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Leila Getz, founder of the Vancouver Recital Society.

The Globe and Mail

With the series Applause, Please, The Globe and Mail recognizes the efforts of dedicated citizens and those behind the scenes who make a difference in arts and cultural programs and institutions.

Leila Getz is not interested in simply impressing you. She'd much rather blow your mind.

Getz is the 77-year-old founder and artistic director of the Vancouver Recital Society, one of the few concert series in North America dedicated to presenting only recitalists. A feisty and confident presence on the Vancouver classical-music scene, her specialty is unveiling unfamiliar young virtuosos to the public.

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"What drives our engines is discovering new talent," Getz says of the VRS, minted in 1980. "This is what really turns us on."

Speaking on the phone from her home in Vancouver, the South African native raves about a recent performance by Sheku Kanneh-Mason, a gifted 18-year-old British cellist.

"It was a love-in," Getz says. "It's been years since I've witnessed an audience go berserk as our audience did for Sheku."

Getz, who in 1995 was made a member of the Order of Canada for her community service, describes herself as a "risk taker" who has, over the years, built a measure of faith within the Vancouver classical-music audience.

Asked about her favourite chancy booking, Getz cites Italian mezzo-soprano Cecilia Bartoli.

"I booked her to play the Orpheum when she was an unknown. I knew she was going to be famous, and I knew if I wanted to get her back to Vancouver after the first concert I'd have to give her two gigs."

Getz's judgment was sound. "A thousand people who bought a seat went away and told their friends they were idiots not to have been there," she says about the first Bartoli show at the 2,780-seat venue. "She came back to the Orpheum the next year and sold it out."

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It's not unusual for Getz to bring back a virtuoso. But she gets more satisfaction in bringing in an emerging artist to the intimate Vancouver Playhouse than booking a star to play a larger venue. "It's a struggle in Vancouver for classical music," she says. "But if you can fill a house with 600 people, that's bloody awesome."

In other words, bravura – an adjective we can also apply to the robust septuagenarian.

Know of an unsung arts and culture hero who deserves wider acclaim? Send suggestions to bwheeler@globeandmail.com

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