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Banff Centre leadership promises that classical music residencies not at risk

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The appetizing view from the Banff Centre at 6 p.m. today (Banff Centre webcam image).

The word from the top is clear and unequivocal: Despite the imminent departure of artistic director Henk Guittart,  highly prized fall and winter residencies for classical musicians are not in jeopardy at the Banff Centre.

I was able to speak with Banff Centre CEO Jeff Melanson on the phone this evening, immediately following a lunchtime speech in Melbourne, Australia. “We will have classical artists on campus during the winter next year,” he said, in response to a controversy that has been brewing surrounding Guittart’s departure.

(You can find the source of all the controversy via a previous post, here.)

“I’m a classical musician,” reassured Melanson, who studied voice and choral conducting before going back to school to get an MBA.

Nonetheless, the CEO also believes that there should be a broader mix of artists present during these residency periods. Melanson says there are 23 classical musicians involved in this season’s fall and winter residencies. Rather than reducing this number, the Banff Centre’s head would like to see the number increased with an intermingling of other musical genres.

Although this hasn’t been announced or confirmed, it looks highly likely that summer residency and prestigious Banff International String Competition director Barry Shiffman will take on larger responsibilities following Guittart’s departure.

“I have absolute trust in Jeff,” said Shiffman from his Toronto home this evening. “If I felt that the Banff Centre was threatening classical music, I would quit in a nanosecond.”

Shiffman also took pains to remind me that Isobel and the late Tom Rolston, the original directors of the Music and Sound program, had always intended it to be open to musicians from all genres, and that the Centre will probably need to do a better job of marketing its opportunities to a broader cross-section of artists. “Ninety per cent of our residency applications come from word of mouth,” says the violinist. “When a pianist finishes a residency and is happy, we suddenly get a lot of applications from pianists.”

In a nutshell, here’s the scoop: There are changes coming, but none at the expense of the number of classical musicians able to participate in residencies during any time of year. Melanson and Shiffman hope that the changes will, in fact, open opportunities for creative expansion and experimentation that would not otherwise exist.

There will be plenty of details on what future seasons will look like coming soon, and artists of the classical persusasion need not fret, both men insist.

John Terauds

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