Symphony of the Kootenays: Sultans of String

Symphony of the KootenaysSymphony of the Kootenays and the Sultans of String rehearsals, Key City Theatre, February 1, 12 noon, February 1, 2014.

” And then the man, he steps right up to the microphone.
And says at last, just as the time bell rings,
“Goodnight, now it’s time to go home.”
And he makes it fast, with one more thing:
“We’re the Sultans,
“We are the Sultans of Swing.” Songwriter: KNOPFLER, MARK

Mind you there is no connection between the Dire Straight album and the Symphony of the Kootenays concert. There is just the resonance of the song title and the name of the The Sultans and SKOsymphony orchestra guests – THE SULTANS OF STRING – that has so much appeal. Dire Straights was a rock band singing about musicians from another era. The Sultans are not about rock music. Their musical arena is more about a whole mixed bag of World music, Latin, Gypsy, Swing etc. Chris' 6 string violinThe Sultans of String are Chris McKhool (6 string violin, mandolin), Drew Birston (electric bass),   Drew BirstonKevin Laliberte (carbon-fibre guitar) and Alberto Suarez (percussion). This rehearsal was the fore runner of what promised to be a very unique night of music. Unfortunately I was double booked (again) and not able to make the Saturday night concert. However, I did make the afternoon rehearsals and the Sunday Fiddle Fire (concert for kids). It was pretty exciting and entertaining stuff to hear the Symphony exploring a whole new approach to making music. The music is the brain child of Chris McKhool and Kevin Laliberte Kevin Lalibertewith orchestrations by Rebecca Pellett. Although the rehearsal didn’t present the music in a program coherent form there were enough snippets to entice the visiting rehearsal audience to maybe come back later that evening for the full concert. For me there were a number of outstanding moments. In the exploration of the mandolin the unexpected and joyous snippet from a Vivaldi mandolin concerto was so amazingly fresh and startling that it certainly made me sit  Alberto Suarezup. Kevin Laliberte’s guitar solos were some other high points. His Carbon-Fibre guitar, with it’s odd shape, looked way different from a conventional classical guitar yet, despite the on-board amplification, produced, when required,  a pure classical sound. It also appeared to be amendable to the sound manipulation that we associate with most electric guitars. His technique ran though the whole spectrum of guitar music – flat pick, finger picking, classical, jazz, flamenco etc. Drew Birston’s electric bass is, obviously, a central part of the Sultan’s Sound and added a different bass dimension (pizzicato bass melody) to the orchestrations. Being an amateur musician who tinkers with percussion I was completely captivated by the Cuban musician Alberto Suarez’s rhythmic excursions on the Peruvian Cojon (basically a wooden box), snare drum, brushes, cymbals, rattles and the middle eastern Darbuka (Turkish Goblet drum). His role in the music was re-enforced by the symphony percussionists  Robin Clegg, Sven Heyde and Bruce Hunter. Their arsenal of drums and percussion would be enough to fill your average basement. The Sultans of String were obviously having fun playing with a symphony and the orchestra pit was just a sea of smiling faces. I am sure the evening concert lived up to the promise of the rehearsals. Here are some more images from the rehearsal – enjoy:

Chris McKool    Kevin Lalberte  Alberto Suarez  Chris McKool   Kevin Laliberte  Jeff Faragher    Chris McKhool  Jeff Faragher  Sophia Smith  Lena Ruiz Anne Scott       French Horn - Dale Green  Alberto Suarez  Alberto Suarez Chris McKool  050.  Sophia Smith  Robin Clegg   Ruth Langevin and Catherine MacKinnon  Sven Heyde  Jeff Faragher Alberto Suarez   Ruth Sawatsky   Alberto Suarez Chris and Kevin      Kevin Laliberte Alberto Suarez   Wendy Herbison  Alberto Suarez  Chris and KevinChris McKhool’s Fiddle Fire, Key City Theatre Sunday February 2, 2014, 2pm.

The KidsKevin Laliberte  Chris McKhool  Alberto Suarez Sophia Smith  007.  Violins Jeff Faragher Kevin and Chris   Orchestra Chris McKhool  Anne Scott  410. Percussion  Brass   Woodwinds Bruce Hunter   Sophia Smith  Chris Mckhool Jeff Faragher  Kevin Laliberte  Alberto Suarez    Kevin and the kids    Jeff Faragher  Chris and the kids  Chris McKhool  Jeff Faragher  Chris McKhool  Jeff Faragher  Manuscript    Gong  700. The Kids@@@@@@@@@@

Classical Season just ended….


It was a classical music season of ups and down and I guess the outdoor concert “Music in the Mountains” was a convenient end to a somewhat rocky season. But first a disclaimer. I didn’t get to all the performances during the season. I missed the Symphony Christmas concert and I didn’t attend any of the Arts Festival performances so I guess I missed a significant chunk of what was going on. However, of the concerts that I did get to attend I think the following are worth noting.

The Diva and the Maestro – Natalie Choquette and the Symphony of the Kootenays, Key City Theatre, Saturday, October 29th, 2011, 7:30 pm

Classically trained sopranos are not necessarily my cup of tea. More often than not for me they are shrill and hard on the ear. However, Natalie Choquette proved to be the exception. She managed to take the standard diva repertoire to another level of entertainment. The premise of the concert was “A Maestro is trying to come to terms with eccentric internationally renowned divas such as “la Fettucini”, “Fraulein Wienerschnitzel”, “Nadia Camenitchaïkovskyaya”, “Mrs Osolemio” and many more…!” In an array of an extravagant costumes and interactions with members of the audience and “the maestro” Natalie played the role of all the divas in this contest of wills with the conductor Bruce Dunn.  With humour and panache she managed to work her way though the popular operatic repertoire. Of the symphony concerts I have attended over the years this was by far the most entertaining. It was unfortunate that the audience numbers were less than optimum. Of course one wonders why that was the case and possibly part of the reason for low attendance was the lack of adequate publicity. I for one had no idea what to expect from the concert and as a result I was more than pleasantly surprised by the wonderful performance. Normally I am not a fan of concerts that place a high reliance on show biz glitz to pull off a performance but for Natalie Choquette the entertainment trappings were definitely an added value.

LA CAFAMORE STRING QUARTET, Knox Presbyterian Church, Friday September 30th, 2011, 7:30

From one extreme to the other; From the entertainment values of the operatic world to the modern, super cool, amplified music of the La Cafamore String Quartet is quite a leap and it was a leap well worth taking. The featured work on the program was Steve Reich’s minimalist masterpiece “Different Trains”. This piece may have required a significant intellectual and emotional leap for audiences unfamiliar with truly modern music. Steve Reich is a modern American minimalist composer who relies on short phrases that evolve, loop and interlock in complex melodic and rhythmic patterns. It is steps away from the increasing harmonic complexity of most modern music. The piece is a programmatic rumination by the composer on train journeys in the United States and in Europe in 1939 on through to about 1950. It is a reflection of the composer’s personal recollections and war time Jewish experiences. Now here is the super cool part. As usual the publisher sends along the  manuscript for the string quartet but also includes a CD of pre-recorded train sounds, snatches of speech and another string quartet playing the loops of music that are the core of the composition. In simplistic terms “Different Trains” is an interactive karaoke experience of a pre-recorded CD performance and the amplified La Cafamore String Quartet on stage.  The overhead display of the text and the sequence of the music certainly helped keep the audience on track. “Different Trains” is a three movement work; “I: America – before the War”, “II: Europe – During the War”, “III: After the War”. The piece was featured on a landmark 1988 recording by the Kronos Quartet but to actually see and hear the piece in live performance was a some what mind blowing experience. Also on the program were pieces by those  other well known revolutionaries Beethoven, Debussy and Puccini. This was a remarkable concert.

The Selkirk Trio, Knox Presbyterian Church, Cranbrook, Wednesday April 11th, 2012, 7:30 pm.

This unusual chamber music concert of piano (Sue Gould), clarinet (Nicola Everton) and cello (Jeff Faragher) was well attended. The trio featured the music of Beethoven, the Cuban Jazz world of Paquito D’Rivera’s “Afro”; The “lively and cheeky” music of Nino Roto (of The Godfather I & II film scores); some minor pieces by the German Jewish composer Max Bruch and the exotic Serbian dances by Marko Tajcevic. The Serbian music was a complete revelation. Arthur Rubenstein was known to have played transcriptions of these compositions and his influence was very evident in Sue Gould’s lively accompaniment to Nicola Everton’s absolutely liquid clarinet playing. Nicola bounced and oozed her way through the exotic odd metre eighth rhythms of music that sounded like it came straight off the streets of Zagreb. The program was rounded out with Paquito D’Rivera’s “Danzon” and Sue Gould and Nicola Porter giving full rein to their jazz inclinations with a wonderful rendition of Cole Porter’s “Night and Day”.

So those are my top picks of the season. That does not mean there were not other performances of merit out there. The concerts by the Bisset Singers was full of surprises and gorgeous choral arrangements.  The La Cafamore String Quartet came back to Cranbrook with Nina Horvath for another wonderful performance at the Knox. The unusual combination of Carolyn Cameron on violin and Aurora Dokken on piano and organ were also featured at the Knox in February. The talented amateur vocalists had their day in the sun at the Knox performing in “Sonatina Sunday”  (see the tab PERFORMANCES / MUSIC / SONATINA SUNDAY 2012 ). The JOE TRIO gave an entertaining performance at the Key City that was billed as a Symphony of the Kootenays concert but there was no orchestra in sight. I found that a bit puzzling. And of course there was the grand finale concert “Music In the Mountains” outdoors at the St Eugene Mission Golf resort.


So despite some organizational miss-steps by the Symphony it was a season full of wonderful music. The most notable feature of the season was the significant amount interesting and varied chamber music performed at the Knox Presbyterian Church.






Symphony Concert at the Mission


 Symphony of the Kootenays

Free Concert

Friday, June 22 – 7:00 PM

Presented at

St. Eugene Mission

Aboriginal Day Festival

Please bring your own chairs or blanket to sit on the lawn

Featuring A Mountain Themed Programme:

Burge: Rocky Mountain Overture

Croall: Stories from Coyote

Baker: The Mountains (from Through the Lions Gate)

Strauss: Farmer’s Polka, Russian March,

Pleasure Train Polka, Klipp Klapp Polka

Shostakovich: Second Waltz

Mussorgsky: Night on Bald Mountain

Strauss: Radetsky March




Symphony of the Kootenays joins Aboriginal Day Festival with Music in the Mountains – Free outdoor concert blends Ktunaxa themes with classical favourites

 The Symphony of the Kootenays wraps up its 2011-2012 season with a blockbuster free concert on Friday, June 22 as part of the Aboriginal Day Festival at the St. Eugene Golf Resort Casino. Set against the stunning backdrop of the Steeples range, ‘Music in the Mountains’ will showcase Ktunaxa storytelling and dance, along with music that expresses the majesty, mystery and magic of mountain landscapes. The Symphony of the Kootenays is thrilled to join with the Ktunaxa Nation Council and the St. Eugene Mission to bring this unique cultural event to the community. National Aboriginal Day is an excellent occasion for Aboriginal groups to share their diverse cultural heritage. By being a part of this day, the Symphony not only gets to showcase its local talent but we become a part of increasing awareness of the cultural traditions and opportunities in this region.

The concert will open with John Burge’s ‘Rocky Mountain Overture’, a sonically vibrant overture written specifically for outdoor performance, to reverberate around a valley in the Rocky Mountains. In honor of National Aboriginal Day, the Symphony will perform Odawa composer Barbara Croall’s ‘Stories from Coyote’. A piece filled with the sounds of the mountains – bird calls, rustling wind, crackling ice – its premiere in Kamloops in 2000 met with critical acclaim, with local media reporting that “The stories were both interesting and fun, and the music fascinating.” The concert will open with John Burge’s ‘Rocky Mountain Overture’, a sonically vibrant overture written specifically for outdoor performance, to reverberate around a valley in the Rocky Mountains. Rounding out the program are Modest Mussorgsky’s popular and stunning showpiece, ‘A Night on Bald Mountain’, a collection of some of Johann Strauss’s best-loved compositions – including ‘Radetzky March’, ‘Klipp-Klapp Polka’ and others – and works by Shostakovich and Michael Conway Baker.

Music in the Mountains’ will be presented on Friday, June 22 at 7:00 p.m. at the St. Eugene Golf Resort Casino. Admission is free, there will be chairs available but patrons are encouraged to bring a blanket to spread on the lawn. For more information, please visit or


Symphony Saga Continues


At the extraordinary meeting of the Symphony Board held May 16th, 2012,  to discuss the possible dissolution of the symphony organization and orchestra it was decided to call for nominations for a new board to address the issues. Nominations were called for and some behind the scenes discussions elicited a number of possible candidates. A week after this meeting Hans Dekker stepped down as the president of the organization.

The meeting of June 6, 2012 at the Knox Presbyterian Church was convened to move forward with the nominations. To ensure that the membership and the candidates fully understood the present situation a brief financial statement was tabled. A thumbnail sketch (my interpretation of the discussion) of the financials indicated the following:

  • $12,000 in the bank
  • $21,000 in additional grants on the way
  • $24,000 liability for the costs of the June “free” concert.
  • There are additional liabilities
  • Probable deficit of around $15,000
  • As a cost cutting measure the General Manager position of the Symphony will be  terminated.

The following new board members were nominated, seconded and accepted

  • Laurel Ralston
  • Michael Grossman
  • Lorraine Butler
  • Terry Lynn Jeffers
  • Aura Pon (Calgary)
  • Ian Adams
  • Steen Jorgenson
  • Ruth Sawatsky
  • Shirley Hansen
  • Sven Heyde
  • Patrick Hederly (?)
  • Rob MacDonald
  • Karen Clark (Secretary)

Following discussion of the proposed June 22, 2012 concert at the St. Eugene Mission resort the meeting was adjourned. Following the general meeting the new board convened to elect officers and presumably discuss strategies to deal with the situation.

Now comes the personal commentary and opinion. For some idea of the complexity of organizing a symphony season go to the Journalism tab of this blog and look at the article that was printed in the Townsman in October 2010. The resignation of Hans Dekker as president was noted in this meeting but no vote of thanks or appreciation of his efforts were tabled. This needs to be addressed. Prior to Hans’ efforts and the newspaper article predicting the demise of the symphony the organization was on the ropes. As near as I can tell board membership immediately prior to the crisis was at minimal levels and membership interest was pretty passive. Following the crisis the attendance at the special emergency meeting was around 60 and those in attendance were passionate in their support of the symphony. The organization needs to formally thank Hans for generating this amount of interest, support and discussion. We may not have like to hear what he had to say but it was very important that it was said before it was too late to act. Having said all that it should be noted that the attendance at this June meeting had slid to around forty. Is that an indicator of how the community truly values the symphony? One can anticipate that once the emotions cool attendances at the general meetings will probably continue to slide.

As I see it the major challenge to face the symphony will be the building of audiences. A substantial increase in audiences will lead to increase funding possibilities, particularly from the corporate sector. Without a very substantial increase in audiences every thing is moot. The continued support of the symphony is an expensive proposition and one can still wonder and question the ethics of such relatively large expenditures of public money for such small audience returns. I think the survival of the symphony as part of a diverse cultural environment is very important. It adds to the attractiveness of the area  that in turn is a factor in recruiting progressive professionals and business interests needed to grow the community.


Symphony of the Kootenays

Forgive me but I think the audience may have missed the major thrust of the president’s message at the recent special board meeting of the Symphony of the Kootenays.

It’s not a question of if the appropriate grants have been applied for? or are there untapped sources of money out there?

I think his point (among many) – Is it ethical to take money from whatever sources to subsidise concerts that only attract an audience of 250 people – that’s nearly a $100/head for performances that people have voted with their feet by walking away. I agree with him. At $23,000 per concert I think we could get a much bigger bang for our classical music buck with a different approach. For the cost of one concert you could probably run a full season of creative chamber music. I have been to a significant number of adventurous chamber music concerts over the past few years that have been self produced at an almost insignificant cost by the artists involved. Having said that those concerts, by and large, have also been poorly attended. The exception might be the magnificent SELKIRK TRIO a couple of weeks back. But at least the artist(s) is taking the risk, developing adventurous programming and getting the music out there. I think our energies could be better directed away from the symphony to the artists out there bucking the trends trying to create their own audiences. What we need is a Chamber Music Society to support creative music and the artists who are trying to make a difference. That would be time better spent than trying to refurbished a symphony society.

Second point is that audiences have the ability to hand pick and customise their own entertainment agenda. That is a recent development and one that is going to continue unabated. This is particularly applicable to classical music. For example it is possible to buy the complete Bach catalogue on CD for $150 – that’s 150 CDs , less than a buck a CD. I have actually seen this particular box set on sale for $100. I know people say it’s not the same thing as a live performance and while that may be true I contend that on CD you have access to the great orchestras, great artists, the great interpretations, etc. Over and above that a live performance is a bonus. As the chairperson of Archiv Music recently stated “we are living in a golden era of recorded classical music”. What is available out there is astonishing. The record companies have huge inventories of state of the art recordings accumulated over the past 40 years and they are releasing them at extraordinarily cheap prices. Even iTunes cannot compete with that.

Third point – demographics. The average age of the people in the room that night must be approaching at least 60 or even older. So its not a question of funding it is a question of demographics. People under the age of 40 do not attend classical, jazz or any concerts of seriously creative music. Watering down the programs is not going to change that. The fact of the matter is that people have forgotten how to listen to live music. There is a different ethos involved and it is one that needs to be learned. It is not only creative music that is suffering. It is happening right across the musical spectrum. In Cranbrook there is no longer a public music scene. That disappeared ages ago. Musicians have retreated from public view and live music is a thing for private enjoyment in small gatherings of musicians playing for their peers and friends. In that setting there is some pretty incredible music being played in the area.

An additional point I would like to make is that the spiralling upwards of costs is only just beginning. The cost of transport alone has probably risen by over 30% in the past 5 years and will probably double in the next five. If a touring rock band going from town to town and playing bars is unable to recover costs what chance is there for an orchestra of 15-20 symphony musicians.

As I said at the meeting I think Hans and the board have been incredibly brave to get up and say what needed to be said to an audience that is so emotionally attached to the idea of a symphony orchestra that they didn’t want to hear the unvarnished truth. I don’t think it is a case of grit your teeth, overcome the obstacles and the orchestra will survive. There has been a paradigm shift in just about every aspect of modern life and we need to make appropriate adjustments.

In my opinion, the symphony, maybe, can survive this present storm but it is only a matter of time before the inevitable conclusion is reached. Let’s recognize it and move on.

– Rod Wilson