Stories of Phoenix: Assistant Conductor Ian Bannerman

At the end of last season, Phoenix excitedly welcomed Dr. Nicholle Andrews as the new Artistic Director, yet due to her remote location this also opened up an opportunity. The idea was to hire an up-and-coming local conductor to learn under Dr. Andrews’ mentorship, as well as take the lead on the weekly rehearsals here in Vancouver while collaborating on artistic direction.

This, friends, is how we welcomed back Ian Bannerman, Phoenix alumnus, to the role of Assistant Conductor for the 2019-2020 Reawakening season.

At the beginning of the season, we got to know Dr. Andrews a bit better, and we thought it would only be fitting if we introduced you to the man behind the podium as we approach the season’s finale in our April 22 Earth Songs concert. We sat down with Ian to ask him a few questions as he wraps up his first season as Assistant Conductor.

Why Phoenix? What inspired you to come aboard as assistant conductor this year? 

Phoenix was a fantastic home for me during my undergrad at UBC. I looked forward to Tuesday nights for the high-level music making as well as the family atmosphere. Having experienced the huge positive effect Phoenix can have firsthand, I jumped on the opportunity to work with this organization, especially in such an involved role where I am able to work with the group for full rehearsals every week preparing repertoire for concert week with our Artistic Director, Dr. Nicholle Andrews. It is a constant pleasure to be a facilitator in helping build up that same culture of family, friendship, and warmth that I experienced, and to watch it breathe life into our amazing singers and the music we make.

What has been the highlight of the season thus far for you? 

It might be recency bias, but I have to say Banff. The Banff Choral Art session allowed the choir work with some great faculty, but most importantly it gave us an opportunity to really solidify our friendships and overall culture within the group. I am so glad to be a part of an organization that not only loves making music together, but loves being together. Those bonds only make the music better.

What are you most looking forward to in the several months still go to?

The first answer that came to mind was our Earth Songs concert on April 22 at Van Dusen Botanical Gardens which features an amazing variety of repertoire, and local artist Corrinne Wolcoski painting live during the program. This concert will be an amazing experience beyond the bounds of a typical choral concert, bringing together multiple art forms alongside nature. However, I think I am even more excited for the summer, and planning with Nicholle and our amazing Phoenix team for the tantalizing concerts and events coming next year and beyond.

What should audience members/ choir members be excited for about Earth Songs?

I mentioned above that Corrinne Wolcoski will be painting live during the performance, and that we are performing in the beautiful Van Dusen Botanical Gardens, so I’ll talk a little about the fantastic repertoire we have programmed, and why you should go and buy a ticket right now.

We will have two premieres at the concert: one a commission from Canadian composer Katerina Gimon, titled Through the Storm. Katerina’s works are always powerful and moving, but Through the Storm is exceptionally grabbing in the way that she integrates melodic and rhythmic themes together to build a grooving and beautiful patchwork of colours and sounds.

Also a premiere is Timothy Cunningham’s To Tsampasin, a setting of a text from a Pontic Greek folk song detailing a devastating fire that destroyed the village Tsampasin in 1913. Timothy’s piece is the winning composition of Phoenix’s inaugural Student Choral Composition Competition, and will absolutely move listeners with its evocative musical depictions of the fire that raged, and the ashes and aftermath of the devastation.

Another piece that I am excited about on our program is Canadian composer Alex Eddington’s Picking Wild Berries, which takes inspiration from both the text and illustrations of Cree-Métis author Julie Flett’s children’s book Wild Berries. The beautiful story tells of a boy, Clarence, and  his grandma walking through the woods to pick berries, and seeing insects and animals along the way, and saying thank you to the forest for providing for them.

I could talk about this concert for far too long — every piece offers a beautiful and engaging way to connect to the earth through music. Get tickets now because it will sell out soon! (Editor’s note: yes, yes yes! This is true!)

What is something you have learned or are learning this year as assistant conductor?

I’ve loved learning from watching Nicholle this year. I get to learn from her gestural and pedagogical tool chests every time I see her work with the group. One of my favourite aspects of Nicholle’s leadership is her constant friendly and joking disposition on the podium, and the perfect balance she strikes between that and real hard work. It is impossible not to smile during a rehearsal with Nicholle at the podium – both from her sense of humour, and the incredibly quick growth she gets from the singers. I’m striving to learn from that balance, and employ it in my own rehearsals.

What are you listening to right now? 

I tend to listen to little bits of all sorts of styles of music. Artists that are recent plays are Stan Getz, Nina Simone, Benjamin Clementine, Joni Mitchell, Kendrick Lamar, k.d. lang, and Mac Miller. In the classical vein, I find myself enamoured with and constantly replaying choral albums from Ars Nova Copenhagen, i Fagiolini, and the Gabrieli Consort. I also listen to too many basketball podcasts. Go Lakers.

Tell us about the person aside from your musical resume. What do you like to do? How do you spend your time?

Most of my life seems to be music, and I love it that way. The things that feel as good as music to me are great food and quiet nights with friends and family. Outside of that I am an avid basketball fan and an uncle who lives way too far from his nephew in Ontario.

Meet Ian, Dr. Andrews, and other members of the Phoenix Family by enhancing your Earth Songs ticket today!