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James Ehnes joins the VSO for British Fantasy at the Orpheum / The Georgia Straight

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Name one British composer operating between the 1695 death of Henry Purcell and the 1899 debut of Edward Elgar's Enigma Variations. Can't do it? Don't worry: you're not alone. But if you're looking for a crash course in the extraordinary blossoming of English music that followed Elgar's masterpiece, it would be hard to improve on the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra's upcoming Spring Festival, which this year is subtitled A British Fantasy. The event aims to place English music in an expansive historical context, in part by including 20th-century works that reference early British composers-such as Ralph Vaughan Williams's Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis-alongside contemporary works like Velocity, by 33-year-old Gavin Higgins. And the festival's first concert, Songs and Serenades, offers an especially apt introduction to the field, featuring as it does works by three of the four demigods of early English modernism: Elgar, Vaughan Williams, and Benjamin Britten.

We can thank conductor and soloist James Ehnes for that. "The artistic staff at the VSO-and [VSO music director] Bramwell Tovey, as well-said, ‘Give us some British music that you think could work for a play/direct program,' " the Brandon, Manitoba–born musician explains in a telephone interview from Dallas, Texas. "I just sort of rattled off a bunch of pieces and they said, ‘Okay! We're done.' It was actually an amazingly simple process, putting that program together."

James Ehnes appears with the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra at the Orpheum on April 22 and 24, as part of Spring Festival: A British Fantasy.        READ THE FULL Georgia Straight ARTICLE