For the past season, the St. Albert Chamber Music Recital series headed by Nancy Watt has introduced a variety of outstanding professional musicians combined with young emerging stars.
In the warm confines of Don’s Piano Showroom, the season completes its circle on Saturday, May 25 with Colibri Duo, an Edmonton based voice and guitar duo.
Borrowing their moniker from the Spanish hummingbird, Colibri has a pleasing sound that describes Merrill Tanner’s high, light soprano voice and Ernst Birss’ sparkling guitar work.
The duo met in 2005 at a concert celebrating the lute.
“At one point one of us said, ‘we could do that.’ So we got together to play Renaissance lute music. Since then we’ve branched out with Celtic songs, Mozart and more modern pieces of Benjamin Britten and Francis Poulenc. We’re even doing Irving Berlin and the Beatles,” said Birss.
Tanner followed the classical route obtaining a Master of Music in vocal performance from the University of Alberta. Birss, instead, opted for private tutoring in Victoria and Montana.
His claim to fame was winning the 1998 Northwest Guitar Competition, an annual event open to musicians in western Canada and the United States. He is also the only Albertan to have snagged the title.
“I was so thrilled. I went for the experience and ended up winning. That really encouraged me to play the guitar.”
The duo performs about four local concerts a year, mainly due to a lack of venues.
“And so we’re really thrilled to be included in the St. Albert Chamber series,” Birss commented.
Often their choice of repertoire is dictated by music that appeals to them and the audience, and music that fits Tanner’s voice and Birss’ guitar stylings.
At next week’s concert, they open with the very melodic Songs of Hebrides before turning to a different beast – three of Mozart’s operatic numbers.
Birss has a deep admiration for Spanish classical guitarist/composer Fernando Sor and has included a series of his Seguidillas.
“They’re short pieces that were rediscovered about 30 years ago. He was the most important guitarist-composer of the 19th century. He had a flair for melody and a very good understanding of the guitar. The guitar as we know it didn’t exist in the present form. He showed what it could do. The Seguidillas are little gems. Every note is perfectly placed.”
Birss’ solo limelight piece, Pastoral Suite, was written by Canadian composer Ron Hannah, formerly an Edmonton resident now residing in British Columbia. One of the movements, Deep Grotto, is layered with “shimmering textures in a minimalist mood. And the voice comes in a haunting style.”
The duo also performs Laurindo Almeida’s Brazilian Songs before closing with an ever-popular Lennon-McCartney composition.
Opening the concert is local vocalist Tammy Ng, 13, a two-time, first place winner as top vocalist at the Provincial Music Festival.
Colibri Duo<br />St. Albert Chamber Music Recital Series<br />Saturday, May 25 at 7:30 p.m.<br />Don’s Piano Showroom<br />8 Riel Drive<br />Tickets: $25 adults, $20 students/seniors. Available at Art Gallery of St. Albert, 780-460-4310 and Don’s Piano Showroom, 780-459-5525