• 30 years of Brott Music

    April 26, 2017 by Boris Brott

    (This is the first in a series of blog posts by the Brott Music Festival in celebration of the Festival’s 30th anniversary this year which kicks off in June.)

    In 1987, Boris Brott conceived of an idea—a music festival for the City of Hamilton during the summer. The first festival, which lasted 11 days, was featured across Hamilton and was immediately a great success. The Brott Music Festival (BMF) from that day on has grown exponentially, captivating audiences for the last 30 years. In addition to musical performances, it has also become renowned for the numerous educational and professional development programs that have been created under Brott Music since its inception. The Brott Music Festival has become an artistic staple in Hamilton and the surrounding areas.

    Music is a cornerstone of our daily lives. It’s what brings us together and it’s what gives us inspiration. Knowing this, Boris Brott was determined to bring some more musical excitement to the city of Hamilton during the summer months. With support from his wife Ardyth, they founded the Brott Music Festival. Through this Festival, Boris Brott has pioneered a unique performance/mentorship program in which thousands of young professional Canadian musicians have participated. A bold and unique endeavor, the Brott Music Festival has created and maintained a reputation of high calibre musicians and performances for the last 30 years. Through the creation of the Festival, Brott Music has been able to perform a wide variety of musical genres and artistic styles across through the Golden Horseshoe including: jazz, opera, rock, pop, chamber in addition to orchestral music. In the last 30 years, the Festival has expanded its outreach outside of Hamilton to include venues across Southern Ontario.  

    Starting in 1988, the Festival spanned 11 days and has since expanded into a 9-week festival over the course of the summer months. The resident orchestra of the Brott Music Festival is the National Academy Orchestra of Canada (NAO), who played their inaugural season in 1989.

    The National Academy Orchestra of Canada playing Verdi's Requiem.

    The National Academy Orchestra was created by Boris Brott, the only one of its kind in Canada, not just as the orchestra-in-residence of the festival but also for post-graduate training of young musicians. The NAO program gives them an opportunity to experience life as a professional musician, as well as participate in masterclasses and seminars meant to aid them in their professional careers. The National Academy Orchestra trains through the mentor-apprentice approach which allows emerging young Canadian musicians to play alongside established professionals from some of Canada’s finest orchestras. The rehearsals and performance schedules mimic a professional schedule while adhering to high artistic standards. This orchestra is one of a few organizations that has been designated as an official Arts Training School by the Department of Canadian Heritage in 1998.  

    Brott Opera and Brott Chorus are two other programs that have most recently been established by the Brott Music Festival. Brott Opera helps train young opera singers, much like the NAO program, by offering coaching and seminars to aspiring vocalists. The program last for 2 weeks culminating in two performances: a PopOpera and a fully-staged opera. Brott Chorus includes paid positions for section leads in the Festival Chorus, paid understudy roles with positions in the Brott Opera Chorus, and one-week choral retreat opportunities. Both Brott Opera and Brott Chorus are open to quality singers of any age ready to perform with a full symphony orchestra under the baton of Maestro Boris Brott. As part of the festival, these programs offer scores, workshops, sectionals, rehearsals, accompanists, chorus masters, a full symphonic orchestra and leadership from one of Canada’s most decorated Conductors.

    Cirque du Festival featuring the National Academy Orchestra and Hamilton Aerial Group.

    In addition to encouraging young artists, BMF is also committed to introducing young people to the orchestra and orchestral music. Our Education Concerts are catered to students from junior kindergarten to grade 8. In addition to the musical aspect of our education concert, many of the performances are coupled with social issues, such as bullying, tolerance, racism and diversity. Programs are also specifically designed to meet the new Ontario Language and Social Studies curriculums and teachers are provided with pre and post-concert lesson plans. Students are encouraged to enjoy themselves while being offered interactive and multidisciplinary learning experiences. Brott Music Education Concerts have been shared with over 260,000 students since they began in 1999. Maestro Brott has always considered music education for children to be a major priority and he continues to find innovative ways to inspire children through music.

    An additional emphasis for the Festival has been placed on collaboration with those interested in innovative approaches to artistic production such as the Festival’s Orchestrate Hamilton! initiative. This has allowed BMF to partner with Supercrawl and local rock artists like Terra Lightfoot and the Arkells and to offer unique performances of cross-genre collaboration. Additionally, the PopUp Opera shows, at various venues across the greater Hamilton area, are a great way to involve audiences who may not have been previously exposed to opera. These collaborations add to the cultural variety and contributions which are offered in Hamilton while allowing the field to constantly evolve and keep the audiences ‘on their toes.’ Some of the past performances for Orchestrate Hamilton! include: PopUp shows with the Arkells, a performance at the Juno Awards in 2015 (the only orchestra to do so in 10 years), and performances at Hamilton's Pan Am Closing Ceremonies and at McMaster’s LiveLab.

    The Arkell's Max Kerman with Boris Brott onstage

    In Hamilton, the Brott Music Festival has garnered national attention with numerous awards and VIPs in attendance. The Festival has received the Tourism Ambassador Award from Tourism Hamilton as well as Tourism Business of the Year. From 11 days to an entire summer The Brott Music Festival has become an artistic standard bearer in the City of Hamilton, with the willing support and enthusiasm from its leaders and its citizens.

    It was the City of Hamilton itself which inspired Boris and Ardyth to create this festival: “I feel such a strong connection with the city of Hamilton, not just because I live here, but because it has been the epicenter of so much of my creative life, both onstage and off.”

  • Audience as Ally

    March 29, 2017 by Theatre Aquarius

    Luke Brown is a Hamilton-based theatre creator. He is currently serving as Associate Director for Theatre Aquarius and is the founder of Flat Earth Global.

    One Fringe, not so long ago, I sat in the darkness of a theatre, baffled by what I was witnessing. A convoluted plot, acting that wouldn’t have been out of place in a porno, and non-existent direction had all combined to form a megazord of awfulness.  Looking around the smallish crowd of 10 or so, it was easy to tell that I wasn’t alone in this opinion; I witnessed one person fall asleep, another spend the majority of the show on their phone and one brave soul do what I so longed to do: walk out.

    Despite my best efforts, the writer spotted me on my way out. I searched for something supportive to say, complementary but not too complimentary; vague, you know?  Before I had the chance, they launched into a tirade about how the audience was stupid for not understanding the show. This asshole was blaming the audience. This bothered me. Deeply.

    I’ll be honest, I’m as guilty of doing bad work as anyone else, and I’ll be guilty again in the future. We all make mistakes, that’s part of the process of being an artist, but the one mistake that is unforgivable is blaming our results on the audience. We do shows for an audience. All of the rehearsal in the world can't truly prepare us for what happens when an audience enters; they're unpredictable. Something you think is so clear will make them scratch their heads. Anyone who doesn’t take an audience’s reaction into consideration is showing a fundamental lack of respect and understanding of what the medium is.

    All this made me stop and reflect on the way I work, specifically how I worked on a show called Séance, which I co-created with Nicholas Wallace. During Séance I realized that a script is to a show what Pinocchio is to a real boy; they both require something to become what they desire to be. With scripts, that something is an audience. A script without an audience remains just that, a script and not a show. It’s so easy to think we’ve been clear in our storytelling when in fact we haven’t been, and every performance of Séance showed us where we had gone wrong. Individuals may be useless but an audience, as a group, are always brilliant. If only we had more time to listen and then fix things. This listening to the audience made the show a grind: daily rewrites, not enough time to rehearse them but in the end, the show was better for it.

    Inspired by my conversation with this disgruntled and dangerously untalented writer, and with Strange and Unusual, our next creation on our minds, Nick and I approached Colette Kendall at the Staircase about doing a weekly show. It would give us the opportunity to work in front of an audience and have time to properly rework material. We agreed we’d take a handful of illusions Nick was comfortable with and pair them with untested material. We’d have a week between each show to rework the material. Following each performance we sit down and have brutally honest conversations about what needs to happen to make next week’s show better. We then implement the changes. As material gets to a point where we feel confident about it we pull it out of the show and replace it with something else that we want to try. When we fail, which is often, we embrace it. Failure allows us to see where we’ve gone wrong; it helps us find a way to solve the problems so that the next audience will have a better experience. Each performance reflects what we learned from the previous one.

    Don’t misconstrue this as me advocating for you to abandon your vision of a piece to placate an audience, but rather use it as a tool to gauge whether or not your vision is being communicated to the audience. We do the shows for them. If they’re bored or confused then it’s our fault, not the fault of the person who gave up their time, money and left their house to see our show. The audience is our partner, we need to trust them or we’ll never make that puppet into a real boy.

    You can see Nick and Luke attempting to turn a puppet into a real boy Wednesdays at 8:00 PM until May 3rd. In May, Strange and Unusual will debut at Theatre Aquarius in the Studio Theatre.



    November 11, 2016 by Bud Roach

    David Fallis (Artistic Director, The Toronto Consort; Music Director, Opera Atelier) in conversation with HAC Board member and Hammer Baroque Artistic Director Bud Roach. November 7th, 2016.
    The Toronto Consort will present ``The Italian Queen of France`` at Hammer Baroque on Sunday, November 13th, 2016, 4pm.

  • Interview with Recordist Alison Melville

    September 30, 2016 by Bud Roach

    This week, Hamilton Arts Council Board member and Hammer Baroque Artistic Director Bud Roach presents the second installment of his new blog video series. This second in-depth conversation features Alison Melville (recorder - Tafelmusik, Toronto Consort) who performs in Hammer Baroque concerts on October 8th (ACTA Recorder Quartet) and November 13th (Toronto Consort).


  • Interview with Cellist Alex Grant

    September 22, 2016 by Bud Roach

    This week, Hamilton Arts Council Board member Bud Roach begins a new video blog series featuring in-depth conversations with members of the arts community. New Arts Council member Alex Grant, cellist at the Shaw Festival in Niagara-On-The-Lake, talks about what attracted him to Hamilton, working at the Shaw Festival, and his favourite moments in the current Shaw production of Sweeney Todd, on stage until October 19th.