Music and Beyond: John Rutter, Borodin Quartet highlight early list of concerts for July

John Rutter

As proof that Music and Beyond artistic director Julian Armour has not been hibernating during this frigid winter, he has lined up a sizzling early list of highlight concerts for this summer’s Music and Beyond Festival in July.

Topping the lineup so far is an appearance by the legendary British choral composer and conductor John Rutter whose work will be featured in a massive choral concert on July 15.

And, before that show, one of the legendary string quartets will take the stage on July 5. The Borodin Quartet, which at one time included the cellist Mstislav Rostropovich as a member, was founded in 1945. The quartet returns to Ottawa with a program of Shostakovich, Myaskovsky and, of course, Borodin.

But that’s not all. Music and Beyond has announced concerts by the Elmer Iseler Singers, Chanticleer and the Vienna Piano Trio, along with a concert of baroque music featuring the Ensemble Caprice and the innovative I-90 Collective.

The Borodin Quartet will play in Ottawa on July 5.

There is even a nod to the music of the legendary jazz master Keith Jarrett, a night devoted to Handel, along with performances by Les Violins du Roy, Gregory Charles and the Vancouver Chamber Choir.

There is little doubt, however, that the appearance of Rutter on July 15 is a signature event. It will also feature three choirs, the Iseler Singers, the Ottawa Children’s Choir, the Capital Chamber Choir and the Thirteen Strings Chamber Orchestra.

The concert will also feature a performance by Ottawa’s young violin virtuoso Kerson Leong, who will play Rutter’s Visions, a work for solo violin, strings, harp and choir. The work was written for Leong.

The concert will also feature a performance of Rutter’s well-known and widely performed Magnificat, along with some shorter works.

“It’s hard to think of a choir that doesn’t sing one of his pieces every single year,” said Music and Beyond’s artistic director Julian Armour. “It may put him above Beethoven.”

While some may say Rutter’s music is too saccharine, Armour says, “when I started to listen to his works, I found that his stuff is so well crafted. This has really got depth. For some, there are a few pieces that are so incredibly syrupy that they may taint the other works.

“Other composers I won’t name who are writing material that is so cheesy it’s unbearable” but not Rutter, he added.

“He rises well above that and he maintains his position because there is that kind of depth in it.”

The Rutter appearance continues a Music and Beyond tradition of featuring the works of modern choral composers. In recent years the festival has highlighted, in recent years, music by Morten Lauridsen and Ole Gjeilo, both of whom attended the festival.

“Music and Beyond, when I started it, I really wanted to make sure we were different from other programming in town. I wanted to fill the gaps with things that weren’t being done elsewhere.

“The choirs, singers and fans in town have all said that this is a ‘vocal’ city. People love choral music here. The summer it hasn’t been covered. People go on holidays.”

But, in featuring these composers such as Rutter, Lauridsen and Gjeilo, it brings people, who have a love of vocal music, together, he says.

“When we do this we can profile these choirs (such as the Capital Chamber Choir and the Ottawa Children’s Choir in the Rutter concert). I like to think they will be higher up on the radar screen.”

Armour had been talking to Rutter for quite some time and trying to fit him into the festival.

“You can imagine, he can pick what he wants to do. One of the things that helped this come along is his collaboration with Kerson Leong.”

Another part of the appeal is that the concert is a tribute to Rutter and his music and “even for a guy like that it doesn’t happen often.”

An interesting sidelight of this is that Armour’s oldest son, Francis, is part of the Ottawa Children’s Choir, and will sing in this concert.

Armour says Rutter is expected in town a couple of days before the concert and may be involved in some workshops. Those will be announced in due course.

There are 45 or more concerts still to be announced for the 2018 festival, Armour says, but in keeping with the practice of the past few years Music and Beyond has been releasing information about upcoming shows early to ensure patrons can hear about them. It builds momentum, he says.

He says he’s happy to see 2017 gone and look ahead to 2018.

“It was a tough year and it was hard to get people to look at what I thought was  really good festival. Basically you had tons of really well-funded federal and local advertising. Cutting through all that” was difficult. And finding rooms for visiting artists was hard because the hotels were packed.

“Now there is a calm (after the storm) and people can focus on what we are doing.”

Tickets and information about these concerts can be obtained at This year’s festival runs from July 4 to 18.

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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.