While the NWT International Lute Festival has become a Hay River tradition in the seven years since it first took to the stage, a new focus on Northern performers will hopefully draw a new crowd.
“This is going to be the best concert yet,” said Tyler Hawkins, a musician, early-music enthusiast and the festival’s long-time organizer. “This year marks a turning point. International artists have said they want to come back, hook up with Northern artists, and do this show with them.”
The festival will make stops in Fort Smith, Hay River, and Yellowknife on Sept. 26, 27 and 28, respectively. It features Nigel North – a renowned musician in both Europe and the United States – as well as Montreal duo Les Voix Humaines. This year, however, they will be joined by Myra Berrub from Hay River, Karen Zaidan of Fort Smith, and Yellowknife’s Dan Gillis.
“It’s not like we’ve pushed for that,” said Berrub. “It’s been more of a natural evolution towards including more local performers. If you have outsiders who are interested in doing that, too, that’s awesome.”
The festival is part of the Northern Arts and Cultural Centre’s (NACC) ‘Into the Spotlight’ 2013-2014 season. NACC is committed to getting the performing arts out into the communities across the territory and outside of Yellowknife, but the NWT International Lute Festival is a home-grown Hay River event.
“People aren’t familiar with lute or early music,” said Hawkins. “This is sort of a one-off event that became a yearly thing, and we’re lucky to have it. We wanted to get something started that would hopefully catch on.”
This year, the shows will feature the music of John Dowland, a 16th-century composer and lutenist. A bit of a free spirit, Hawkins described Dowland as “the first pop star.”
“He was like the rock star of the Renaissance,” he said. “Sting released an album of his music a few years ago that brought about this John Dowland revival and made it accessible to a wider audience.”
Hawkins hopes the same will hold true for audiences in the South Slave and Yellowknife. Plus, he believes every venue will have its own flavour as a result of different physical locations and acoustics, but also as a consequence of different audience members and the particular journeys of the artists themselves.
“The repertoire that has been put together is very varied,” said Berrub. “If you’re hearing this kind of music for the first time, it can be a bit much, so it was designed to appeal to a broad audience.”
The challenge is always to strike a balance between the trained ear and the novice concertgoer, but Hawkins is confident the festival is equal to the task.
“We have a steady audience in Hay River,” he said. “And we can only hope they keep growing elsewhere.”
For Berrub, the challenge is more about coming together with other artists and performing all together after a meagre two days of practice.
“When you practise alone, as, of course, we have all been doing, there is only one sound,” she said. “Every piece has been put together differently with different combinations of voice and music and performers, and we’re going to get together and it will all come together.”
— Sarah Ladik