Chamberfest: Carissa Klopoushak and Edwin Huizinga run the gamut in their musical interests

Carissa Klopoushak is the new interim artistic director of Ottawa Chamberfest.

Carissa Klopoushak is wide open and full throttle when it comes to her musical interests. She’s a violinist in the NAC Orchestra, she is part of a chamber quartet called the Ironwood String Quartet and she co-founded a nine-year-old festival in her home town of Saskatoon. She is pursuing traditional Ukrainian music to honour her heritage and she plays modern folk in a Ukrainian folk-rock band Tyt i Tam. She performs solo and she has just released an album called SOUNDWORLDS, with Philip Chiu.

Her friend and colleague, Edwin Huizinga, is another musical omnivore. He’s chasing Celtic, Baroque, folk fiddle and classical forms all over the world from his current home base in Toronto. He works with Tafelmusik and he has a Baroque ensemble called Acronym and in 2012, showing another musical side, he toured with the indie band The Wooden Sky.
So with their eclectic tastes and journeys, it makes some sense that they would some day bump into each other and play a concert together. That day is Aug. 2 at this year’s Chamberfest. They call the evening fittingly The Gamut.
“We have known each other for a while,” Klopoushak said in an interview about the concert. “Before we met friends said that we reminded them of each other. Basically we have similar interests. We are both willing to play whatever, whether it’s early music or contemproary music, chamber music or orchestral music. We both play in bands outside the normal classical world.”
How did they finally meet then?
“I was living in Montreal at the time and I was sitting in bar when I checked instagram and found him in a picture in the same bar at the same time. So I went and found him and said hey ‘I’m Carissa.’

Edwin Huizinga. Photo: V. Tony Hauser

The two hit it off and started thinking about working together.
“We are interested in anything for two violins including an Australian piece I have been dying to play. I brought some Ukrainian folk music to the table and he is bringing some Celtic stuff.” Add to the list a Leclair Duo, the Prokofiev duo and some Bartok duos.
Klopoushak picked up a violin early at age four.
“I had a typical Suzuki experience in Saskatoon. Music was important to my parents. My dad is a trained singer and my mom plays the piano; music is something we do together.
The violin is something her great-grandfather played. He immigrated to Canada and headed west to Saskatchewan where he homesteaded.
Music making thus is part of her family history and it continues today. One of her cousins is a conductor in the U.S. and another is a violinist in the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra. Klopoushak’s brother plays in her folk band.
She is also loyal to her hometown having co-founded more than nine years ago a chamber music in Saskatoon.
“The city is known for raising some really amazing musicians, specifically in classical world, who have left and never come back. … We were inspired to create a festival that would allow people from Saskatchewan to come home and play in Saskatchewan.” Hence the name Ritornello Chamber Music Festival.
“It’s a musical term meaning ‘the little thing that returns’. It started out bringing people back and we still have that focus.” Although now they are bringing in others such as the pianist Jon Kimura Parker to work with local artists in Saskatoon.
“It is a lot of work, but I think it is something I will likely always do. What we have come to understand as directors is that it  probably won’t grow any (bigger). But that’s OK too. A lack of growth doesn’t always mean a plateau. It doesn’t have to be a two-week Chamberfest to feel successful. In fact, part of it is that it’s an excuse for me to go and play there with many of my former colleagues. I used to be in the symphony there.”
Klopoushak seems to be everywhere. How come?
“I do like to experiment. I crave variety. What makes me happiest about music is the social aspect of it. I love performing with people for people. There are so many ways to do that I don’t think I can just pick one. I have always been this way. Sometimes I do have to make decisions to find work-life balance or sleep or eat and keep functioning.”
She isn’t the only NACO musician doing this. In fact the other members of Ironwood are NACO members: Jessica Linnebach on violin, Julia MacLaine on cello and David Marks on viola.
“If you are interested, why would you say no,” she says. “Having that variety in my life keeps me inspired and it keeps me connected to music making rather than always doing something someone tells me to do.”
Another key to Klopoushak is her Ukrainian heritage.
“I think that the Ukrainian community is very strong in Canada because there is a good number of us. There is an infrastructure. For example I went to immersion school in Ukrainian.”
Part of the reason the community is so active and strong, she believes, “is because Ukraine is still under threat. We can’t ever rest on our laurels.”
She has performed in Ukraine going first in 2003, again in 2013 and then last year.
“Ukraine has changed so much. In 2003 it still felt Soviet. Today there is a strong sense of self. People are clear about what they are fighting against and for. It feels more western and beautifully Ukrainian too. We played in this festival in Kiev. It was hipster central. I could have been anywhere.”
In October she is going to Ukraine again this time to take part in a contemporary music festival in Lviv.
“That one I will fit into a really tight corner on Thanksgiving weekend. But now is the time to do crazy things. and it’s a big part of who I am and what I do.”
The Gamut with Carissa Klopoushak and Edwin Huizinga
When: Wednesday Aug. 2 at 10 p.m.
Where: La Nouvelle Scene Gilles Desjardins, 333 King Edward Ave.
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Peter Robb began his connection with the arts community in Ottawa in the mid-1980s when he was the administrator and public relations director of the Great Canadian Theatre Company. After a long career in journalism with the Ottawa Citizen where he served in a number of different posts he returned to the arts when he became the Citizen's arts editor.