Oct. 13, 2020

Lockdown Listening: Let the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra Come to You

As home entertainment becomes more central to our lives, the quest is to recapture the spirit of the live experience

When the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra (CPO) was forced to cut short its 2019-20 season at the outset of the pandemic, the group of 66 musicians left their home in the Jack Singer Concert Hall and experimented by delivering several virtual concerts.

That same innovative drive is now spurring the CPO’s fall season that is again being delivered virtually, but with a twist. The season premiered on Oct. 3 when violinist Donovan Seidle, BMus’99, and cellist Arnold Choi returned to their lonely, but beloved stage for a duet performance. The idea is that every week the number of musicians on the Jack Singer stage will grow, eventually building toward the return of the entire ensemble, explains CPO communications manager Maureen McNamee. Details about these free weekly concerts will be released a month at a time.

Besides Seidle, several other UCalgary Music alumni are involved in October’s roster of live-streamed concerts such as violinist Adriana Lebedovich, BMus’09, who holds the record for being the youngest person to ever land a job with the CPO. At the time, she was a 20-year-old third-year music student, which meant she spent her last year at university juggling full-time orchestral work with classes.

“I am not sure how I did it,” confesses the woman who has been known to wear red boots on stage, a nod to her Ukrainian heritage. In fact, she has danced on stage while the CPO has played Ukrainian music — a throwback to the 16 years she competed in Ukrainian dance. Lebedovich, along with seven other musicians, will perform Falling Through Time on Oct. 17.

A week later, on Oct. 24, you can see the performance of Four Paintings by Leestemaker, written by Vince Ho, BMus’98, the CPO’s music advisor. Inspired by Los Angeles artist Luc Leestemaker’s paintings, this four-movement work took Ho, a two-time Juno Award nominee, four months to write due to its complex piano parts.

Although this piece has been performed before, the 44-year-old likens its 2005 premiere “to the birth of a child.

Vince Ho, BMus’98

Vince Ho, BMus’98, is the CPO’s music advisor.

“After several months of nurturing a premiere’s growth, I sit there with the audience witnessing the musicians/orchestra go through the labour pains of bringing my music to life. And, like any birth, so many things can go wrong, so I sit completely anxious-ridden while putting my trust in the players to deliver the ‘baby’ as best they can.” Dive into more of Ho’s creative process in this video.

As a composer, Ho’s work-life has always been solitary, having operated out of his home studio for years. In other words, COVID-19 didn’t wallop his routine, other than the constant company of his eight-year-old daughter who was at home tuning into online classes.

For Lebedovich, however, it was a huge shift — allowing her more time to spend with her other love, her horse, Taima, which she has been able to ride three to five days a week since the pandemic began. After several months, however, she ached to play again, which is why she formed a quartet of colleagues and friends who began playing in backyards around Calgary and Bragg Creek. 

“One of the most moving backyard concerts was when I played with a very dear pianist friend of mine, Julie Jacques, also a U of C alumna [BMus’77, MA’83],” she recalls. “For the first time in my career, at the end of a piece we played together, I broke down in tears. She and I have been playing together for over half my life, and we have a very special friendship, and an incredible ability to communicate without words and through music. That moment at the end of the Meditation from Thais, when I looked over at her, all of my emotions just spilled out of me. I suppose, if there are silver-lining moments due to the pandemic, that was the one for me.”

CPO musician

Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra violinist Adriana Lebedovich, BMus’09, was able to spend more time with her horse, Taima, after the CPO was forced to cut short its 2019-20 season.

Lebedovich, like most musicians, “would rather play to a packed concert hall than an empty room, as the audience is an integral part to the overall experience,” she says. But she’s optimistic that this safe approach will one day see the entire orchestra return to the Jack Singer.

Applauding the CPO’s cautious approach is arts patron and UCalgary’s Alumni Association president and chair, Helen Sunderland, BMus’87, MBA’92. Sunderland plans to tune in this fall as she says she has always been a fan of the “variety of programming the CPO offers. One can always find something that’s perfect for them, and leave feeling a wide range of emotions, from inspired to soothed and everything in between.

“Of course, there is nothing like the live experiences to really capture the nuances of the dynamics of the orchestra,” she adds. “But we are left with not much choice. The live experience is still an important experience and many of us will consume it, however we can!”

Register for the CPO’s free fall concerts here.

What's in a name?

Every musician’s instrument comes with a story, and Lebedovich’s violin is no exception. Her story of old “Nappie” and her quest for her new violin’s name follows: 

I had this overwhelming feeling that I had found a part of me that I didn't even know I was missing.

“In the summer of 2006, I travelled to France for a summer festival in Provence. I knew that the full-size violin that I had at the time was made in 1832 in Mirecourt, a small town in northeast France. My dad and I decided that we would travel there to see if we could find anything else out about my violin, affectionately nicknamed ‘Nappie,’ as there is a gold decal of Napoleon Bonaparte on the back. Long story short, I ended up playing on different violins and, after playing the first two notes of the solo violin part of the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto, an A and B flat, I fell in love with a violin. I was not in the market for a new one, but there was an incredible connection between this violin and me. I found out that it was a modern instrument, finished the month before, by a violin-maker named Alain Carbonare, and I had this overwhelming feeling that I had found a part of me that I didn't even know I was missing. After getting back to Canada and getting loans from both sets of grandparents, I sent an international money order to France and received a violin in the mail with Air Canada Cargo. This violin has taken me to many different countries and through many situations, and I am very grateful that it is a part of my life but I am still searching for a name.”