Guest Musician

HPO and Thought Beneath Film: The Collaboration Process

In a unique collaborative performance, this Supercrawl the HPO works with local rock band Thought Beneath Film to create a concert experience that spans the classical and rock genres.

“I speak on behalf of my entire band, Thought Beneath Film, when I say that we’re incredibly excited about our collaboration with the HPO at the James Street Supercrawl this year. While Hamilton has long been one Canada’s ‘music capitals’ given its wealth and variety of musical talent, it’s unfortunate that the various musical movements have remained so segregated from each other,” says Brent Wirth, lead singer of Thought Beneath Film.


Thought Beneath Film

“The city has so many amazing and diverse musical traditions happening simultaneously from classical to jazz to hip-hop to indie rock, and I think it’s about time that audiences start seeing some cross-pollination and collaboration between all of these genres. It’s so vital in keeping the ball moving forward creatively and to ensure the constant generation of new ideas and styles. For this reason, we’re absolutely thrilled to be able to collaborate with musicians that are coming from a completely different tradition and set of experiences than us.”


Principal Bassist Rob Wolanski

Working with the HPO’s principal Double Bass Player, Rob Wolanski, Wirth and the HPO have curated an inventive performance that features reinterpretations of orchestral classics and will explore Though Beneath Film’s own original material through the orchestral lens.

“As someone who has always been involved in many very different genres of music, I’ve come to realize that great music and fantastic players are everywhere regardless of genre,” says Rob. “I’m hoping our audiences will find something unexpected and exciting about the genre they don’t normally listen to and will want to hear more. This project will feature some very unique arrangements, many of which have been written specifically for this show.”

Be sure to get a good spot in front of the stage to have a good view of the HPO Strings and Thought Beneath Film as they perform unique cross-genre works from traditional orchestral repertoire to original works by Though Beneath Film.

The HPO and Thought Beneath Film appear at Supercrawl on Saturday, September 13 at 6:15pm at the TD/Arkells Stage (Wilson and James Street North).


Two things you need to know about “Genre Hopping”

music-genres2Rock. Country. Blues. Classical. We tend to feel like we need to fit musical creations into one specific genre in order for us to understand where it belongs in the music world. But what if we took these barriers down? Does a musical work need to be composed to “fit” one of these genres? Is there a genre that includes two genres of music? How about three…four…fivesixseven – our heads are going to explode!

The cross-pollination of different musical categories is still a relatively new concept for music listeners, until you realize it’s been going on for quite some time. Classical music has a habit of getting slotted into an elitist and untouchable corner where only musical academics are allowed to “adequately” enjoy it. Perhaps this is because classical music is the oldest musical genre and thought to be a treasure trove of masterpieces that has been 500 years in the making. But when you listen to musicians like 2Cellos, Frank Zappa, The Piano Guys, Yo-Yo Ma and Emerson, Lake and Palmer (and loads more you can find here), you realize this concept isn’t so scary and can be downright enjoyable. We just see the same piece of music re-imagined in a new light.

So here are two things you need to know about cross-genre music.

1. Rock did it first, but Classical is doing it too.


Emerson, Lake & Palmer

There’s been an urge from musicians across all genres to break down these barriers for quite some time. Classical music has only recently expanded its reach from its own sub-types to other contemporary styles, unlike popular progressive rock bands in the 70s who made the leap quite a bit earlier.

Originally a blues band, British rock group Jethro Tull didn’t reach their pinnacle of fame until they began to create more ambitious sound by incorporating elements of jazz, folk and classical music, making the band’s genre uncategorizeable at the time. Emerson, Lake and Palmer covered Aaron Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man and Hoedown by using instrumentation to re-contextualize these classical pieces for rock fans. The 90s Icelandic band Sigor Ros goes beyond incorporating stylistic nuances of classical music by having Jón Þór Birgisson play bowed guitar.

Classical musicians are conversely bridging the gap too. Yo-Yo Ma released “Appalachian Journey,” an album that throws the cello into music devoted to old misty mountain songs. 2Cellos and The Piano Guys have gone viral with their popular covers of Disney and Mumford & Sons songs. And Punch Brothers have taken the mandolin and given it a good old southern twang.

The bottom line is we like to hear things we know presented in a new way. BUT we’re not always open to hearing something outside our comfort zones.

The next point should address this issue.

2. Audiences need to open up a little. 

Punch Brothers

Punch Brothers

On the flip side, audiences also need to be more open to these experiences. “I don’t think classical musicians are any more reserved on average than non-classical musicians, but it’s actually the audiences that are far more reserved” says Chris Thile from classical/bluegrass band Punch Brothers. “I do think it’s important that people who profess to really be interested in music to expose themselves to the width and breadth of the great music that’s available to them – and that’s everything.”

Once you listen to cross genre collaborations, it becomes clear there is JUST a stylistic and ascetic approach to playing a piece of music. So continue to enjoy the genre you have an affinity with, but also get ready to be wowed by an artist out of your musical genre purview who might just blow you away.

That being said, get ready for Supercrawl next week when HPO Strings take the stage with Thought Beneath Film for an unforgettable collaboration of rock music re-imagined through the orchestral lens.

Musicians perform on Saturday, September 13 at 6:15 on the TD-Arkells Stage (James Street North at Wilson).

Watch Punch Brothers’ Chris Thile talk about “genre hopping” while he serenades you with his mandolin.

2 concerts next season that you can’t miss

…according to these musicians.

There are so many fantastic works and exciting programs to pick from in this upcoming 2014-15 Season, but here are the top two concerts in which bassoonist Melanie Eyers and horn player Neil Spaulding are most excited to perform.

IMG_5365_2Melanie Eyers

“I am looking forward to Sci-Fi Spectacular on March 21 because I get a huge thrill performing music from the movies, and I have the best seat in the house to appreciate our amazingly dedicated and consummately professional HPO Brass section (they make it sound so easy!). Also, I am a lifelong fan of Star Trek and Star Wars, and I am looking forward to working with the wonderfully talented Larry Larson again.”

Sci-Fi Spectacular is happening on March 21 featuring guest conductor David Martin and Larry Larson.


MHP_7663Neil Spaulding

“I’m looking forward to playing Prokofiev’s Suite from Romeo and Juliet because it is such incredibly beautiful, passionate and moving music. It really is one of the great pieces of art of the last hundred years!”

The program for Romeo and Juliet on February 21 includes a number of works devoted to the infamous Shakespeare play, including ones by Prokofiev, Tchaikovsky and Berlioz.



Since it’s Neil’s favourite piece next season, take a look at Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet, Suite 1:

35 pictures that sum up a pretty fantastic 2013-14 Season!

The 2013-14 season was a special year for the HPO. We hosted the circus, mixed beatboxing with classical music and said farewell to Maestro James Sommerville to name a few memorable moments…but before we launch into a thrilling new concert season, take a look back at some of these amazing memories from last year.


Reflections in the Sea: Britten’s Peter Grimes

"The Old Man and the Sea" - Winslow Homer

“The Old Man and the Sea” – Winslow Homer

Countless stories have been told documenting the trials and tribulations about journeying over water. Tales of sailors, fishermen and whalers talk about the draw they feel to the sea. But this calling doesn’t always lead to a romantic ending for the voyager. The sea remains unpredictable, unforgiving, unknowing.

Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, Ernest Hemmingway’s The Old Man and the Sea, and Yann Martel’s Life of Pi are only a small sampling of the plethora of stories attributed to the fury, torment and rebirth the sea imposes on mankind. In these tales, the sea is positioned as a tool of the fates and a place where we are confronted with our humanity.

This particularly reins true in Benjamin Britten’s opera Peter Grimes. Inspired by a second hand copy of George Crabbe’s book The Borough, Britten personifies the loneliness, isolation and psychosis of a fisherman living in a village beside the sea.

Benjamin Britten

Benjamin Britten

Peter is a single fisherman accused of killing his apprentice who at sea. The village lawyer claims the boy’s death was accidental and subsequently deems Peter innocent without the need for trail. However, Peter is advised not to take another helper until he marries a warm hearted woman. Widow and school teacher Ellen promises to assist Peter in making a better life for himself and agrees to fetch him a new assistant named John. Peter’s hopes of marrying Ellen are compromised when she discovers a bruise on John’s shoulder. Peter rebuffs her by declaring it was an accident. Growing increasingly aggravated at Ellen’s involvement and accusations, he hits her in plain view of some villagers.

"Peter Grimes" performed by Opera North at the Grand Theatre

“Peter Grimes” performed by Opera North at the Grand Theatre

A mob gathers around Peter’s home prompting him to instruct John to climb down the cliff to his boat in an effort to escape. John slips and falls to his death while Peter escapes in the boat. The next day, Peter’s boat is found with no sign of him or John, but Ellen discovers a jersey she knitted for John floating ashore. Another mob goes after Peter, convinced he has killed his second apprentice. Ellen finds Peter and urges him to come home, but he is convinced by a an old captain to take his own life at sea instead. In the morning, a coast guard reports a boat is sinking offshore, but is dismissed by the villagers.

Both audiences and villagers will never know whether Peter Grimes is innocent in the deaths of both apprentices. The sea either provides the means for Peter to escape the constant scrutiny of the villagers or presents an appropriate death sentence for a murderous fisherman. Whichever it is, we can never be certain.

Four Sea Interludes from Peter Grimes, is a suite written especially for an orchestral performance used in the scene changes within the initial opera. Experience the suite at Sea to Sea on Saturday, May 31 at 7:30pm in Hamilton Place.

Here’s a look at the mob scene from Britten’s opera Peter Grimes:



Harpist Erica Goodman on From the Eastern Gate

Toronto based Harpist Erica Goodman

Toronto based Harpist Erica Goodman

Canadian harpist Erica Goodman has seen her share of concert stages (and you’ve probably caught her over the years on our own stage at Hamilton Place). A professional performer in her teens, Erica played under the baton of Igor Stravinsky when he recorded in Toronto and, as a university student, was a soloist with the Philadelphia Orchestra. She’s played onstage with music greats like Tony Bennett and Henry Mancini, and won a JUNO in 1995 for her album of Canadian harp music, which featured the piece From the Eastern Gate by Canadian composer Alexina Louie.

Commissioned by Erica Goodman, with the support of the Ontario Arts Council, From the Eastern Gate is a rich and virtuosic piece for solo harp. “Alexina is very interested in her Chinese heritage. So most of her work is connected with it in some way,” says Goodman. Traditional Chinese music is often performed on plucked or bowed stringed instruments and Louie imitates these Chinese plucked instruments, like the guzheng, by experimenting with unique and interesting techniques on the harp.

So how does Louie use the classical harp to create the sounds of the Far East? “Everything [Alexina did] has meaning and makes interesting sounds and sonorities,” says Goodman. “She even uses ordinary techniques in just a beautiful way. [For example] the use of harmonics, that’s where we divide the string in half, creates a kind of bell like sound…It has some very loud, powerful spots, but at the same time some extremely delicate ones, too.”

Erica Goodman

Erica Goodman

Louie also wrote for Erica to use unique and extended techniques that you wouldn’t normally find in harp music. “Some of the effects are that we have to take a metal tuning key and vibrate it between two strings. That gives a very Oriental feel. She also bends strings, which creates a very Oriental sounding effect,” says Goodman.

From the Eastern Gate is divided into six movements with a musical Haiku interspersed between each movement: Ceremonial Music, Haiku I, On Importance, Haiku II, Birds at the Mountain Temple, Haiku III and The Mandarins. In the second movement, Louie took inspiration from the poem “On Impermanence”  by ancient Japanese poet Dogen.

We asked Erica how she thinks audiences will react to this distinctive solo performance. Here’s what she had to say: “They’re going to be feeling a whole gamut of emotions. I’m hoping they’re going to be feeling the power of the loud sections, which are kind of like a Chinese dragon dance. I hope that the gentleness of ‘Birds at the Mountain Temple’ is going to create a mood of peace and introspection…and repose. Even the places where you just listen to sound evaporate, I hope are inspirational as far as restfulness and meditation. To me it has a very wonderful palette of colour – emotional colour, as well. And I think it’s really a wonderful exploration of the harp as an orchestra unto itself, which is the way I like to look at the instrument itself. My love for it, that way, in the colours and the scope of it, I hope will transmit to the audience.”

Listen to harpist Erica Goodman  in her beautiful performance of  Gabriel Fauré’s Op. 78 Sicilienne:

Chinese Classical Instruments: The Erhu and Guzheng


The Erhu

As we await to hear the exciting program for we thought we’d share some of the history behind the traditional Chinese instruments featured in this Saturday’s concert From the Eastern Gate at Centenary United Church.

The erhu is a two-stringed bowed musical instrument and is known in the Western world as the “Chinese violin” or a “Chinese two-stringed fiddle.” The use of the erhu can be traced back to thousands of years ago. The erhu has a long neck with two tuning pegs at the top and two strings that extend to the base of the instrument. There is a drum-like resonator body at the bottom of the neck which is covered in python skin. Used in contemporary and traditional music, the erhu has a range similar to that of the human voice and is featured in national orchestras of China. It’s most well known for playing melodic tunes, but lends itself well to a variety of musical styles and genres.


The Guzheng

The Guzheng

The guzheng is a 21-stringed zither, which is an instrument that has strings stretched over movable bridges across a long, flat body. Originally made with silk strings, contemporary guzhengs now have strings made from metal-nylon. The instrument is usually plucked with shells of hawksbill. There are many ways to play the guzheng, one of which includes using the right hand to pluck while the left hand presses on the strings on the other side of the bridges to produce a vibrato or slide effect. The guzheng plays an important role in Chinese folk music and was the precursor to many instruments in the Asian zither family.


Experience the erhu before From the Eastern Gate by listening to the Beijing Symphony Orchestra perform Ehru Concerto.