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Over the past 28 years you’ve built the recital society into a leader of the city’s classical music scene. How has our attitude toward the fine arts evolved in that time?
Back in 1980 Vancouver was a big small town. Now it’s an even bigger small town. It’s still searching for its soul. Vancouver may be the best place in the world to live but it has two downfalls: public transportation here is dismal and there’s a severe lack of cultural venues.
How can we improve? For starters, we need a proper downtown concert hall. Why the hell should the best facility for music in the city—the Chan Centre—be miles from the town centre? And I think it would be awesome to have a few blocks devoted to a combined art gallery and concert hall that stay alive day and night.
Will the Olympics improve things? People who come here for the Olympics don’t give a damn about culture. But if there were a legacy project—a hall downtown—I’d be out there beating a drum to make it happen. That said, Expo 86 did raise the bar culturally. Vancouverites need to be exposed to the larger world; too many accept “good” when they should be demanding “great.”
You’re a member of the Order of Canada and the Order of British Columbia. What will you do with your influence? I do have a new dream: the Saint James Music Academy. It’s a school for music in the Downtown Eastside. Fifty kids are given a snack at Strathcona Elementary after school, and they have lessons in piano, violin, cello, and guitar. I’d like to see every child in the Downtown Eastside, from the time they’re four, involved in this program. Because music has the power to transform their lives. Discrimination stops children from having opportunities. But damn it, there is no discrimination when it comes to talent.
What do you listen to on the car ride home?Not the CBC anymore. My glove compartment always has a box set of Murray Perahia playing all the Mozart piano concertos with the English Chamber Orchestra. But I also love the Beatles, Fats Domino, and early Harry Belafonte. Music is music.
What’s the single best seat in the city for listening to a classical concert? It’s the very back row of the Chan Centre’s parterre, centre right. Seat 163. You can’t see the fingers of pianists, but I’d rather watch their faces.
How can a young musician get your attention? There’s no system; it’s complete instinct with me. I once saw a child argue with a ticket seller to get his mother into his own concert at the Vancouver Academy. I liked his attitude and I knew that child would play well. And yes, he was amazing.
You’ve made a name for yourself as one who spots greatness. Ever misstep? Listen: I take pride in the fact that I have presented two of the worst concerts I’ve ever heard in my life. Absolutely awful. One was so bad I tried to walk out, and my husband had to make me sit down again. But it’s better, you see, to be outrageously bad than to be boring.