Banff Diaries: a postlude

Banff Diaries: a postlude

Jenna Simeonov

The Banff Centre’s motto is “Inspiring Creativity,” and that’s not an empty statement. There really is something about Banff that allows even the most hardened city folks to breathe and slow down on this life thing. The Banff Centre is designed to allow artists to truly focus on creating; they do this by providing comfortable living spaces (with housekeeping, or #icingonthecake), three great meals a day, easily accessible rehearsal rooms and studios, and free access to hundreds of top-notch concerts and events happening across the campus-like Centre. I mean, come on.

During my first visit to Banff in 2008 (as an oft-starving artist), I found it hard to believe that the motivation for such great treatment of artists was so altruistic. It’s no small expense, to give so many artists and faculty a truly incredible experience; but The Banff Centre doesn’t really have any other good reason to do so, except to foster our work. I often joke that people at TBC shouldn’t tell too many people about it (like Fight Club), otherwise some non-arts-loving government dude will find out and shut it all down.

Surreal as it may be, a institution like this can’t happen without lots of people supporting it. The federal and provincial governments help out, along with innumerable generous corporations and individuals, and their names are proudly displayed throughout the campus, including a few namesake buildings. So, The Banff Centre is no secret, and yet it thrives in an environment many of us have felt as non-conducive to creating art.

Shantelle Przybylo sings Zemlinsky’s Maiblumen blüten überall, for soprano and string sextet. Photo: Rita Taylor.

But, conducive it was, and that’s the understatement of the year. I hung out with the crew from Against the Grain Theatre, along with 12 singers and 1 pianist, putting up 2 operas and 1 fantastic chamber concert. I acted as Music Director for a new workshop production of Crush, by James Rolfe and Anna Chatterton. Directed by Amiel Gladstone. Opening night brought audiences into a seedy bar, with intimidating bouncers, walls covered in sex toys and a floor littered with latex. Novelty aside, the team delivered in quality with two…arousing?…performances.

At the start of the Crush rehearsal process, I was daunted by the difficulty of the score, and by the demands on me as both pianist and conductor for the performances (I know lots of my pianist colleagues are pros at this multi-tasking, but this was my first venture into wearing both hats). My wee orchestra was made up of myself at the keys, violinist Aaron Schwebel (of the COC Orchestra) and cellist Britton Riley (who starts with the TSO this fall); they were beautiful players, plus they were patient, giving, low-maintenance, and generally swell guys.

Simone McIntosh as Donna in Crush. Photo: Don Lee.

At the end of it all, I told AtG Artistic Director Joel Ivany that I felt as though I could lift a house. I hope the cast of singers felt the same way, because they rose so high to this occasion that they should be very, very proud. Tutti: you #crushedit. Thank you, Amiel, Topher, Michael, Joel, Simone, Ellen, Sam, Clarence, Pasquale, Bruno, Noah, Crystal, Rachel, Claudia, Lauren, Britton, and Aaron! We all did a great thing.

As my portion of of opera at Banff closes, I turn my best wishes towards Joel Ivany and his team for A Little Too Cozy, opening this coming Friday night. It’s the third in Ivany’s Mozart/Da Ponte transladaptations™, following Figaro’s Wedding and #UncleJohn. Stay in the loop with this clever, never-seen-anything-like-it show, by following Against the Grain Theatre and #ALittleTooCozy.

So, I wish the remaining Banff team a smooth and happy tech week, and a beautiful run of shows. Readers, get your curiosity piqued with this trailer for A Little Too Cozy:

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