Music and Beyond’s final lineup takes an operatic turn

Wallis Giunta's Dido was charismatic and intense. Photo: Gerard Collett

Julian Armour is always juggling concerts. He programs literally dozens and dozens each year in his summer festival Music and Beyond.

His goal is to control the chaos onto a one page grid where the entire two weeks appears and can be visualized immediately. Every year the page fills up over a period of a few months as concerts get added.

“I really agonize over each show. I know them intimately I know who is doing what and where we are at with it. When I really see something coming together, having this great contact with someone who are really doing it as well as can be done, that is really cool,” he said in a recent interview.

The grid is pretty much full now with about 75 events and there have been some interesting additions since last we wrote about his booking of people such as the legendary British choral composer and conductor John Rutter, the Borodin Quartet, Les Violins du Roy, Gregory Charles and the Vancouver Chamber Choir for the festival that begins with a gala performance on July 4.

There will be the premiere of a brand new opera composed by the well-known Ottawa musician Roddy Ellias with a libretto by his partner in life and music Sandra Nicholls. The show, which runs for three nights (July 10,11 and 12) in the Arts Court Theatre, features a small who’s who of Ottawa talent including singer songwriter Ian Tamblyn, singers Helene Brunet, Felicity Williams and Kellylee Evans, along with instrumentalists Petr Cancura and Raphael Weinroth-Browne. There are also puppets created by the legendary Almonte based puppet master Noreen Young. The opera focusses on the story of a homeless man who leaves his family behind and is reunited, only to lose them again.

Roddy Ellias has written a modern day opera with puppets.

“Roddy and I have an annual conversation. I’m always in his court,” Armour said. “We talked about this opera and we had a plan to write two songs and perform them last year. He put it together and had material so that he could take and get support from various arts councils including the Canada Council.”

Once that funding was in place, “it was enough for me to say let’s go ahead with it.”

The festival’s opening gala will feature a performance of the Baroque opera Dido and Aeneas by Henry Purcell featuring a raft of well-known Ottawa and Canadian performers, including Wallis Giunta as Dido. The JUNO winning Daniel Taylor, another Ottawa singer and choral conductor, in addition to other duties, sings the role of the Sorceress.

“This is an A-team of players and singers. I thought it would be so great to make a statement with all these great Canadian performers,” Armour said.

The gala is a double bill with a sharp contrast between both halves. The second part of the evening will also feature the return of the Kruger Brothers Trio to Music and Beyond. They will perform their Appalachian Concerto. Armour says he decided to take the gala in a totally different direction in the second half of the gala with the Krugers, who are a leading exponents of sophisticated Appalachian music. It should make for quite the contrast.

Also added to the lineup in recent weeks is the Grammy-winning tango master Pablo Ziegler who will play the piano and conduct Ottawa’s Thirteen Strings Orchestra.

Pablo Ziegler

Ziegler was at the right hand of the legendary Argentinian composer Astor Piazzolla, Armour says. he continues to be an “incredible exponent of the music,” Armour said. Ziegler was quite young when he played with Piazzolla and his career has continued to thrive. In fact he won the Grammy after Armour had booked him for this year’s event. “I wasn’t unhappy when he won.”

If you missed him in the final Thirteen Strings concert of its 2017-18 season, you can catch violinist Alexandre Da Costa performing with cellist Dennis Brott in a concert of Bach solo works, including the Cello Suite No. 3 and the Chaconne for Violin, Kodaly’s double and Händel-Halvorsen’s Passacaglia.

Ottawa’s mezzo-soprano Julie Nesrallah and harpist Caroline Léonardelli will launch a new CD called Un Sospiro, on July 7 and 8.

Shannon Mercer

As you can see there are plenty of performers of and from Ottawa front and centre in this festival, as is usually the case. Other with local ties include the soprano Shannon Mercer, who will sing in a performance of Handel’s final oratorio The Triumph of Time and Truth on July 8. The violinist Yolanda Bruno will be on hand for her own performance on July 9. And don’t forget the previously announced return of violinist Kerson Leong on July 12.

“We always try to celebrate Ottawa people. If you look back at my 20 plus years of putting on concerts here I’m always trying to have people from Ottawa who are doing well appear at our festival. That is something that does stand out with what we do. I just think we should be celebrating what’s great in the arts in this city,” Armour said.

Armour is particularly bullish on a July 17 show featuring the voices of the Gesualdo Six directed by Owain Park in St. Matthew’s Anglican Church. The British ensemble has recently released a debut recording on Hyperion Records of English renaissance songs titled English Motets. 

“They are going to be so huge,” he said.

The festival will end July 18 with a tribute to R. Murray Schaefer and a separate performance by the 12 male voices of Chanticleer.

There are so many other concerts to consider. For a rundown of the full festival lineup please see musicandbeyond.com.

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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.