- Broken Hearts & Madmen: Gryphon Trio with Patricia O'Callaghan, Thursday, Aug. 16, 8 p.m. at the Orpheum Annex, 823 Seymour St., Vancouver, part of MusicFest Vancouver (Aug. 10-19). Tickets ($34/$39) and info: www.musicfestvancouver.ca.
PATRICIA O'Callaghan's vocal style is impossible to sum up in a word.
Soprano, cabaret, world, pop or operatic, each term is applicable to the genre-defying songstress whose appetite for diverse repertoire knows no bounds.
"My business card says I'm a 'singer of songs,'" the Toronto-based performing artist says, when the question of how best to define her voice is posed.
O'Callaghan goes on to say she's more comfortable describing her sound in the context of the music she's performing. For example, if it's a classical piece, then she sings in a classical fashion, and if it's a pop song then she sings in a pop fashion, etc.
"I just see it all as music. There really is no difference between all of the genres, harmonically and melodically. It's just a matter of what context you put it in, what arrangements you give to it, what instruments are backing it up. That's sort of what defines the genre of it. I'm interested in many different genres and that's how you learn and grow as a musician and I kind of think I'd be bored if I just did one thing. I really like the variety and the diversity of what I get to do," she says.
This widespread interest is clearly evident in her discography, including her two latest works - one a collaboration with a well-known Canadian chamber music trio, and the other, a tribute to one of Canada's finest songwriters - both released last year.
O'Callaghan is set to bring her unique vocal stylings to the Lower Mainland next week when she'll make her MusicFest Vancouver debut. Her Aug. 16 performance, Broken Hearts & Madmen, takes its name from her 2011 collaboration with the Gryphon Trio, who will also be featured. The performance is part of the festival's Industrial Alliance MusicFest Flavours Series.
O'Callaghan met the members of the trio - cellist Roman Borys, pianist Jamie Parker and violinist Annalee Patipatanakoon - some 10 years ago, through their involvement in Constantinople, a multidisciplinary music theatre work that they've toured internationally.
"Roman approached me with this idea and we compiled the repertoire more or less together," says O'Callaghan of Broken Hearts & Madmen.
The record features a diverse array of songs by artists, including Nick Drake, Laurie Anderson, Los Lobos, Astor Piazzolla and Elvis Costello. O'Callaghan fully enjoys performing them, despite how challenging the arrangements are at times, as well as the subject matter.
"They're really emotional songs for sure. . . . Some of them are songs that I've sung before, but mostly not. It's always great to get your voice around new repertoire," she says.
Broken Hearts & Madmen also features songs in different languages, including Spanish, which is her favourite to sing in.
The Gryphon Trio have two other MusicFest performances scheduled, including: Beethoven's Best, Wednesday, Aug. 15 and Czech Masters Aug. 17, both at 10: 30 a.m. at Christ Church Cathedral.
O'Callaghan's second 2011 release is titled Matador: The Songs of Leonard Cohen. She's long been drawn to his works and has included covers on previous records.
"Coming from the classical world as I did, I just had this idea that I wanted to meld the worlds of classical music and pop somehow," she says.
Since the beginning of her career, she's been interested in composers like Erik Satie and Kurt Weill who, she says, found a means of marrying high and low art.
Interested in doing this herself, she came across Cohen and added "Take This Waltz," inspired by a Lorca poem, and "Hallelujah" to her repertoire and is happy now to have finally released an entire album devoted to the troubadour. Matador features songs including "The Gypsy's Wife," "Dance Me To The End Of Love" and "Joan of Arc."
"They're all just such great songs and I had an amazing band in the studio," says O'Callaghan. "It was a real pleasure to record, and also doing the live shows is a real pleasure. They're just glorious songs."
Matador also features a number of guest singers, including Steven Page, Mike Ross and Sienna Dahlen.
"They're all singers that I really admire," says O'Callaghan. "And I think they add a lot to the album."