A&E » Music

Music at Whistler launches with A Night at the Opera

The Whistler Arts Council presents the inaugural event Feb. 23 at Millennium Place



Peter Krysa answers his phone from a car in Boston where he's made a quick detour to have his 300-year-old violin checked up by the same man who's been fixing it for years.

"You develop a relationship with a person who best knows your instruments," the Vancouver-based violinist says. "It's really tough to go to a new person. When you have an instrument that's 300 years old it becomes an issue of who you can trust and what works... That's my tool of trade, so I have to keep it in good working order just like a fine piece of machinery."

That little machine has had a big workout recently. Krysa, who plays with a variety of groups including the Vancouver Opera Orchestra, the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra and the Pacific Northwest Ballet Orchestra in Seattle, recently travelled to New York City with the latter group for a series of performances celebrating its 40th anniversary season. "This was the first time in history the whole company went on tour, the dancers, the crew, trustees," he says. "It was probably over 200 people. That was a pretty big deal. It was great fun. We got an amazing review in the New York Times."

Next up, Krysa is coming to Whistler for a show that's been two years in the making. His Music at Whistler project (for which he serves as artistic director) will launch Feb. 23 with A Night at the Opera. The show will feature a handful of his Vancouver Opera Company colleagues as well as a pair of guest soloists, performing selections of work by the German composer Richard Wagner and Italian composer Giuseppe Verdi, both marking their 200th anniversaries.

"They are huge, huge names and so I thought it would be a good thing to pay tribute to these guys. That's how the idea of the opera theme started. But we're not playing just opera music. It's inspired by these composers," Krysa says.

The soloists are his mother and father, world-renowned violinist Oleh Krysa and pianist Tatiana Tchekina, both of whom live in New York state and have performed together for decades. "They were free this weekend, so I was able to convince them to come out to Whistler and Vancouver," Krysa adds. "They come play with us and see their grandson and we get to hang out."

While the musicians — including soprano Rachel Fenlon, Tawnya Popoff on viola and cellist Heather Hay — have been practicing the music on their own, they will head into intense rehearsals together just days before the performance. Krysa's wife, Olena Hankivsky, while not a musician, has also helped to create the series.

The pair, who own a Whistler home, hopes to add some variety to Whistler's cultural offerings with the series. "We wanted to enhance Whistler's cultural life and add this component to it to give people another choice of things to do in the evening of high quality art in addition to their skiing activities," he says. "We wanted to put Whistler on the cultural map, not just a ski resort. I wanted it to be Aspen, Colorado, or Jackson Hole where they have big festivals and it brings different crowds to the resort."

As for Whistler's young people who might be intimidated by classical music, Krysa says they should set aside their fears. "I try to convince people there's nothing to be intimidated by," he says. "It's music. That's it. This particular program, it's very accessible. It's very easy on the ears. It's fun and we'll be talking about the pieces as well, so the audience will know what a composer was thinking or the time period of what was going on at the time so it makes more sense when you listen. It's going to be very accessible."