It’s party time: Birthdays all around at Chamberfest 2019 starting with Essential Beethoven

Janina Fialkowska. Photo: Julien Faugère

This is a year of anniversaries at Chamberfest. The festival itself has been celebrating turning 25 for the past year and that will come to a conclusion when the world’s largest chamber festival opens July 25. It ends Aug. 8 after about 100 concerts featuring musicians from around the world and from right at home. 

But that’s not the end of the party: This summer the festival will begin a three year exploration of what artistic director Roman Borys calls the Essential Beethoven. It is all sparked by the 250th anniversary of the composer’s birth. 

Hinrich Alpers. Photo: Hannes Caspar

“As this 25th anniversary period closes we are unleashing the next 25, let’s hope, with a celebration of the music of the man at the centre of it all,” Borys said in an interview with ARTSFILE.

This year will feature four concerts two each by the festival friend and regular Hinrich Alpers, who will play several of Beethoven’s piano sonatas, and by the great Canadian violinist James Ehnes who will play 10 violin sonatas with his regular pianist Andrew Armstrong. Ehnes and Armstrong have just recorded some of the Beethoven sonatas and have embarked on musical mission of their own.

Barbara Strozzi. Painting by Bernardo Strozzi.

In addition to these concerts, musicologist and broadcaster Robert Harris will be providing chamber chats on Beethoven over the next three years.

And the investigation of Beethoven will also spill over into the concert series in November with a performance of the Septet, Borys added.

Warning: The four Beethoven concerts will be very long in duration. Good news: The festival is making arrangements for a hang-out in Dominion-Chalmers in several concerts, Borys said, with food and drink and more opportunities to socialize with other patrons.

In addition to Robert Harris talking about Beethoven, Rob Kapilow will be back to explore something different. He’ll be looking at the music of Duke Ellington with a helping hand from the Ottawa Jazz Orchestra. Kapilow’s music will be front and centre too when his Après Maman will premiere in a concert by the Gryphon Trio.

Suzie Leblanc Photo: Tara McMullen

Après Maman is Kapilow’s homage to the Louise Bourgeois bronze sculpture of a spider called Maman outside of the National Gallery of Canada.

In the same concert, the trio will play Letters to the Immortal Beloved written by Ottawa’s James Wright in another tip of the hat to Beethoven.

The other anniversaries to consider are the 200th birthday of the Romantic composer Clara Schumann whose music will get an evening hosted by Eric Friesen. And patrons will find out more about the 17th century Venetian composer Barbara Strozzi with the help of  musicologist Ann Monoyios who will explain one of classical music’s female pioneers whose 400th is this year.

She will be followed by a performance of Strozzi’s music by the soprano Suzie LeBlanc.

“You start reading about Strozzi and start listening to her music and you recognize what a force she must have been. She was this amazing woman in an age when they would have been dominated by men, she just seemed to have a power about her,” Borys said.

“As a composer she was incredibly prolific. She was even publishing her own work,” he added — something unheard of in the 17th century.

On the same night Les Boréades de Montréal and Les Jardins choréographiques pair music and dance in their staging of Handel’s cantata for soprano and baritone, Apollo e Daphne.

St Lawrence String Quartet. Photo: Leonardo Mascaro

The chamber festival is a place where the quartet shines and this summer’s event is no different. Ottawa will welcome the Dover and Rolston string quartets, both past winners of the Banff International String Quartet competition.

Also on hand will be the young and up-and-coming Manhattan Chamber Players who, in addition to their own show, will join the Dovers to play Shostakovich’s String Octet. There will also be return engagements by one of Canada’s great ensembles, the St. Lawrence String Quartet (SLSQ), who will delve into Haydn in the festival’s opening event along with guitarist Ben Verdery and pianist Stephen Prustman. The opening night will also offer the Canadian premiere of Bryce Dessner’s Quintet for High Strings and the Franck Piano Quintet. 

The opening night in Dominion-Chalmers will also feature a late night screening in the sanctuary of the silent film College by Buster Keaton with music by Prustman and SLSQ. France’s Quatuor Danel will also be back for another kick at Chamberfest with a performance of the music by Mieczysław Weinberg.

Making their debut in Ottawa is Finland’s KallaKvartetti with flute, violin, viola and cello, playing music by Finnish composersFinnish composers Atso Almila and Herbert Lindholm, and Mozart’s Flute Quartet in D Major.


And the Netherlands’ all-female Syrène Saxafoonkwartet returns with a program that includes Summer, from Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons, Barber’s Adagio for Strings, and selections from Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story.

Some great Canadian pianists will be on hand including Ottawa’s Angela Hewitt back for the ninth concert in her Bach Odyssey and Jannina Fialkowska returns with a set including pieces by Mozart, Debussy, Ravel and, of course, Chopin.

From closer to home uOttawa professor and award-winning pianist David Jalbert will be performing. Ottawa’s talented brother and sister duo Cheng² Duo will be on hand too. Cellist Bryan and pianist Silvie Cheng have a new record to celebrate.

Adrianne Pieczonka. Photo: Bo Huang

Another talented Canadian, the world class soprano Adrianne Pieczonka will take hold of some art song from Schubert (Gretchen am Spinnrade), Strauss (Zueignung) and much more.

“This is one of the big catches of the summer,” Borys said.

Finally the late night Chamberfringe will feature performers such as the Cuban Canadian pianist Hilario Durán and his trio including bassist Roberto Occhipinti, drummer Mark Kelso. Into the mix add, and the Gryphon Trio’s violinist Annalee Patipatanakoon and Borys himself on the cello. 

“It’s another opportunity for us to play this absolutely infectious music,” Borys said.

The New York based guitarist Verdery will have his own late night gig playing music from Bach to Jimi Hendrix. Also check out the Al Qahwa Ensemble with singer Maryem Tollar and the Egyptian violinist Alfred Gamil performing the music of the Middle East. The Queer Songbook Orchestra will also be there. These acts will be performing in a new venue for the Chamberfest, the Ottawa Art Gallery’s Alma Duncan room with its outdoor patio that overlooks the cityscape. 

“We are really pumped about playing in the Ottawa Art Gallery,” he added. The festival uses eight different venues in the city also including La Nouvelle Scene and Rideau Hall.

More anniversaries: The Canadian Brass is celebrating 50 years of music this year and they will be on hand. Finally the Art of Time ensemble will offer its take on The Beatles Abbey Road which is also 50 years old this year. 

For more information on all the ticket options, dates and times of concerts and the full lineup of shows 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.