Chamberfest celebrates 25 years with a jam-packed summer showcase

Roby Lakatos and his ensemble will open Chamberfest this summer.

The world’s largest chamber music festival is celebrating its silver anniversary with $25 tickets on a wide range of concerts and an eclectic mix of performances from classic chamber music to the cutting edge.

The 2018 Chamberfest opens on July 26 with a return appearance by the Roby Lakatos Quartet who will offer a blend of classical, jazz, and improvisational styles all built upon the tradition of Romani violinists.

Festival artistic director Roman Borys said he wanted to open the event with Lakatos because he represents “the absolute top level in terms of artistry.” They will also play a jazz show the next night kicking off the late night series called Chamberfringe.

For Borys this summer is an important milestone.

“I feel good that we find ourselves in a good place after 25 years. We have gone way beyond the early years and the acceptance of the concept. We went through all the growing pains, all of these little phases that defined a path forward for the festival. We have now reached a level where, I believe, the view is full of possibilities.”

“What also gets me excited that we have more capacity today to get all the stuff done that we want to accomplish” in the presentation of music and in working with young people in the wider community through the Listen Up! program in the schools building audiences along the way.

Borys sees this year’s festival as a year in which Chamberfest pay homage to its core concept of chamber music. There are a slew of quartets coming.

“I’m thrilled with the Chamberfringe lineup. It reinforces a passion that I have for things that are new.”

As usual there are some big names such as Canadian pianist Marc-André Hamelin who is playing a concert with the French quartet Quatuor Danel who will also play a concert on their own. “They have a real team approach to chamber music,” Borys said.

Angela Hewitt. Photo Keith Saunders.

Ottawa’s Angela Hewitt continues her Bach Odyssey with two highlights: The Well-Tempered Clavier and the Goldberg Variations.

Israel’s Ariel Quartet performs a Dominion-Chalmers double bill with an evening concert that also features Canada’s own Rolston Quartet.

And early music champions Gli Angeli Genève will come to Ottawa for the first time with a performance of  J.S. Bach’s beloved Church Cantatas and Telemann’s Du Aber Daniel.

“This group is one of the early music forces coming out of Switzerland, which is a real hot bed for this kind of music,” Borys says. This will be their Ottawa debut and only their second appearance in Canada.

I Musici de Montréal will wrap it all up with a performance on Aug. 9 along with cellist Cameron Crozman who will play the “Bonjour” Stradivarius cello in Schumann’s concerto as it was originally written for solo cello and strings.

Z.E.N. Trio

One show to watch is a concert by the Z.E.N. Trio, pianist Zhang Zuo, violinist Esther Yoo, and cellist Narek Hakhnazaryan (who won the 2011 Tchaikovsky Competition). They get down to it with Dvorák’s Dumky Trio and Shostakovich’s haunting Cello Sonata.

“These are superstar young players who come together as a trio but also have solo careers. They’ll showcase their solo work in the first half of their show and in the second half they’ll play the Dumky Trio which is one of the big cornerstone pieces of the chamber repertoire,” Borys said.

If vocal gymnastics are your thing you could do worse than taking in a concert of Saint-Saëns and Mendelssohn by Simone Osbone and Gordon Bintner accompanied by pianist with Michael McMahon.

In recent years, the late night Chamberfringe has presented edgier works for those looking for something unique. This year these shows are available for $25 a ticket. One event to catch is the performance of Gershwin repertoire by the Buzz Brass led by the versatile Matt Herskowitz on keyboard.

Also on at late night is a program of Leonard Bernstein’s music from West Side Story and On the Town as performed by the pianists Elizabeth and Marcel Bergmann. This is the centenary of Bernstein’s birth.

And if you missed them in December in the Concerts by the Canal series, Montreal Symphony Orchestra concertmaster Andrew Wan and piano star Charles Richard-Hamelin are bringing their presentation of Beethoven’s 5th, 6th, and 7th violin sonatas back to town.

One of the more intriguing events is a multi-disciplinary performance called Sounding Thunder that sketches out the life of a legendary Indigenous First World War sniper named Francis Pegahmagabow. The performance is based on a biography about Pegahmagabow’s life.

It features narration by Pegahmagabow’s great-grandson, actors, singers and a performance of a new piece of music by Canadian composer Tim Corlis. It will be performed with Stravinsky’s Suite from L’histoire du Soldat and another Canadian work Masques of Canada by Glen Montgomery.

“This is actually a sesquicentennial project out of the Festival of the Sound. Francis Pegahmagabow was from the Parry Sound area. When he came back from the war, he became a spokesman for his people.” This is the 100th anniversary year of the end of the war, as well.

Borys is also pushing a performance called Duende: Lorca, Cohen and the Spirit of Spain which will bring forward the connections between the poets Leonard Cohen, Federico Garcia Lorca and the music of Spain.

There is a major project of new commissioned pieces called Mosaïque featuring Ensemble Made In Canada playing 14 four-minute long pieces commissioned from composers of various genres and backgrounds from across the country. Together the pieces will form a 40-55 minute musical suite.

There is a Mozart mashup with three ensembles including the Pražák String Quartet, the Pentaèdre Wind Quintet and the Gryphon Trio, which is also celebrating 25 years together. The music will include the Divertimento, the imaginative Hoffmeister Quartet and an arrangement of highlights from the Magic Flute.

“The first piece we played as a trio together was Beethoven’s Ghost.” The trio will mark the anniversary with a separate mashup that will feature a new work called  Bytown Waters that, Borys says, celebrates the connection the Gryphon’s have with Ottawa.

For a full rundown of the festival and for information on the variety of passes, please see

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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.