Since the federal Liberals are meeting in Vancouver this weekend for the high-stakes selection of a new leader — this one could go down to the wire, folks — I’ll be in New Orleans. This makes perfect sense, if you think about it. Unfortunately I’m missing an unusually good weekend of music here in Ottawa, thanks to the climax of the National Arts Centre’s BC Scene festival.
These “scene” scenes have been going on for some years now, and they’re a clever way to address a fundamental dilemma of the NAC’s mandate: how can you be a national arts centre when you’re stuck in the eastern half of a really big country? The answer is to send bits of the NAC — typically their very good orchestra — out into the federation’s assorted constituent parts, and then to bring a very large number of each part’s arts scenes into Ottawa for a festival. So past years have already seen Alberta, Quebec and Atlantic Scenes.
If you’re a jazz and classical head like me, this weekend will be kind of crazy. In both genres, the music on offer is — I chose this term carefully and I mean it heartily — superb. On April 30, good luck choosing between a free concert by the NAC Orchestra with conductor Alain Trudel and two very fine violinists, Karl Stobbe and Jonathan Crow, and a concert by the aptly named B.C. Jazz All Stars: trumpeter Brad Turner’s band with guest saxophonist Phil Dwyer. Each of those two guys stands at the front rank on his instrument in Canadian jazz. (They both also play a couple of other instruments as well. It can be confusing.) Even the opening act for the latter show is first-rate, with bassist Jodi Proznick featuring pianist Tilden Webb and saxophonist Steve Kaldestad, otherwise known as The McGill Students I Used to Hang Out With in the Early ’90s. May 1 the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra comes to town under the baton of Bramwell Tovey, who has been heroic in his promotion of Canadian composers; Debussy and Stravinsky complete the program. May 2 it’s the Hard Rubber Orchestra, who are weird and fun, and Mike Allen, a slightly earlier generation of McGill alumni who is all poise and lyricism on the tenor saxophone. And to top it all off, Diana is singing, although if you don’t have already have tickets for that, don’t bother to start looking now.
This is a really good representation of B.C. music, from the world-beating mainstream to the more venerable contributors of the fringe. I get to miss it all. If you’re in Ottawa this weekend you shouldn’t.