Classical Unbound festival uncorks some strings in Prince Edward County

Jessica Linnebach, Yosuke Kawasaki and Joanna G'froerer.

Mixing wine, food and music is a recipe for a reason to travel to Prince Edward County. The sum total of this melange is the Classical Unbound series of concerts started by three members of the NAC Orchestra three years ago.

Joanna G’froerer is one of the trio. The principal flute of NACO and her husband Thor Eglington have been vacationing in the county for many years.

They would always say after returning home that it would be the perfect setting for classical music performance. The idea reached critical mass in 2014 when the orchestra’s concertmaster Yosuke Kawasaki and his partner, the associate concertmaster Jessica Linnebach vacationed there. They returned home with the same thought.

The couples shared the sentiment and pretty soon something started to percolate.

“We started meeting that fall and seriously talking about it,” G’froerer said.

By the following summer, three concerts were organized and performed. They seemed to fit the bill, G’froerer said.

“It’s so removed from city life, from the cares of day. I find that for us and audience the environment can really quiet the mind and make you more receptive to the music.”

Rehearsing for a Classical Unbound performance.

The first year was an experiment to see if their idea had legs. The concerts were all at By Chadsey’s Cairns Winery.

“We played in a barn with hay bale seating. It was very rustic. But with the doors open you could see Lake Ontario. It was quite magical.

The concerts were a success and they decided to “go for it.” They incorporated as a non-profit and last summer staged four concerts at three different venues. This year there are six ticketed concerts at three different locations and a much larger roster of performers. Two shows are at The Grange winery, two are at the Hillier Creek Estates winery and two Sunday matinees are at the Mount Tabor Playhouse near Milford, Ont. The shows take place Aug. 18-20 and Aug. 25-27.

Mount Tabor is a deconsecrated church that is now a theatre with theatre seating. No hay bales. They were planning concerts in a winery barrel room, G’froerer says, but the harvest was too good and there was no room this summer. Hence the move to Mount Tabor.

“We have really tried to be inspired by the venues and we have programmed music that we love and want to play in those places.

There is an interest in presenting modern Canadian music. This year featuring three living Canadian composers. Two of them are planning to come including Toronto-based Kevin Lau and Kingston’s John Burge. The third composer is Ana Sokolovic.

G’froerer says that Lau reworked his piece to allow for two cellos instead of cello and bass. She plays flute, piccolo and alto-flute in it accompanied by five strings.

One concert in particular should be a special event. On Aug. 18, the mezzo-soprano Krisztina Szabo will be singing along with the musicians. This program opens with Haydn’s Sunrise Quartet. And it concludes with Il Tramonto (The Sunset) by Respighi.

The venues are small ranging from 75 seats to 110. As a result the concerts are up close and personal, something G’froerer relishes.

“Part of what is inspiring us to do this is really there is no stage in these beautiful and peaceful venues. The acoustics are good. People can get really close.”

And there is always a glass of wine and some locally grown food nearby.

“We are trying to create a multi-sensorial experience.”

The festival has begun to pick up sponsors and grants, but it has been a lesson in the business side of music-making for the organizers.

“I have a new respect for all the work that goes on behind the scenes to make a concert series happen.” It has also been a learning experience for Thor who has become the festival’s administrator, webmaster and marketing guru.

Thor Eglington.

In the end, though, the main thing has been that all of them are really enjoying the experience. That’s important because normally mid-August is downtime for NACO.

To help cover costs they rent a large house and share the accommodation. It saves money and provides a rehearsal space.

As for the future?

“We really don’t know what the limits are,” she says. “We’ll see how it goes this summer.”

For details on the festival, all the artists involved and the music being planned, 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.