Live from the front porch: Winnipeg’s new DIY classical, jazz concert series

Jazz musicians Jocelyn Gould and Will Bonness perform at a Red Haus Live concert along with presenter Zohreh Gervais. Sam Thompson / Global News

While the COVID-19 pandemic has affected live performers across Manitoba, perhaps the hardest hit are classical musicians, who haven’t had access to traditional concert hall venues.

One Winnipeg musician is trying to change that by opening up her front porch to artists from across the city’s classical and jazz communities with a new, intimate concert series.

Zohreh Gervais, a soprano vocalist, violinist and violist, started the Red Haus Live concerts at her Crescentwood home earlier this summer out of frustration with the lack of opportunities.

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“I have, most of my professional life, worked in the classical music scene, producing concerts and also singing and playing in them,” said Gervais.

“A lot of my friends are classical musicians or jazz musicians, and it has been especially frustrating as a classical musician to not have any venue to perform in right now.

“If you’re a singer-songwriter, you can set up on a street corner relatively easy… but if you’re a symphony, you can’t do that.”

Read more: Winnipeg musicians make the most of self-isolation with online concerts from home

Gervais said she was trying to think of a venue that would allow artists to perform in an intimate setting, where acoustic instruments wouldn’t need microphones — and her front porch, where she’s conducted rehearsals and taught lessons in the past, seemed like the perfect choice.

“The first one, we had people in tears, because we haven’t been able to make music together, and if we have, it’s just been ourselves. So being able to perform and to do so for an audience again, it feels incredibly good.

“This is what musicians do — they want to perform and they want to have a way to communicate something that’s important to them.

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“Some of us need a gig to be able to get back to practising and to get back to what we do best.”

Gervais said following social-distancing rules with her makeshift concert venue has been fairly simple, as the porch is wide enough to accommodate a group of physically distanced musicians. The ‘bring your own lawn chair’ format of the shows also means attendees are able to choose their own comfortable distance from others — especially as some of Gervais’s neighbours have offered their own lawns up for extra seating.

Although Red Haus Live concerts aren’t charging admission, the audience is encouraged to donate what they can to the musicians, either in cash at the events or via e-transfer.

Read more: Manitoba heavy music community rallies around promoter hit by coronavirus cancellations

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One upcoming performer on Gervais’s porch is Julian Pellicano, best known for his work as a conductor with the Royal Winnipeg Ballet and Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra.

Pellicano will perform as a percussionist Aug. 5 with his wife, violinist and violist Momoko Mastumura — a show that also includes a solo performance by WSO violinist Elation Pauls.

Although he’s more used to perfoming for thousands in large concert settings, Pellicano said a lot of the music he’ll be performing at Red Haus Live was originally written for small, intimate settings.

“The reality of the music that we’re playing… Music from 300 years ago was actually designed to be performed in a more intimate setting. A 3,500-seat concert hall like Carnegie Hall is not what Bach or any of those composers had in mind.

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“Having the opportunity to play for smaller groups of people where the audience is much closer to the performers in a more casual, less structured 21st-century environment is more conducive to this type of music.”

Pellicano said the pandemic has allowed him to focus on new forms of musical expression, including working as a duo with Matsumura — something they’d never tried in 11 years of marriage.

“It’s been an awesome opportunity because we’ve never done it before — we’ve never had the time,” he said.

“We’ve just been so busy normally performing from week to week and, in my case, travelling around Canada and around the U.S., conducting orchestras and conducting ballets and concerts here almost every weekend… You don’t have time to sit back and do something like this, and now we do, and it’s been really cool.”

More information about Red Haus Live is available on Facebook and Instagram.

Upcoming shows include the Danish String Quartet on Friday, and percussion and strings with Pellicano, Matsumura and Pauls on Wednesday.

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West End Cultural Centre hosts online concert series

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