Recital probe

Classical musicians from the University of Manitoba’s faculty of music are trying to change the way we consume music by performing outside of organized orchestral concerts. People like Charmaine Bacon, flutist and Marcel A. Desautels alumna, and Mel Braun, a music professor at the U of M, say that the relative lack of solo and chamber musical recitals in Canada means Canadians are not hearing the variety of music they could be.

While there is no clear line separating recitals from other kinds of musical performances, they are often significantly different from the concerts most of us associate with classical music. Bacon explained that the appellation “recital” creates certain expectations for an audience. “Normally,” she said, “here a recital will consist of the soloist plus a pianist or another musician and sometimes one chamber piece, so it’s focused on one soloist.”

Music student Cordelia Papadopoulos agreed. “When you say ‘a recital,’ you usually think of a soloist performing or maybe a few different soloists. It is a more intimate setting, usually.” This difference in ensemble scale is reflected in the scale of the organization. “Sometimes a concert is more professional and more widely advertised,” explained Bacon, “while a recital tends to be more of an intimate nature.”

According to Braun, small-scale performances are an important factor in the diversity of a musical community. “Think of it like the pop music business in a way,” he said. “You have the big shows that come to MTS Centre every year — where you pay big for the tickets — but you’ve also got the hugely, in this town, vibrant indie scene. [ . . . ] They’re doing original stuff, and there’s development there.” Braun highlighted the role of recitals in bringing chamber music to audiences. “A huge part of classical repertoire is chamber music,” he said. “If you want to hear that stuff, then the recital is the place for it.”

Both Braun and Bacon organize recitals of their own, but Bacon lamented the relative unpopularity of small-scale recitals. “I just know that it doesn’t happen that often,” she said. “The concerts that are given [ . . . ] most of the time, they’re large organizations that receive funding — because they are a symphony or an early music society or whatever — but individuals don’t normally do their own thing.”

According to Bacon, this is not the case in England. “It’s a big deal over there,” she said. “In newspapers they will print information about recitals happening, and random people off the streets will actually go to these concerts.”

As Braun explained, these differences are likely due to age-old cultural divisions that separate us from Europe. “In Europe,” he said, “the recital series — people going to hear a solo artist or an evening of chamber music — for centuries, that’s been a big deal over there. [ . . . ] Everybody in Italy goes to opera: it’s just what you do.” Bacon too suspected cultural deeper cultural differences of creating the gap between attitudes in Canada and Europe. “The way my mom put it,” she said, “they’re just old-fashioned in England.”

Despite their concern, both Bacon and Braun are particularly optimistic about the potential for larger audiences in Winnipeg. “I think we’re doing okay,” said Braun. “In a city that’s so arts oriented, there’s so much opportunity. So much of it, in our case, depends on the innovation and drive of the artists.”
“It’s Winnipeg,” said Bacon, “and people are receptive and appreciative of stuff like that.”