Fire & Grace had both of those attributes at Creekside Theatre on Thursday.
Imagine pairing fiery Canadian violist Edwin Huizinga — symphony soloist/conductor and baroque ensemble founder who has released eight albums of previously unknown and unrecorded baroque music — with Santa Cruz., Calif. Celtic guitarist William Coulter - internationally-acclaimed, Grammy award-winner master of the steel-string guitar.
What makes this unique duo work is two reasons: Huizinga also loves performing a wide range of modern music alongside legends like Stevie Wonder, Yo-Yo Ma, Itzhak Perlman, vocalists Renee Fleming and Dawn Fleming, and classical guitarist Mike Marshall.
Collaboration has been a mainstay of Coulter’s career, performing with classical guitar virtuoso Benjamin Verdery and Irish flute wizard Brian Finnegan, for example. Since 1981, he has explored the world of traditional music as a soloist as well as with ensembles.
With that varied musical history in mind, their Lake Country concert — the first co-production by Creekside Theatre and North Okanagan Community Concert Association - should not have come as a surprise but the unusual combinations of music produced two standing ovations.
The lead-off was their own arrangement of J.S. Bach’s Prelude from Cello Suite #1 without a cello in sight. Then, Huizinga joked about Coulter’s eventual agreement to play piano compositions on his guitar. Now, he is trying to convince his musical partner to perform orchestra scores, he said to laughter. “I play the violin and he plays all the other parts.”
Their second number was a medley of Bill Whelan’s traditional Irish music from the world’s no. 1 dance show, Riverdance, performed as only masters of their instruments can. If you closed your eyes, you could see international sensation Michael Flatley step-dancing across the stage.
The piece de resistance of the first set was The Liquid Gold Suite - the four movements of Bach’s Partita #2, each interjected with Irish dance tunes - jigs and reels. “The whole thing takes about two-and-a-half hours,” joked Coulter, when in fact it was 20 minutes.
The second set continued this theme with the Oblivion tango followed by IPA Gubben by Swede Olov Johansson (literally translated as grumpy old IPA pale ale beer man), three traditional Bulgarian tunes and an exhilarating L’inverto (Winter) from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons.
What made this concert musically exquisite and visually entertaining was the combination of an aging hippie in Huizinga and straight-laced Coulter dressed in dark button-down sweater as you would expect in a music teacher like him.
Huizinga is as colourful in his music as he is in his multi-coloured, multi-patterned shirt. He was in constant motion, dancing to the jigs, reels and Bulgarian numbers. He often sported a huge grin but his face also contorted as he focused on a particularly difficult melody. His right hand was often blurred, the fingers of his left hand dancing over the violin neck.
After every amazing piece, the two first bowed to each other, often with satisfied smiles, before turning and bowing to the audience. Their love of performing, especially with each other, was on full display.
They urged everyone to buy their CDs in the lobby with the promise of “an Irish guarantee.” If they took it home and didn’t like it, the CD should be returned “and we’ll send you a few we don’t like,” joked Coulter.
Huizinga reminisced about performing in Kelowna “many times” with the indie Ontario rock band Wooden Ship when he was young. Earlier in the day, the two hiked the Apex Trail to the top of Knox Mountain in Kelowna’s north end.
When the second set ended with a sustained standing ovation, Huizinga joked: “We had a new idea for an encore if it should ever come up.” Coulter played a solo on his custom Brazilian Meridian guitar and then the two of them introduced a fun and beautiful Big Hill and Little Hill from their latest album, Unless. It was a fitting end to a fascinating musical journey around the world, one which will hopefully bring them back to the Okanagan.
JP Squire is a retired reporter from the Kelowna Daily Courier. He now reviews live music and submits a weekly outdoors column.