There’s no finer way to spend a summer evening in Winnipeg than to pack a lawn chair and cycle down Wellington Crescent all the way to Assiniboine Park and take in one of the many free concerts at the Lyric Theatre.
This wonderful facility is one of Izzy Asper’s many legacies for his fellow citizens. And it is utilised to great effect by the Assiniboine Park Conservancy who stage over thirty free performances there throughout the summer.
One of the finest free shows was staged on Fri. July 17 when Canada’s “First Lady of the Guitar”, Liona Boyd came back to town.
Still looking amazing she took to the stage after an introduction by Walle Larsson with a choral backup from Women of Note.
If you’re a fan of classical guitar music you’ll know that there is no finer proponent than Liona Boyd. Guitar Player Magazine ranked her the world’s number one player five times.
Yet there still may have been a slight tinge of disappointment if that’s what you came for. Liona’s music has evolved. Musician’s Focal Dystonia which changes brain maps through overplaying has limited certain guitar techniques for her.
Fellow musicians will understand that sometimes it can be more fun to play less demanding pieces. And there’s nothing more demanding than the blistering fingerwork of an Isaac Albeniz composition or a Malaguena.
Boyd has excelled at playing them all in the past and her recordings are unparalleled in technical finesse and remain as a testament to her amazing skill.
But today, while still performing some light classical repertoire, she’s more a folkie. Which is not necessarily a bad thing, just a different thing. And something that may give her appeal to a wider audience.
More specifically she leads a folk duo as she was accompanied for her entire performance by Michael Savona who added both guitar and vocals.
When I last saw her at the Centennial Concert Hall 20 years ago, you could have heard a pin drop. Nowadays she often sings along with her guitar.
Fortunately she has a very good voice and of course her guitar playing is an excellent accompaniment. And she sings of Canada. So much so that you can sum up her new genre in one word. Canadiana.
Nothing says Canada like Liona’s music these days, be it tales of Emily Carr on Vancouver Island, ditties to Ontario or the Thank You for Bringing Me Home after living for twenty years in the US.
Even when she recites poetry in Spanish and sings of making love in the Kremlin. I believe CSIS and I can guess the Canadian connection there.
The only negative thing for me was her lilting musical rant against technology in I Prefer the World of Yesterday, yet five minutes later she was urging me to “like” her on Facebook and follow her on Twitter.
Since graduating from the University of Toronto with Honours in Performing Arts she has gone on to release 27 albums and collect five Junos along with an Order of Canada. Along the way she studied with some of the greats including private lessons with Andres Segovia, the great guitar virtuoso who was was born in the same Spanish town of Linares as Liona’s grandmother.
Making her debut at the Carnegie Hall in 1975 she followed it up interestingly with a six week tour of northern BC and Yukon playing classical music to snowbound schools, church halls and hotel dining rooms.
Since then she has collaborated with the likes of Eric Clapton and David Gilmour and toured the world, performing in every major concert hall and for several heads of state including kings and queens.
Maybe one of her more unusual gigs though was a private performance requested personally by Judge Lance Ito for the sequestered jury during the O.J. Simpson trial.
That was certainly a captive audience, and so was the one in Assiniboine Park that was captivated by her charm, beauty and mastery of the classical guitar.