• Opera Returns to Hamilton!

    June 28, 2017 by Boris Brott

    (This is the third 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.)

    Brott Music Festival has been performing staged Opera and PopOpera productions since 2004 as part of their nine-week summer festival, BrottOpera was officially founded on January 13th, 2014. The artistic mission of BrottOpera is to be the destination performing opera organization that entertains, educates and enriches Hamilton and its environs to be driven by both traditional and cutting-edge opera programming, grassroots partnerships which will stimulate new audiences and partner with other community organizations.

    Scene from Marriage of Figaro [Photo: Bob Hatcher]

    Following two successful years BrottOpera is now entering its third season. Each year has consisted of a PopOpera – an evening of favourite opera arias – as well as a fully staged opera; the past two seasons have seen performances of Rossini’s Barber of Seville and Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro. This year will again include a PopOpera (July 6th) as well as a production of Bizet’s Carmen (July 13th) directed by Patrick Hansen, who is currently the Director of Opera Studies at the Schulich School of Music of McGill University in Montreal, Quebec.

    Set in Seville around the year 1830, the opera deals with the love and jealousy of Don José, who is lured away from his duty as a soldier and his beloved Micaëla by the gypsy factory-girl Carmen, whom he allows to escape from custody. He is later induced to join the smugglers with whom Carmen is associated, but is driven wild by jealousy. This comes to a head when Carmen makes clear her preference for the bull-fighter Escamillo. The last act, outside the bull-ring in Seville, brings Escamillo to the arena, accompanied by Carmen, there stabbed to death by Don José, who has been awaiting her arrival.

    Scene from Marriage of Figaro [Photo: Bob Hatcher]

    Carmen was a one-of-a-kind outlier of an opera when it was written. It shocked the French audiences with its onstage violence. It was also not an actual "opera" per se, because its form was really that of a musical: the story is told in both dialogue and in music. Formally much of it is Italian grand opera, but it is sung in French, set in Spain, and some of the music is based on Cuban dance rhythms (the Habanero, for example). Very advanced for its time! “It is the best example of "verismo" opera I can think of until Puccini comes along with La bohème or Leoncavallo's Pagliacci” says director Patrick Hansen. 

    This Carmen will be set in the 1930s Spanish Civil War - a war Franco eventually won. Carmen's story will be told through that lens of war, rebellion, the quest for freedom against oppression -- the very things that Carmen is all about! Carmen herself is 100% rebel; she fights against the status quo, she fights to be taken seriously as an individual and not just some gypsy who works in a cigarette factory, she smuggles arms for the war, she loves who she wants and when she wants. She and her gypsy friends are smugglers fighting in the resistance to overthrow the political structure in place and defend themselves against the coming Franco oppression. Oppression is everywhere in the opera. Don Jose, Morales, and Zuniga are all soldiers in the regime who simultaneously oppress the people but also want to be part of their culture (namely enjoying themselves at Lilas Pastia's place and the Bull Ring). Micaela represents the oppression that arises from the religious patriarchy -- (come home and marry a good girl, have a family, and forget everything else.) Escamillo represents the machismo oppression found throughout the culture. Carmen and her fellow gypsies represent freedom and liberty and superstition. Carmen's final outburst at the end of the opera sums it up well: she lives free and she will die free!

    Scene from Barber of Seville [Photo: Hugh Caughey]

    “As the stage director, I'll be looking for ways to show the oppression throughout the show, trying to bring out some of the more entertaining aspects of the show (to hit the tragedy at the end a little harder), and making sure the story gets told as clearly as possible. The update alters little, if anything, to the story -- it mostly changes props and weapons. Instead of swords and daggers we will use rifles, pistols and switchblades. Instead of smuggling contraband, the gypsies will be smuggling weapons. The other, oft-overlooked, aspect of Carmen is her belief in destiny and the tarot. This is integral to her belief system and I'll be striving to make it more a part of the story throughout the opera”.

    In addition to the performances, BrottOpera is a two-week program with a very heavy schedule for our emerging professional opera singers, which includes master-classes by some of opera’s top stars: tenor Richard Margison (July 4th 10am-12:30pm) and soprano Adrianne Pieczonka (July 9th 2pm-5pm). These masterclasses are free to the public and will be held at St. John the Evangelist Church (320 Charlton Ave W) in the heart of Hamilton.

    Scene from Barber of Seville [Photo: Hugh Caughey]

    “Very much looking forward to the Carmen production. We have a spectacular cast of first rate soloists chosen from 222 eager applicants. 10 of our best professional stars” says Boris Brott.  “You have a chance to get to know each of them individually singing their best chosen solo arias from different repertoire in our PopOpera program July 6 and then in their roles in Carmen July 13. Patrick Hansen is a brilliant director - we have worked together before at Opera McGill. He is imaginative and has a dramatic concept for Carmen which will delight you. Opera brings it all together - orchestra, chorus, lighting, costumes, sets, and you the audience- don’t miss it!”

  • A Missing Voice

    June 23, 2017 by Stephen Near

    This is a blog post by Tanya Pineda who is a spoken word artist living in Hamilton. As part of Tanya's Grade 13 Co-Op Student Placement, she worked with the Hamilton Arts Council as our Arts Outreach Assistant.

    During my time at my Co-op placement I learned the importance of communication not only through speech but through text and visuals. In an age where we are at our peak of communication technology, it feels like nobody is listening. This where the role of the Artist comes in a play.

    As artists we aim to be multilingual to convey messages to our audiences or transcend feelings of emotions through the cognitive walls of our mind. Consequently, our audiences love it because we feel as though someone is listening. It is always satisfying to hear someone articulate the feeling you couldn’t describe.

    Additionally, we have ways of getting our voices out there from the safety of our own handheld ”verbal bullet” proof screens. Yet with all these really important conversations going on, especially about the future of Hamilton and the artists residing here, there is something missing. I would check the lost and found box at your local high school if I were you; because you keep forgetting the 14-19 year olds who have no idea what’s going to hit them in the next eight years.

    To be fair not many of us have the clairvoyant ability to even predict what will happen in the next hour, but these kids are too big to sit at the kiddy table. You could argue that if they really wanted to know they will do research. But how do you know what questions to ask if you don’t even know what you're looking for?

    This thought came up during the Microfunding meeting held by the Hamilton Arts Council to begin the process of creating a microgrant for the artists in Hamilton. Before that meeting, I didn’t think much of grants let alone know what they really entail. During that meeting, I realized how important they are and that I will most likely end up in a position where I will have to apply for grants. Actually a lot of us will end up in that situation. But how will we know how to deal with it if we don’t even know that's something we are going to end up dealing with? I’m not trying to make this easier for us. But if you’re trying to change the future, you should include the future.

    It would be extremely beneficial if the local arts community reached out to the schools. The school board wouldn’t really be ideal to teach this kind of stuff especially since the arts is usually the most ignored department in a school system. In the same way, you need to make it known that these adolescents are welcome to the conversation, and that these conversations are happening.

    It can be as simple as making a poster and hanging it in a guidance office. Following this further, don’t exclude voices because they don’t have experience, include them so they can develop an experience. Communication isn’t just one way or the other. It is multidirectional.

  • A New Festival for Hamilton’s Youngest Audiences

    May 25, 2017 by Vitek Wincza

    At the end of May, Culture for Kids in the Arts is hosting a special two-day theatre festival for children aged 2-6. Kinderfest was founded in 2016, in partnership with the Wee Festival, in order to bring internationally celebrated artists from Canada, and around the world to Hamilton, and to support the development of children aged 0 – 6 through performance. Now in its second year, Kinderfest presents Puzzle Theatre from Montreal and their fantastical bilingual production of Little Yarn Stories; enthralling puppet theatre which feeds the imagination as simple balls of yarn transform into an extraordinary world of characters!  

    As well as bringing leading artists to Hamilton, Kinderfest is committed to providing accessible workshops, and learning opportunities that explore the importance of the arts in the development of young children. Unique to Kinderfest is the opportunity for educators, and facilitators to observe the way in which young participants engage with arts during live theatre, and then reflect on that experience with field experts and their peers. 

    Little Yarn Stories, Ivan Stavrev

    In the spirit of this initiative, Kinderfest is offering a free panel discussion intended for – parents, educators, college and university students, administrators, artists and arts workers – interested in taking part in a discussion around the topic of Recognizing Language: Exploring the Importance of Arts in Early Years. This platform for dialogue was created by Culture for Kids in the Arts in response to their commitment to deepen the connections between arts and early years and discussion across the region. After attending Little Yarn Stories, participants are invited to observe, and then reflect, and share different ways in which we can support the developing language of a child.

    This year’s panel will be facilitated by leading members of the arts and education communities in Hamilton: Evette Sauriol, Kate Einarson, Brenda Ferguson and Vitek Wincza, Founder and Artistic/Executive Director of Culture for Kids in the Arts. The panel will be moderated by Jessica Lea Fleming, Operations Manager for Hamilton Conservatory for the Arts

    Puzzle Theatre, Ivan Stavrev

    The panel aims to explore the complex variety of ways in which children develop language and process learning. We will discuss the impact that non-verbal, physical action has on the development of early language, and how the arts can help nurture and expand our understanding of the tools in which children use to communicate. The discussion will allow participants to reflect critically and practically on what they have observed during the performance. Audience members will have the opportunity to discuss practical ways of nurturing the development of language at home, in the classroom or through developing performance. This panel discussion is open to anyone who wishes to attend. 
    Little Yarn Stories plays at Hamilton Conservatory for the Arts on May 31st –June 1, 2017. Tickets are priced at $10 (including a complimentary child’s ticket) and $5 for individual children’s tickets. To purchase tickets please visit this link.

    The complimentary panel discussion will be held at 11:30 am on May 31st. If you would like to attend the panel discussion or if you have further questions about booking tickets for families or groups please contact Hanna Wolf at

  • Conducting 30 Years of Music in Hamilton: An Interview with Boris Brott

    May 24, 2017 by Boris Brott

    (This is the second 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.)

    Interview conducted by BMF interns Donna-Marie Ieluzzi & Aaron Hols-Vanhumbeck

    Music has a profound and unparalleled ability to bring people together; the way it makes us feel and the peace it brings within us is something no other force is capable of. This year the Brott Music Festival celebrates its 30th season and we got to sit down and reminisce with the man behind the music, Boris Brott.     

    If you ever get a chance to speak with Boris about the festival, you’ll see his face just light up. 30 years and 30 summers have seemed to flown on by but the passion and joy for sharing the art of performance and musical excellence remains the same. This is more than just a music festival, it’s a musical experience-one we are excited to discuss with you through Boris’ perspective. From 1987 to 2017, here is 30 years of music from the man who started it all.

    Why did you start the Brott Music Festival and what was your inspiration?

    Boris: “My wife and I had been organizing Ontario Place Pops, a series of programs at Ontario Place. Using the Hamilton Philharmonic [Orchestra]. I was asked by then mayor, Robert Morrow, to do something to liven the city during a couple of visits by the Governor General and a member of the Royal Family…We did and it was successful, and we thought, ‘why don’t we augment that and do more in the summer,’ because there was nothing going on.”

    • The first concert series was a small 11-day festival from July 19 to July 30th. It featured a mix of several artists such as Glenn Gould, Karen Kain, William Hutt and several others. The series was held at Hamilton Place, Gage Park, Redeemer College and the Art Gallery of Hamilton. 

    Did you see the Brott Music Festival lasting 30 years when you first started?

    Boris: “I didn’t see myself lasting 30 years here [chuckles]. I had a goal to develop an orchestra using chamber musicians. At that point, we didn’t know what we were doing with any longevity. The catalyst was the idea of the National Academy Orchestra. I put together a conglomeration of experienced and young musicians which worked well. There was nothing available for retraining in the arts in Hamilton, so I called up Barbara McDougall (MP) and got an appointment. I said to look up how much [was spent] on unemployment for musicians. She came back and said ‘you’re right, we want to help you.’ She gave money from a discretionary fund to train professional musicians the practical aspects of the profession. This solidified the festival.”

    • The National Academy Orchestra is Canada’s only professional training orchestra. 

    You talked about your vision when you came up with the Festival. Has it gone the way you had hoped 30 years later?

    Boris: “Inevitably there are moments of concern; it is not one steady process. We do not program for what we don’t have the money for; we must have the resources. The financial burden is on our shoulder, not on a board of directors [and] we like it that way. Our festival this year is 9 weeks. [Ideally,] I want it to be 12 months, all year round. We have to be realistic and do what we can afford.”

    Whenever someone sees an orchestra, they think classical music or opera. How has the Brott Music Festival challenged these preconceptions?

    Boris: “We’ve challenged this by presenting odd combinations of music and composers and given an opportunity for musicians to interact with other art forms, by inventing crazy ideas that force a collaboration of people that don’t normally work together. Whether it be: poets, cartoonists, beatboxers, rock musicians, etc., it opens the door that anything is possible and in that sense, you can create something new.”

    When the Festival started, it was 11 days and this year, it’s lasting 9 weeks. How did that happen?

    Boris: “It happened to some extent because of the National Academy Orchestra. There had to be performances and there had to be so many concerts for these young people to get real experience in the world. That drove the festival into existence; then that was met with a public that was willing to come and listen.”

    What is your favourite part of the Festival and what do you look forward to most?

    Boris: “I look forward to conducting, to making music, to working with young people. It's the act of creating great music that I love. I always said that I was fortunate in my life not to really have to work a day in my life. I’ve enjoyed [and] I’ve played most of my life. My great joy is bringing this group of young people in and welding them together into a performing ensemble, a unit and watching them flourish, develop and love what they do. [...] My favourite part is working with the musicians. Seeing the smiles, the light and the joy they have in their music making and certainly, [another] favourite part is transmitting that joy to an audience, watching the audience respond in a joyous way. The most joy is from the children’s concerts and to watch kids come in where you know that [most] of them ask ‘why are we here?’, then, watching them go out and be really excited.

    What does it mean to you to not only play, but be a mentor?

    Boris: “I got involved as a very young person with many great mentors from Wilfrid Pelletier, who was a great leader in education and was a great mentor to me. [Another was] Igor Markevitch, who brought me to Mexico City to study music while taking a year off from school, and Leonard Bernstein, who was more responsible for the re-encouragement of the mentorship part of my life. It’s part of my DNA to enjoy sharing knowledge and mentoring young musicians. My mentors who took me on would take me all over the world to gain knowledge.” 

    • Boris values being a teacher just as much as he values being a player and that's what makes the festival so special. The idea of mentorship and education has been embedded in his approach to music from a very young age. He grew up around individuals who taught him not only the art of music but more importantly, the art of teaching.

    For the Festival, what would you say is your favourite place to perform?

    Boris: “I would have to say Hamilton Place. It was built as an orchestral concert hall. I think we are so lucky to have Mohawk, how many schools have a concert hall like that? It has an amazing facility. The other facility that has wonderful acoustics and a beautiful setting is St. Thomas Church in Waterdown [which] has a calm feeling about it.”

    Do you get nervous before a performance?

    Boris: “Always. Always. [...] It's more anticipation than nerves. It's not a fear of performing, but it is an anticipation of doing the very best you can; it’s your inner-energy concentrating on what you are about to do. On the odd occasion, I don't feel anything and then I get worried. [...] If you don’t have it, it changes your dynamic of concentration. [...] My parents got me to play for an audience of teddy bears when I was a kid and I had to play concerts from the time I can remember once a week. [...] I don’t fear audiences from that perspective. I’m not afraid of them; it’s more a fear of myself and how I’m going to do, if I’m doing a piece from memory, a lengthy piece [and] assembling all of that in [my] head and saying ‘okay, now’s the moment.”

    Do you have any pre-show rituals?

    Boris: “My mentor Leonard Bernstein had a pair of cufflinks that he wore at every concert and he would always kiss them before he went out on stage. I can't say that I have any ritual like that [and] I sort of wish I did. I don't know why that is. I just go out there and do it. The pre-concert nerves that we talked about is something that I actually like. You have standards for yourself and you have to achieve them. [pause] We should do open rehearsals [so] people can see how the music has changed from the rehearsal to the opening.”

    What do you think is the most important moment in the festival?

    Boris: “There are so many wonderful, amazing and incredible moments, it’s like choosing between your children. There are wonderful moments for every performance. [...] Creating new music is a significant milestone. We did Mahler’s 8th symphony which is a performance of a thousand people on stage. [It] is a highpoint of the festival for me, as well as the children's concerts this year where we showed a combination of rock and heavy metal. The past is gone and I tend to look forward instead of backwards.”

    What impact do you hope the festival makes on attendees and on the City of Hamilton?

    Boris: “Well, first I’d like to talk about these people that are apprentices. We have had over 1800 young people who have gone off into really interesting careers and have done a variety of interesting tasks inspired by what we have helped them with here.  That's the major contribution from my perspective. Not to mention the hundreds of thousands, if not millions of children that have seen the education concerts that I have been able to dream up over 50 years of career. That’s a huge thing. I think from a Hamilton standpoint, our programming is diverse [...]. We continue to open our window into the world of current popular music through orchestrations of rock and pop musicians and folk musicians. We are constantly letting the light shine in musically into this community in original ways and I think the community responds to us.”

    What are your thoughts and impressions on the upcoming thirtieth season?

    Boris: “To me it’s a season like any other season. I think it’s marvelous that Hamilton has sustained us. I’m grateful for the audiences. I’m grateful for the marvelous group of people we have assembled that make this function.”

    Well, there you have it. Boris has an enthusiasm and a determination to make things happen. He wanted to help young musicians gain real world experience so he created an orchestra where they could work and learn from accomplished industry professionals. Then he used that same orchestra to sustain a festival for three decades.

    The goal of the Festival at large is to touch the lives of those who attend as much as those who play. While it is meant to entertain, it is also meant for people to be one with themselves through the music as it accompanies the memories and experiences we hold and go through as human beings. Boris advocates that “music is about connecting with one's inner-self; it connects with people on a personal level and that is the feeling we are trying to achieve here.”

  • 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.”