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Caroline Markos helps lead powerhouse performances of Carmina Burana

The size of the Canada Winter Games deserved a mountain of music. The Prince George Symphony Orchestra is more than doubling their usual size this weekend, adding a blizzard of voices for the triumphant Carmina Burana.
Soprano Caroline Markos will be one of the lead voices during this weekend's performances of Carmina Burana.

The size of the Canada Winter Games deserved a mountain of music.

The Prince George Symphony Orchestra is more than doubling their usual size this weekend, adding a blizzard of voices for the triumphant Carmina Burana. It's one of the world's best-loved choral set-pieces for evoking emotions of athletic power, victory over magnificent challenge, and everyone's inner wow.

It has been used in movie soundtracks like the film Excalibur, for Wrestlemania, for dramatic Ozzy Osbourne concert elements, even by Molson for its Rickard's Red ad campaign. If there is a battle to be waged against armies or elements this piece is called into action.

"No other piece of music would work for such an epic occasion in our city," said PGSO artistic director Kevin Zakresky. "When people think of the soundtrack of the 2015 Canada Winter Games, I want them to hear Carmina's monumental opening chorus, O Fortuna."

If the clouds begin to darken and swirl over Vanier Hall this week, fear not, it is Carmina Burana stirring the vortex with the combined force summoned by scores of musicians. The orchestra alone could not amass such an army so they called on allies like the Prince George Cantata Singers, the District 57 Tapestry Singers and the Vancouver Chamber Choir.

These armies are led respectively by musical generals Damian Dorschner, Carolyn Duerksen and Jon Washburn.

"I've never seen our production manager Miguel Mori design so many maps of the stage," Zakresky said. "This work will welcome upwards of 125 singers to the stage, as well as the biggest percussion section we've ever seen and two pianos. It's going to be a lot of work for us all, but it will be worth it when we blow the roof off Vanier."

Two voices in particular will lead the charge. Baritone singer Dale Throness will command the low notes while soprano Caroline Markos will command the higher register.

"Dale and Caroline both have some vocal acrobatics to display. It's a very athletic score indeed," said Zakresky.

Markos is excited to sing here again. She has been to Prince George before, but only as a member of a three-piece band, not a resounding orchestra. Fans might remember her as the frontwoman for the youthful Peters Drury Trio years ago.

That jazz unit released a number of albums, toured Canada more than once, and won international acclaim all out of their hometown of Whitehorse.

When the band members grew up, Markos - then Drury - knew her voice was her most important tool but also knew it was capable of so much more. She embarked on a series of programs to hone the craft of music, first at Kwantlen University, laddering to UBC's music department, and then a master's degree from the University of Manitoba under mentor Tracy Dahl.

Markos said she was extraordinarily motivated to sing Carmina Burana at this event. She draws lines across the major parts of her life that tie back to this same work.

"I have not done this piece before, but it has a special place in my heart," she explained. "My husband is a cellist with the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra and the reason we came together at all - he and I met in Yellowknife when the Peters Drury Trio did our last gig ever, our farewell concert - was because of Carmina Burana. The CBC Radio Orchestra was there in Yellowknife at the same time, and we met by chance in the airport and found out we lived only two blocks from each other in Vancouver. He gave me tickets a few months later to see the show he was doing with the VSO, and it was Carmina Burana, and something about that night just caught my attention in him, and I know now that it was the moment I realized I wanted to spend my time with this man.

"The VSO does a lot of shows. He wouldn't have given me tickets to see Brahms or Mahler, he knew that wasn't the music for me, he chose Carmina Burana."

And there is more. The soloist that night, singing the role that Markos will portray in Prince George, was one Tracy Dahl "and years later she would go on to be my teacher."

One of the things Markos learned from Dahl and others on her post-secondary path, was she did not want to be an opera singer. In opera, the singer must also play a character in a play set to the music. In works like Carmina Burana, the singer works like a member of the orchestra, singing the material without having to don a costume and portray a story.

"I love oratorio," she said, the term for this stationary opera style. "If I could go around the world singing Mozart's Requiem and Brahms' Requiem, that would be so fulfilling for me. Bach has my absolute favourite pieces, and there are many others, too. Handel's Messiah. I do love new music as well, there is a lot of freedom in that, and it's exciting to do things no one has done before."

Jazz has also never left her heart. The Peters Drury Trio came to an end in 2004 (they have regrouped for a few special occasions since) but the three are still in touch and all are still involved in music. None of them lives in the same area.

Markos is still a frontwoman, though, for groups she has formed up with in the Lower Mainland, most notably the Dal Richards Orchestra, one of Canada's most famous big-bands.

The baritone star for the PGSO, Throness, also has a deep musical resume. He was cast in coveted operatic roles including the title role in Don Giovanni under director David Walsh and Marcello in La Boheme with conductor Tyrone Patterson. He has also sung Carmina Burana on a number of occasions, including a performance at the Orpheum Theatre under conductor Kazuyoshi Akiyama.

He, Markos, Zakresky and the combined special forces of the PGSO and allied choirs will present Carmina Burana at Vanier Hall on Saturday night at 7:30 then again on Sunday at 3 p.m. Tickets are available in advance at the PGSO office, through Ticketmaster, and at the door.