Ottawa’s Chamberfest is set to illuminate with more than 70 concerts

After the challenges of the pandemic, artistic director Carissa Klopoushak says it feels like the dawn of a new day for the festival

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From the radiance of Mendelsohn’s octet to the romance of Schoenberg’s Transfigured Night, Chamberfest will celebrate the return of light during this year’s edition of the classical-music festival, which starts July 21 and runs until Aug. 4 in various venues.

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After the challenges of the pandemic, artistic director Carissa Klopoushak says it feels like the dawn of a new day for the festival that began in 1994 as the Ottawa International Chamber Music Festival.

“We’ve just got through a couple of years of the pandemic, and with the invasion of Ukraine and other world events and social causes that are really important, it feels as though that’s the theme that really speaks,” she said. “Light after darkness, because that’s what we’re experiencing in the world right now.”

The festival’s July 21 opening concert, titled First Light, features the famous octet that Mendelsohn wrote when he was 16, performed by a roster of Chamberfest artists-in-residence, including Klopoushak, who is also a violinist with the National Arts Centre Orchestra.

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“It’s hugely beloved and such a party piece,” Klopoushak said of the String Octet, Op. 20. “It opens in this beautiful cascading way that, to me, sounds like the sun peeking over the horizon first thing in the morning. Then it cracks open and there’s a blaze of light.”

A couple of weeks and many hours of music later, one of the final concerts in the festival features the Schoenberg tone poem performed by Tunisian-born mezzo-soprano Rihab Chaieb in her Chamberfest debut. The piece evokes the setting of the sun.

In between those two concerts (both happening at the festival’s main venue, Carleton Dominion-Chalmers Centre), music will be performed morning, noon and night, indoors and out, with more than 70 concerts on the schedule, including the return of the eclectic Chamberfringe shows and the meditative Beechwood series.

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“I really want people to know that we are back in full force,” said Kloupoushak. “We have created a festival that we’re all really proud of, with a lot of interesting artists with something compelling to say. We’re focused on making sure there’s something for everyone, and having the diversity in programming and artistry to really make it pop. We want to show the richness and wealth of what chamber music can be.”

New this year is a Sunrise series featuring a pair of 9 a.m. concerts at the Beechwood Cemetery. On July 23, Johnny Gandelsman tackles Bach’s Suites for solo cello, defying the composer by playing them on violin, while July 30 brings a special performance by two of Klopoushak’s talented NAC Orchestra colleagues, Julia McLean and Anna Petersen.

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The two women will collaborate on a gentle yoga session, with McLean supplying the solo cello soundtrack to Petersen’s yoga instruction. An oboist with NACO, Petersen is also a certified yoga instructor who specializes in giving inclusive and accessible classes.

Other morning concerts at the Beechwood Sacred Space will feature the flute-and-harp duo of Johanna G’Froer and Michelle Gott (11 a.m. July 24) and Juno-winning harpist Angela Schwarzkopf (11 a.m. July 31).

To keep the music going throughout the day, mid-day matinees are on the menu, too, including performances by Ottawa pianists Nicole Presentey and John Kofi Dapaah, the Ottawa duo of Cheng2 (with cellist Brian Cheng fresh from a major international win at the Queen Elisabeth Competition for emerging cello players) and soprano Rachel Fenlon, who takes a singer-songwriterly approach to classical music by accompanying herself on piano.

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“Rachel will perform Schubert’s  Die Winterreise, singing and playing at the same time, which is basically unheard of and takes exceedingly high levels of talent,” said Klopoushak. “This will be one of the first times it’s ever been done.”

Free concerts also take place at Ottawa City Hall during daytime hours, featuring family-friendly fare by the Montreal-based string quartet Quatuor Andara, the Verona Quartet and cellist Beth Silver and pianist Jenna Richards.

Meanwhile, the Marina Kun series showcases world-class musicians on the main stage at Dominion-Chalmers, including the Grammy-nominated Imani Winds, Vancouver’s vocal chamber consort, Arkora Ensemble, pianist Hinrich Alpers, and the Chamberfest debut of renowned Macedonian pianist Simon Trpčeski.

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Another highlight of the Kun series will be The Rest is History, a July 30 tribute to the series namesake, Marina Kun, marking the 50th anniversary of her Ottawa-based business manufacturing shoulder rests for violinists. The Kun Shoulder Rest is used by musicians around the world.

Some of Kun’s favourite musicians will play, including violinists Lara St. John, Kelly Hall-Tompkins, the Gryphon Trio and Klopoushak, as well as the Afro-Cuban ensemble, OKAN, who gave a terrific performance in last year’s Chamberfringe series.

As for this year’s iteration of Chamberfringe, it will again spotlight the eclectic, including post-bop jazz of the Alison Au Quartet, the multi-cultural sounds of Moskitto Bar, the Eastern European-influenced female vocal trio, Blisk, the electro-cello of Indigenous composer Chris Derksen, the Montreal Horn Stars and an after-party with the Danish String Quartet, to name a handful of the offerings. Concerts will take place at La Nouvelle Scene on King Edward Avenue and Club SAW.

Not to be overlooked in this celebration of old music is the introduction of new compositions. On Aug. 1, the New Music Now program presents new works by Daniel Mehdizadeh, Edward Enman, John Armstrong and Ottawa’s Kelly-Marie Murphy, along with world premieres of a nature-inspired song cycle by Rachel Fenlon and a new horn trio by Simon Bourget.

For complete details on venues, tickets and times, go to chamberfest.com.

lsaxberg@postmedia.com

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