Nanaimo was treated to a wonderful (and historically-unique) concert, which melded original "celtic folk/rock" with the formidable impact and lush embellishments of a fifty-piece symphonic orchestra.
The first set... a blend of traditional Irish and Celtic tunes and works by Hardiman, Arture Lange and Malcolm Arnold... was performed by The Vancouver Island Symphony.
Conductor & Artistic Director Marlin Wolfe has previously directed the Calgary Philharmonic, the Edmonton Symphony, CBC Vancouver & Canadian Chamber Orchestras, the Edmonton Chamber Players Orchestra and the Alberta Pops Orchestra. Wolfe also teaches violin at the Nanaimo Conservatory.
It was Wolfe's idea, after hearing The Bremen Town Musicians perform on Gabriola Island, to approach the band with regard to being guest artists for the Symphony's Pops series, which have recently included Valdy, Gary Fjellgaard, Gary Guthman and P.J. Perry. It took Steve Parton almost six months to complete the score.
Included among the symphony's 50 musicians were percussionist Richard Lang (from Victoria's Perils of Pauline), Nanaimo's standup bassist John Forrest and trumpeter Bryn Badel (a familiar player in Victoria's jazz scene).
The second half of the concert featured The Bremen Town Musicians performing their original material with the Symphony.
Ron Wills (electric bass) and drummer Vince Ditrich (from Spirit of The West) opened with Bremen Town's "Overture". Kathy Stacey, who shares much of the vocals was seated right up front, with her cello and a mic headset.
Shortly into the fanfare, guitarist / vocalist & composer Steve Parton dashed up onto the stage with his acoustic guitar... and big hair... like a latter-day Jethro Tull. Taking a moment to catch his breath at the end of the overture, Parton welcomed the audience, adding, "I'll get a little chatty later in the show!"
This was followed by "If I Did" and "The Man and His Hands" with six young dancers from Pacific Youth Ballet's Harbour Dancentre weaving their way around and with Steve while he performed.
Vince's drum roll opened for Kathy Stacey's "Jordan's Fall"... with climbing tempo changes inspired by her young son's misadventures.
"The Smoke" included some lush orchestral background (Parton wrote all the scores, with the exception of "Drowsy Maggie" by Stacey).
Opening with Stacey's plucking on her cello strings, the intense "Thugs and Perpetrators" brought back memories of "Conquistador", as performed by Procol Harum and The Edmonton Symphony back in the '70s (I've since learned that Marlin Wolfe was that show's artistic director and that Delores Vann (concertmaster / principle 1st violinist) performed with the Edmonton Symphony at the Procol Harum recording).
The fabulous concert ended all too soon with an encore, "Answer The Silence", introduced by a whispering Parton.
Overall, the production was a refreshing foray into the magic of fusion and an generation-bridging blend of tradition with innovation. Hats off to Bremen Town, The Symphony and the show's sponsor, Nanaimo Credit Union!
A lot of behind-the-scenes input and support from the huge talent pool in and around the Hub City contributed to the success of this remarkable production. This included Jim Kent for the house sound - an awesome job which utilized 40 microphones; and recording by Scott Littlejohn from Bastion City (Parton is hoping to eventually produce a CD of the concert).
The main players would have to be guitarist / singer / composer extraordinaire Steve Parton, who maintained a hands-on approach to many aspects of the production; and the vibrant Kathy Stacey, whose cello work, vocal harmonies and composition skills so nicely complimented Parton's performance.
Steve, originally from Montreal, has studied guitar with Don Ross.
Kathy studied cello at the Royal College of Music and performed with the London Philharmonic Orchestra. She has performed in concerts with John Williams and Placido Domingo and for Prince Charles & Princess Diana. Kathy is also the assistant principle cellist with the Vancouver Island Symphony.
(According to Salt Spring's bluegrass band, The Barley Brothers, "Kathy is the only classically-trained musician we know who can rock without a gun held to her head"...!!)
Together, Steve and Kathy also perform as a duo called Ten Strings & A Bow (recently performing for Bill Gates' birthday party).
The Bremen Town Musicians have performed with Valdy, Spirit Of The West, The Irish Descendants, The Barra MacNeills, Leo Kottke, Ken Hamm, Don Ross, Bob Snider, Paul Hyde and Robbie Steininger, The McDades, The Mahones, Thomas Handy Trio, Hugh Fraser and Joe Charron.
Their next shows will be at Legends on Mar 17 and at The Queens on Mar 25 (with Ostera opening). The band is currently negotiating with various orchestras (some as far east as New York) to do a North American tour.
Barry Newman-Cosmic Debris Feb 1999