Music and Beyond marks 10 years with historic return to Ottawa by Brian Law

The Museum of History opened officially on June 29, 1989.

What better way to celebrate a major anniversary than with the return of an historic figure.

That’s what Music and Beyond is doing this July by welcoming Brian Law back to Ottawa for a major performance during the festival’s 10th anniversary.

For those who may not know the name, Law is a linchpin figure in the development of Ottawa’s classical music scene.

It started with his arrival in town to take the helm of the St. Matthew’sAnglican Church men and boys choirs in 1965. Some pretty famous names have emerged from that group including the international star, baritone Gerald Finley.

But Law did much more than that. He led the Cantata Singers and the Ottawa Choral Society. He founded the Thirteen Strings chamber orchestra and was a key part of the team that launched and led the NAC Orchestra in its early years. And he also was a key person with the Ottawa Symphony Orchestra and with the Ottawa Youth Orchestra. Safe to say, the musical house that Brian built was substantial with many rooms.

These days he lives in New Zealand. Music and Beyond’s Julian Armour has been busy convincing Law to make the long voyage to the capital and finally that’s going to happen.

Law was critical in Armour’s own development as a musician.

“The first time I heard Thirteen Strings, Peter Pears was singing with them. That concert made me think I should be studying music. It was an inspiring moment.”

Brian Law will be in Ottawa for a concert July 17.

The event featuring Law will close the festival which starts July 4 and runs until July 17 in a variety of locations in the city. It will be a packed evening at Dominion-Chalmers with many of the organizations Law worked with represented including NACO and the Ottawa Symphony Orchestra.

But it is certainly not the only highlight in an event that has about 100 concerts lined up.

Making the 10 year mark is an accomplishment worth acknowledging. It is no mean feat to survive that long in the arts in Ottawa or anywhere for that matter.

“It has just been a non-stop labour of love,” he said in an interview. “Starting a new festival in this climate is so hard. You have to prove you can do it for at least two years before anyone will fund you.

“Now, I feel that we have arrived. We are being funded a little more solidly.” Even so there are always storm clouds on the horizon — these days Armour sees worrying signals coming from Queen’s ParkBut he knows that any arts organization needs to multiple streams of revenue and Music and Beyond is an assiduous fundraising enterprise.

But survival has often meant Armour has been dipping into his own pocket. He said he has put in “half a million” dollars into the festival personally.

“We work really hard at fundraising. We do get sponsorships and donations and we try to get a lot of in-kind sponsorship.”

Canadian soprano Jane Archibald will perform July 7.

It’s a lot of work for Armour and his partner Guylaine Lemaire. Armour also still performs regularly including with Thirteen Strings. With a family of four children, “we have a very full load,” but he says he believes it’s important for him to play regularly.

“It helps me understand what is needed. And I work with people and see who does what.” He also knows the stresses and strains faced by professional musicians.

“If people say ‘You can’t do that, it’s way too ambitious’, I can say I’m putting myself on it so it’s not like I am sending you on a suicide mission.”

Music and Beyond is nothing if not ambitious.

You can see that in the central performance of this year’s event which will be a day long festival within a festival in the Museum of History.

“We have done these kinds of things at the National Gallery of Canada and the Diefenbunker. This will be by far our most ambitious. We see it as the event of the festival,” he said.

Tomson Highway will be performing at the Museum of History on July 12. Photo: Sean Howard

Every part of the museum will host performances from the Inuit gallery through to the European rooms. Each performance will connect with the room it is in. Details will be announced closer to the event, Armour said but he did note that the Cree playwright and pianist Tomson Highway will be performing in the Museum on July 12.

Armour says about 150 musicians, including ensembles and choirs, will be involved in the day long event. Even the museum’s architect Douglas Cardinal, a music lover, Armour says, will be on hand for a talk.

Of course, in a festival of some 100 concerts there are other highlights.

There are string quartets including the famous Borodin Quartet making a return. A rising new ensemble from Australia will be in town too, Armour noted. The Orava Quartet makes its debut in the capital. Also coming to town is the Bennewitz String Quartet.

Miloš Karadaglić will perform at Music and Beyond July 13 and 14.

The guitar has a definite place in this year’s festival as the stylish Macedonian Miloš Karadaglić returns to Ottawa for two recitals. He debuted a new concerto by Howard Shore at the NAC this past spring. He’s joined in the festival lineup by the Brazilian Guitar Quartet.

Well-known violin soloists Marc Djokic and Alexandre da Costa will also be performing during the two week run of Music and Beyond.

And there will be a lot of choral music on the festival’s agenda. The State Choir of Latvia will perform as will the Studio de musique ancienne de Montréal led by Andrew McAnerney, who also leads Cantata Singers and is music director at Christ Church Cathedral. A major choral event will take place in a performance of Vivaldi by the Ensemble Caprice choir and orchestra.

Canadian soprano Jane Archibald will make her Ottawa debut in a recital at First Baptist Church on Laurier Avenue West at Elgin Street. She will appear in a second concert later in the festival. And the well-known British tenor Charles Daniels will be in town appearing in a concert celebrating the music of Handel with Daniel Taylor’s Choir and Orchestra of the Theatre of Early Music and in a performance of English music from the 17th century.

Added to the mix is pianist Simone Dinnerstein, best known for her smash hit recording of the Goldberg Variations.

Noreen Young made this puppet for use in the opera Sleeping Rough. It will be at the GCTC on July 9 and 10.

Two more events will be worth thinking about: First the festival is bringing back Roddy Ellias‘s opera Sleeping Rough, with puppets created by Noreen Young. This time the show will be in a bigger hall at the GCTC.

And there will also be a merging of music and film on July 13. David Shentow was a  Holocaust survivor and his life story is at the heart of a film called Le Chemin des Juifs. The event will feature a performance of the film score by a quintet that includes violinist and film director, Daniel Bhattacharya. The film itself will be released on Amazon streaming platforms in July.

For information on all Music and Beyond performances, ticket packages and venue locations, 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.