Classical and folk hook up in Bowties

Justin Brake
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Bowties mixes classical music with folk music for a unique performance. Submitted photo

Classical and folk music are worlds apart.

Two local classically trained musicians and a pair of Halifax performers are joining forces once again to bring their unique blend of classical and folk music to Newfoundland audiences.

Nancy Dahn and Timothy Steeves are Duo Concertante, a classical ensemble who play violin and piano. They have toured North America extensively and received critical acclaim from both Canadian and American classical music media.

People often dress up to attend their performances.

Gordon Stobbe, a master fiddler of traditional music, and guitarist Greg Simm, live in Halifax, where they play to jean and plaid shirt-wearing fans of traditional and folk music.

June 3 and 4 will mark the first time since 2005 the four musicians, under the name "Bowties," come together to perform their music in front of a live audience.

According to Dahn and Steeves, the group only has one day to rehearse the material, including a new composition or two Dahn hopes to work into the shows.

"They don't want the music, they don't need any notes, nothing," Dahn explains of Stobbe and Simm's ability to learn the classical compositions by ear. "When it goes the other way around, Gordon tries to figure out what the actual notes are for his pieces and writes them down for us," she laughs.

The contrast between both duos' musical approaches is what makes their amalgamation so interesting, and it may be improving Dahn and Steeves' confidence playing in front of new crowds, they say.

"We've learned a lot watching them deal with audiences because that's just something we're not used to," says Steeves. "Then, there's just that whole concept of being more open and just being more receptive, which is the way they are when they play."

Bowties formed in 2003 when St. John's Arts and Culture Centre programming and promotion Manager Dick Stoker suggested they collaborate for a six-venue tour of Newfoundland and Labrador arts and culture centres.

The four were eager but anxious about the experiment, says Dahn, and similar to their situation of limited rehearsal time this week, were only given two days to figure out what music they would play and how they would present it.

"We knew we were playing with these two folk musicians, but we didn't know what we were going to do," says Steeves. "Every time we get together it's sort of the same process. Now, of course, we know what the show is, but there's very little rehearsal, there's a lot of discussion, and off we go and do it. So the sort of freshness of the original show is always there. I think if we were to get together and really work at it, it might lose some of the spontaneity."

The result is a show featuring new renditions of works from Bach to Benoit, and even some original pieces.

The Newfoundland tour led to an invitation to perform at a 2004 East Coast Music Awards showcase and subsequently a tour of the Maritimes.

And the spontaneity that Steeves speaks of, including the occasional jam (not something classical musicians are used to), is what fuels his and Dahn's motivation to reconnect for another rendezvous.

"Every time we get together with them we just remember how impressive they are as people and musicians," says Dahn. "They really stretch us musically in a lot of ways."

"They have a really healthy philosophy that if it doesn't work … you just move on and try your best and do it again the next day," adds Steeves.

The shows, which take place Tuesday and Wednesday at the Petro Canada Hall in Memorial University's School of Music, will be the only one in St. John's for a while, say Dahn and Steeves, but they hope another Maritime tour will ensue in the near future.

Tickets for the performances are available in advance at the Arts and Culture Centre box office or at the door before each show. They are $15 for adults and $10 for students and seniors. Showtime is 8 p.m.

Organizations: Petro Canada Hall, School of Music

Geographic location: Bowties, Newfoundland and Labrador, Halifax North America St. John's

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