In the livestream: Chamberfest fall concerts to feature Cheng² Duo, Russell Braun, Angela Hewitt and more

Silvie and Bryan Cheng will bring Beethoven. Photo: Uwe Arens

The COVID clouds are parting and Ottawa Chamberfest is set to shine some musical light on the fall season.

Traditionally Chamberfest would be packing in audiences for a slew of concerts in the Carleton Dominion-Chalmers Centre this fall and winter. Not this year, except for a small number of patrons, all of which is dependent on the infection rate in the community, but more about that later.

There will be six concerts livestreamed on the festival website this fall (the winter half is TBA in a few months) featuring some of the best in Canadian classical music. 

“We are featuring Canadians and we are really featuring a lot of people who are close to home” in Ottawa, said Carissa Klopoushak, Chamberfest’s interim artistic director. She formally replaced Roman Borys on Aug. 17 but has been working with the staff since June.

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

The 2020-21 series features past winners of the Banff prize for chamber music, the Rolston String Quartet, Ottawa’s own Cheng² Duo (twice), baritone Russell Braun with pianist partner Carolyn Maule, the True North Brass which features the NAC Orchestra’s principal trumpet Karen Donnelly and Associate Principal French horn Julie Fauteux and the concluding concert of Angela Hewitt’s four year long Bach Odyssey. She’ll be playing The Art of Fugue.

The Cheng² Duo has been hip deep in a project marking the 250th anniversary of Beethoven’s birth. They are playing his cello sonatas with a typically imaginative Cheng²Duo twist. Bryan and Silvie Cheng have asked two Canadian composers — Samy Moussa, Dinuk Wijeratne — and the Californian Paul Wiancko to write new works in a contemporary homage and reaction to the great composer. 

Their first concert is Sept. 19. The first of a two-part celebration of Beethoven, featuring exciting new commissions alongside the beloved cello sonatas that inspired them.

Up next, on Oct. 6, is an evening of music with the talented baritone Russell Braun and Carolyn Maule. The program is centred around Beethoven’s song cycle, An die ferne Geliebte (To the Distant Beloved). The program plays on themes of separation and reunification and death and rebirth, Klopoushak says. “It will feel very up-close and personal.”

Russell Braun.

Angela Hewitt, who is no stranger to being livestreamed, will be in Dom-Chalm on Oct. 24 to perform Bach’s The Art of Fugue. The Bach Odyssey has been a triumph for Ottawa’s piano goddess. This one, Klopoushak said, is “unmissable. It will be exciting to see the final concert of the Odyssey.” Hewitt will have to quarantine when she lands in Ottawa. 

Once again, the Rolston String Quartet will bring their musicianship to quartets by Haydn and Grieg to Dominion Chalmers on Nov. 17.

True North Brass is a collection of some of Canada’s top orchestral brass players, including Donnelly and Fauteux. They are up Nov. 28. 

The Cheng² Duo performs more Ludwig van on Dec. 19,

Angela Hewitt. Photo: Bernd Eberle

“Everyone is really ready to perform for an audience,” Klopoushak said.

Part of the thinking around the series flows from the success of what has been a series of interviews by Eric Friesen featuring musicians.

“The Chamber Chats have been a really welcome thing and the audience has been incredibly loyal.” It averages at more that 200 people every time, she said.

But still “there is a strong desire to present in concert.”

The goal of the concert series, the festival said, is to create a sense of a “front row” series of concerts. All six concerts will be broadcast live from Carleton Dominion-Chalmers Centre. Each concert will start at 7 p.m., have at least a 60-75 minute program followed by an interactive Q&A session with the artists, says Klopoushak. There won’t be an intermission, she added, which is “good for the livestream experience.”

COVID willing, Chamberfest will also offer a limited number of seats inside Dominion-Chalmers. The number of seats available will be based on the limits set on indoor gatherings by the Ontario government (currently at 50 people in Stage 3 of reopening) and all safety regulations will be followed. These tickets will become available a week before each concert, Klopoushak said. “This is our dare-to-hope. Some people are very much ready to attend (in person) again and some people won’t be ready. But nothing is the same as live performance. If we can do it live, we will.”

She is recording a video that will walk patrons through what attending a concert person will be like. And she spent Thursday in Dominion-Chalmers doing dry runs of concerts.

Chamberfest has had some experience this spring in livestreaming two concerts by the the Gryphon Trio.

Livestreaming will really expand the accessibility of Chamberfest concerts, Klopoushak believes. “I can see us keeping this on as a way to engage with people in our community who aren’t able to come out for whatever reason.”

But it also opens up the world to performances in Ottawa. “A person from Finland could absolutely buy a pass and tune in and that would be wonderful. There is all kinds of opportunity and it will be really interesting to see how we can apply it further.”

Digital performance is not the same as a live show but Klopoushak says having the opportunity for audiences to ask questions of the performers after each concert will give people a sense of actually be there.

Passes go on sale Sept. 1. For more information on passes and performances 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.