaret songs, lullabies, and more:

  • Britten Masterclasses (June 10-14) – With pianist and special guest Graham Johnson.
  • Folk Songs and Romances (June 13) – A selection of folk songs, performed by distinguished Canadian musicians mezzo soprano Susan Platts, baritone Phillip Addis and pianists Erika Switzer and Emily Hamper.
  • Let the Florid Music Praise! (June 15) – A much anticipated return of awardwinning pianist Graham Johnson, presenting Goethe’s Mignon and Britten’s On this Island, in tandem with soprano Martha Guth.
  • From the Cradle to the Cabaret (June 24) – A collection of performances that span from lullabies to cabaret and from Russia to Spain, in addition to a world premiere work from composer Michael Park and poet Ray Hsu.

La Musique Poétique (June 18, 19 & 21)

Three unique concerts that honour the wonderful poetic-musical fusions of French and French Canadian artists, culminating in a tribute to the great Francis Poulenc, including:

  • Occitania (June 18) – In collaboration with Music on Main, an intimate study of a Romance language native to southern France, Italy’s Occitan Valleys, Monaco and Catalonia’s Val d’Aran. Musical selections featuring acclaimed masterpieces by Rudel, Canteloube and Saariaho.
  • From Québec with Love! (June 19) – A celebratory performance that spans 150 years of Québec mélodies, from the author of Canada’s national anthem, Calixa Lavallée, to Lionel Daunais.
  • For Poulenc (June 21) – A special soiree to commemorate the brilliantly amusing and complex French composer Francis Poulenc. Sip wine, nibble canapés, and revel in great French poetry and song.

SONGFIRE is also proud to present a series of thrilling concerts by our group of top young singers and pianists from B.C. and around the world. Hear tomorrow’s stars, including:

“Once, Babylon” (June 22) is a world premiere work of Art Song Theatre, the groundbreaking song-theatre realm developed by VISI’s Artistic Director Rena Sharon, in collaboration with VISI faculty artists. The 90-minute work is an investigation of the heart of resilience in the human spirit, in a narrative drama fusing script with great songs.

SONGFIRE Festival 2013 tickets are on sale now at and Full festival event details can be found at

Vancouver International Song Institute's SONGFIRE Festival - May 30 - June 26, 2013

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James Chung

Founder & Editor in Chief of Hello Vancity magazine. Email [email protected]

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