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Victoria Conservatory of Music series opens doors for faculty

IN CONCERT What: Masters, Friends and Mentors Where: Wood Hall at the Victoria Conservatory of Music, 900 Johnson St. When: Sunday, Nov. 4, 2:30 p.m. Tickets: $20.35 and $22.11 through TicketFly.
The first instalment of the Victoria Conservatory of MusicÕs Masters, Friends and Mentors series features faculty members Simon MacDonald on violin and pianist Robert Holliston. TheyÕll perform music of the 19th and 20th centuries.


What: Masters, Friends and Mentors
Where: Wood Hall at the Victoria Conservatory of Music, 900 Johnson St.
When: Sunday, Nov. 4, 2:30 p.m.
Tickets: $20.35 and $22.11 through, by phone at 250-386-5311, or in person at the Victoria Conservatory of Music

The first instalment in a new chamber music series by the Victoria Conservatory of Music is designed to showcase the work of rising Canadian ensembles and artists. But the three-part series also gives the progressive music school the opportunity to showcase the often-overlooked skills of its faculty, many of whom will appear on stage before the series wraps on April 4.

“People don’t always know that many of us are active performers, and this is a way for us to put on concerts that we believe people will like,” said pianist Robert Holliston, head of the conservatory’s keyboard department. “But it also gives us a chance to perform outside of our everyday roles.”

Entries in the series include Musical Treats and Poetry on Feb. 10, a poetry-flavoured event featuring selections by Mozart, Poulenc and Shostakovic, and an April 4 performance by the Juno Award-winning New Orford String Quartet, one of the best string quartets in Canada. The quartet features the Toronto Symphony Orchestra’s star concertmaster, Jonathan Crow, who studied at the Victoria Conservatory of Music before joining the Montreal Symphony as the youngest-ever concertmaster of a major North American orchestra.

Holliston will appear Sunday afternoon at the conservatory’s recently renovated Wood Hall in Masters, Friends and Mentors, the official kick-off to the series. The collaborative outing joins Holliston with fellow conservatory faculty member Simon MacDonald on violin. MacDonald, who is the artistic director of the Young Artists Collegium Program, was recently appointed as the school’s head of strings, and will join Holliston for a performance of 19th Century master works from Mozart and César Franck. The pair will also perform four pieces of early 20th Century modernism from Anton Webern.

To honour their longstanding professional relationship, Holliston and MacDonald decided to showcase Beethoven’s C minor Duo Sonata, the first sonata they ever played together. “It seemed like a natural fit that we would do the recital together,” Holliston said.

MacDonald was one of the first students Holliston started playing for when he came to the conservatory as an instructor in 1988. He accompanied MacDonald and other string students under the tutelage of Sydney Humphries, former head of the strings department, for festivals, exams and concerts. Humphries also taught Crow, from the New Orford String Quartet, who considered the former strings instructor one of his biggest influences.

Performing with MacDonald 30 years ago gave Holliston an opportunity to pay it forward. Humphries and James Hunter were the conservatory’s string instructors at that time, and Holliston had played with their students when he was a music theory student at the conservatory in the late 1960s. “I considered [Humphries and Hunter] my mentors, so it was wonderful to come back and work with their students when I was a bit more experienced,” he said.

Holliston hopes the new chamber music series brings back into the conversation the conservatory’s multi-faceted role in the community. Musical Treats and Poetry on Feb. 10 will feature the heads of the conservatory’s keyboard, winds, brass, strings, and voice departments — a performance not dissimilar to what he remembers seeing during his early days at the conservatory. Trio Victoria was a ’70s-era chamber group that featured conservatory faculty members Humphries and Hunter, along with Holliston’s piano instructor at the conservatory, Robin Wood.

The trio played at schools around the area, furthering the spirit of collaboration and chamber music-playing the existed amongst the students and instructors at the non-profit conservatory.

Today, that spirit remains, according to Holliston. “The idea of us presenting a chamber music series is simply acknowledging that the conservatory is in part rooted in this music.”

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