Beat the winter blues with classical pianist Sarah Hagen

January 26, 2024

Looking to escape February's chilly grip for an afternoon? Join the Comox Valley’s Sarah Hagen on a sun-soaked musical odyssey and leave winter behind.

The Sid Williams Theatre Society is thrilled to present Sarah Hagen: Tropical Classical & The Story of Babar the Elephant on Sunday, February 18 at 2:00 p.m. as part of their Blue Circle Series.

An ode to the tropics, Hagen embarked on this unique piano project last year, driven by the desire to infuse a little bit of warmth into the midst of winter.

“When I was putting this together, I thought it's kind of fun in the middle of February to pretend you're not in the dead of winter. The show is in two parts. The first half is going to be classical piano music from warmer climates.”

Tantalizing tangos, lush serenades and oceanic compositions by Albeniz, Carreno, Respighi and more will transport the audience far from the Valley’s grey skies and slushy realities.

“And then the second half is a beautiful piece of music by [French composer and pianist, Francis] Poulenc, which was written to go with the story of Babar the elephant, and alternates between a narrator and the music.”

What sets this part of the performance apart is not just its evocative composition but the incorporation of artwork from local children.

Students from a classroom at Cumberland Community School were given sentences from the Babar story to illustrate, and these illustrations will be projected onto the stage, creating a larger-than-life storybook experience. Accompanied by narration by local thespian Simon Easterman, it promises to be captivating.

“It's such a beautiful story, kind of magical, and there aren't that many pieces with children's story set to music… it's one of the most famous ones. I've done this for almost two decades with artwork in various communities and classrooms. It's just a beautiful way to invite young listeners into the creative process to be part of something on the main stage.”

It’s that inclusive and immersive atmosphere that Hagen seeks to create in all her performances. While every concert is distinct in theme and content, the aim is always the same.

“Some definitely have a more profound feeling to them and some shows are light and more uplifting… they are all different. But I hope people always feel welcome and quietly satisfied.”

And this show’s theme? Definitely light-hearted. Did we mention the costume contest?

“There's also going to be a tropical outfit contest with prizes, so people can dress up with their Hawaiian shirts or, I don't know, fruit on their head. There is no pressure, of course, but I think it will be fun to feel  we're all on some weird classical music cruise for the afternoon…. It's to kind of lighten up the winter season and just be feeling joyful together.”

Now a resident of PEI, Hagen comes back to the Valley often to visit family and loves to have the chance to perform and share joy locally, especially at this venue.

“My favourite part of this particular time playing in Courtenay is that I'm back at the Sid Williams Theatre, which has been part of my world for my whole life from when I danced in Pantuso doing dance recitals as a little girl and then other music recitals and so on. I always love being back in the Valley.”

Hagen’s musical journey has taken her from the Sid to Carnegie Hall and beyond, including a memorable show last summer with cellist Marit Sjödin at a 12th century cathedral on a Swedish island.

While she regularly engages in such collaborations and chamber music ensembles, she notes that solo performances like this one allow her to bask in the solitary realm of artistic expression.

“I do play a lot more solo shows now. I enjoy the solitude of long drives and kind of being your own boss.”

Looking ahead, Hagen is amid planning her new solo album set to release in 2025. The album will feature compositions by a lesser-known French composer and pianist Cécile Chaminade.

Of course, her commitment to providing live, in-person experiences remains unwavering. In fact, she says that in the wake of the pandemic, she has observed a renewed enthusiasm for live performances.

“I’ve found audiences are very happy to be back in venues and that the audiences are bigger than before the pandemic. I see people craving real, in-person experiences.” She also notes, with a chuckle, that there's a lot less coughing at concerts.

“There's always the argument about people not wanting to leave their houses because things could be available online. But I believe that humans crave interaction. So I think there will always be audiences, and I see that growing even more as the years go on.”

Be a part of the upcoming audience and experience music that warms hearts and transcends seasons.