Sisters Alicia

Sisters Alicia

Siblings return to where it all began

The sweet notes of the second movement –– the largo from J.S. Bach’s double violin concerto in D minor –– ring out.

The sweet notes of the second movement –– the largo from J.S. Bach’s double violin concerto in D minor –– ring out.

The two players on stage, their long, black hair flowing, look at each other knowingly. It’s a piece they’ve played for many years, practising it at home, and in front of capacity crowds.

Armstrong siblings Alicia and Colleen Venables first picked up their bows to perform the concerto with the Youth Symphony Orchestra of the Okanagan (YSO) four years ago. And last May, they found themselves backed by the Vancouver Symphony, guest conducted by Evan Mitchell, in the city’s historical Orpheum Theatre.

There, they performed the piece to a 2,500-plus audience.

Calling the experience “not stressful at all,” the girls received accolades from the audience and the symphony’s musicians, including their former instructor, violinist Mary Sokol Brown.

“She was there and gave us so much inspiration,” said Alicia.

The performance is one of many the girls have experienced since they started playing at a young age, starting out with lessons at the Vernon Community Music School, and also as longtime members of the YSO.

The girls, who just flew in from Calgary, where they travel bi-weekly to now study violin with Mount Royal University faculty member Bill van der Sloot, first joined the YSO seven years ago, and are about to perform as soloists again.

However, this time they will do so separately when the YSO gives its annual performances around the Okanagan, including in Vernon, next weekend.

Colleen, 14, is paying homage to the YSO’s founder and longtime conductor, Coldstream composer Imant Raminsh, with a performance of his violin concerto.

“It is a very vocal piece, and I am honoured to play it,” she said, adding the second movement will feature vocalist Haley Blais of Kelowna’s Candesca Vocal Ensemble.

Alicia, 17, will perform the first movement of Chopin’s Piano Concerto in E Minor.

Yes, the girls also manage to find time to study the piano, and have been learning from one of the best, VCMS instructor Lucy Feldman, since they were in elementary school.

In the time since, both sisters have won in their categories –– in both violin and piano –– at numerous regional and provincial music festivals. They have performed with both the Okanagan and Kamloops symphonies, as well as with the National Arts Centre Young Artists Program. And they just wrapped up a performance at the International Children’s Winter Games in Kelowna.

You can usually catch them Labour Day weekend playing some fiddle tunes at the Interior Provincial Exhibition in their hometown.

They also plan to continue studies with Calgary’s Morningside Music Bridge program through Mount Royal University.

Colleen, who likes to listen to dub (a mix of reggae and dance music with heavy drum and bass beats) on her own time, would like to do a double major in music and law once she graduates, and spent the summer in Poland through Morningside two years ago.

Both have auditioned for this summer’s Music Bridge program.

“The best part of the program is not just the lessons, you get to work with great artists from around the world,” said Alicia, who graduates from Pleasant Valley Secondary School this year.

She plans to do some travelling before entering the two-year performance program at Mt. Royal and eventually wants to finish her music degree in the U.S.

“Music will always be a big part of my life. I’d love to play with a symphony or maybe teach when I am older,” she said.

However, the sisters don’t plan to ever be too far apart from each other, and hope to continue performing either as a duo or in a chamber ensemble.

Local audiences can see the girls perform with the YSO in Vernon Saturday, Feb. 26.

The orchestra, conducted by both Raminsh as well as Denis Colpitts, will also perform Fall Fair by Ridout, l’Arlesienne Suite by Bizet, as well as compositions by some of its young members, Jung Ju Park, André van den Berg, Jasper Meiklejohn, and Yanik Fillion-Murphy. The Candesca Vocal Ensemble will also perform.

The concert takes place at Trinity United Church in Vernon and starts at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $15 general admission, $10 for seniors/youth and $5 for children 12 and under, available from YSO members or at the door.