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20 Years At The Chan Centre

The Chan Centre is celebrating it's 20th year and has an impressive season lined up. For those of you unfamiliar with the space, it is a gorgeous theatre located on the UBC campus, used mainly for musical performances. In anticipation of their opening night, I was able to chat with co-managing director Joyce Hinton.

V: First, tell us a little bit about your history with the Chan Centre.

J: I started at the Chan Centre before it was finished being built, so on my first tour I had a hard hat on and steel toe boots! I’ve loved being here as I’ve always found my job really stimulating. My job has changed a few times over the years but I’ve always been involved in the programming aspect, had the delight of working with previous directors, VPs and now the dean of UBC, and of course the Chan family, who have a close relationship with the space.

V: How do you choose your programming?

J: The thing, first of all, that we consider is the strategic vision and values of UBC. UBC has some really wonderful goals including making their students global citizens. They have an intercultural strategy and make their campus inclusive for cultures of all different kinds -- and I’m not just talking about different parts of the world, but whether it be lgbtq+ or people with disabilities, all kinds of cultures are welcome. So, our job was to go, “okay we’re a performing arts centre at the Univerisity of British Columbia. For our own series how do we reflect their goals?”

So, first and foremost, I try to get really good artists to match our vision, but also I think about what’s suitable for the hall. The Chan is a fantastic venue for western classical music. We have a major classical school here and we have clients like the VSO, Early Music Vancouver, the Vancouver Recital Society, etc. But I also thought about how diverse our campus is, and how diverse our city is, and I wanted to bring other folks to the hall, not only artists but audiences as well. So we often bring in, for lack of a better word, World music, and Jazz -- it’s a great venue for that. I’m really open to other styles, like we’re bringing in Texas troubadour songwriters, and we’re also doing circus for the first time! So, really high quality acts while reflecting the values of the University.

Obviously Vancouver is a fantastic place to present this series, because there’s a history of great music in Vancouver, like the Folk Festival, or the Jazz Festival, and I’m sure many other organizations that really were pioneers about bringing in artists from around the World. I find Vancouver audiences are so interested in that. We often hear form artists how great our audiences are.

We have a lot of subscribers. They don’t always know about our performers, but they trust our commitment to quality, and they tell us, ‘you need to be educating us, you’re a University presenter”. We have a series that compliments our main stage called “Chan Centre Connects”, and we make use of a lot of our faculty, the artists from the community, we do pre-show talks, we do seminars, master class seminars, etc. We’ve had artists like Wynton Marsalis or Zakir Hussain participate.

V: A bit more about the Chan Centre facility itself... I've heard that it was designed to look like the inside of a cello. Is that true?

J: Bing Thom, the architect, actually played music himself and what he said that a lot of concert halls are built with the audience in mind, but he also wanted to consider the artist perspective, so he designed it in such a way that not only was it beautiful for audiences to see, but also for artists to look out and see the audiences. He definitely did design it to look like the inside of a stringed instrument and he often referred to that as a cello. That sort of theme runs throughout the concert hall for sure, but everything has a purpose, even though it was designed so beautifully, and he made the canopy look like a chandelier.

Bing was a trailblazer. He went to the World’s leading acousticians at the time and he said to them, “you design the acoustics for a perfect concert hall and then I’ll design architecture around that”, so he kinda did it a little opposite of what a lot of people do. The Centre is really highly thought of as a hall for acoustics. We have a lovely reference from David Harrington, the leader of the Kronos Quartet. He compares it to Carnegie Hall and the Concertgebouw from Holland as the top three places Kronos Quartet have ever played in terms of acoustics. it’s such a great thing to bring artists to the Chan Centre because they’re in love with Vancouver. They come to rehearsal before the show and you often see if they have never been here before their jaws drop when they walk on to the stage and when they play or sing it really makes an impression on them.

V: What are some of your favorite things about working at the Chan Centre?

J: I feel like I’m the luckiest person in the World because i have such a great job and I’ve met so many unbelievable performers. I want to give a shout out to our staff because we’ve had some amazing staff over the years and they completely enrich what we’re doing. We’ve had support from the University and the Chan family which has really made a difference. We’ve had such intellectual, curious, great audiences as well. We have something so special here in Vancouver.

The program continues to diversify. We have a lot of comedians coming in now, we have enormous amount of film shoots. Sometimes people are not aware of this, but not only do we do UBC graduations, we have about 18- 19 high schools that graduate here, and we have places like Emily Carr that graduate here, so, with all these families coming to campus, it’s a real place of ceremony and celebration. we’ve had great speakers as well. Anyone from Al Gore to Steven Lewis, all kinds of people.

V: And lastly, since we are a Spanish-speaking publication, do you have a message for the Latino community?

J: I’ve been told by the Latino community that they have really appreciated the Latino artists we’ve presented and we will continue to do so. I’m so delighted this year we’re inviting back Lila Downs. One of the themes running through her new album is about powerful Latino women. And we have this amazing co-bill in April with two artists from Cuba, Daymé Arocena and Roberto Fonseca. That’s going to be two different concerts but they will also play together. This is Daymé’s breakout tour in North America. Everyone feels she’s going to be an absolute star because she’s got this lovely way about her and she’s only in her early 20s. And Roberto is fantastic, he replaces Ruben Gonzales with the Buena Vista Social Club. Roberto’s got some great albums out. I know we will be continuing to program artists form the Latino community, we love that community, and there’s so many great artists from that part of the World.

Thank you so much to Joyce for taking the time to speak with us. We are a small community in British Columbia, us Latinos, so it means a lot to have this kind of dialogue, and to hear that the Latino spirit plays a large role in the programming of a World-renowned centre like the Chan. Don't forget the Blind Boys of Alabama are coming with Ben Heppner to open the Chan Centre's 20th season. I honestly can't wait to go, and I hope to see you there.

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