Music and wine — for the Ironwood Quartet, Classical Unbound Festival is right mix

The Ironwood Quartet is Carissa Klopoushak, David Marks, Julia MacLaine and Jessica Linnebach. Photo: Alice Nelley

Every wonder what members of NACO do in the summer?

Well, at least four of them are relocating to Prince Edward County for — let’s call it — a working vacation with benefits.

The four are Jessica Linnebach (violin), Carissa Klopoushak (violin), David Marks (viola) and Julia MacLaine (cello). Together they make up the Ironwood Quartet.

This summer the four will assume the mantle of artistic directors of the Classical Unbound Festival which mixes the grape and some tunes in the fabulous wineries of the county.

The festival was the creation of members of NACO who wanted to get out of town and go somewhere to enjoy a family setting and the opportunity to play music and listen to others perform.

This first summer under the Ironwood Quartet will take place July 26, 27 and 28. The quartet will perform all three concerts.

But why take it over?

“It just happened,” Linnebach said. The priorities of the original directors changed a little bit. As a group we thought we wanted to take it in a slightly different direction.”

Linnebach was one of the four original founders along with NACO’s principal flutist Joanna G’froerer, her husband Thor Eglington and Jessica’s partner and NACO concertmaster Yosuke Kawasaki.

“The hope for all us was that we had put so much work into already that it would continue,” Linnebach said. “We decided to find someone to take it over so that it didn’t go to waste.”

As well, she said, the audience was building despite the fact that a festival in the county is not necessarily an easy fit. Prince Edward County is about two and a half hours from Ottawa and two hours from Toronto.

So how to keep it going?

The members of Ironwood had played at the festival before and “we heard rumblings that they were looking for someone to take over. We all thought about it seriously before agreeing, but we were thinking that maybe we should,” Klopoushak said.

This year the quartet will play all three concerts.

“The idea is to introduce ourselves as the new artistic directors by playing in each of the venues,” Klopoushak said.

“That way we get to know the audiences and the venues and the community and have them get to know us.

“In the future we are looking forward to making invitations and having people join us.” In the meantime it made sense, she said, to say “we are taking this over and we have this in mind.”

Each concert offers a different repertoire. On July 26 at 7 p.m. at The Grange Winery Ironwood will play Debussy’s Quartet in G minor; Nicole Lizée‘s Isabella Blow at Somerset House and Beethoven’s Quartet in E minor, Op. 59/2.

The Saturday show at the Old Church Theatre will feature the talents of the ensemble and show their individual music paths.

“This concert will showcase who we are as musicians, what drives us. Julia has done a lot of arrangements for the concert. David is also a singer-songwriter and he will sing and play guitar, while we accompany him. Carissa will play some Ukrainian folk music and I  will play Bach (Chaconne),” Linnebach said.

The final concert on July 27 will be at Hillier Creek Estates Winery and will feature pieces by Mendelssohn, Puccini (the Chrysanthemi) and Beethoven.

The big question underlying all of this however is how do they fit this into busy schedules.

They have commitments to the NAC Orchestra along with personal projects as well. For example, Klopoushak has for 11 years run the Ritornello Festival in Saskatoon in April.

“It may seem like we are adding work to our already busy lives but actually it is a way for us to get away from it all and have some more artistic freedom and play the awesome quartet repertoire. It’s refreshing and keeps us motivated.

“We are also really great friends so it is lucky for us to be able to do this together,” Linnebach said.

Chamber music offers a chance to be less directed, she added.

“The creativity is really exciting for us. And the opportunity to be at the forefront of all the musical decisions and have interesting in depth discussions about how you want to approach a thing matters.”

Players don’t have that ability in an orchestra.

“It would be absolute chaos if 60 people had an opinion and expressed them,” Linnebach added.

Chamber music is about intimacy and connection, both say. They believe that’s what people are really craving when performing music and also sitting in an audience.

“I wish every audience member had the opportunity to do what we do every day, to feel what that feels like. It’s unbeatable I think. The orchestra thing is different that’s the stadium rock show. It’s bigger and louder. This is the other side,” Linnebach said.

Ironwood started about five years ago when NACO began the WolfGANG Sessions of new music that is held in the Mercury Lounge.

“We were kind of put together and it was awesome,” Linnebach said.

The group has since performed in many Sessions and in the Sunday afternoon concerts in the National Gallery.

“We are definitely NAC-attached,” Klopoushak said, “but we have also started to do more things outside the NAC.” Classical Unbound is one example. Earlier this summer they were in Nova Scotia and P.E.I. for concerts.

It helps that each member of the quartet has planned events in the past, so they are aware of potential pitfalls.

It helps that the wineries are on board.

“They are really excited about it. For them it’s nice to have new people coming through the winery. It’s something different they can offer,” Linnebach said.

The quartet’s name came during a meeting in a Montreal restaurant.

“We were thinking that we really needed a name. We were all motivated to find something that felt local and something that was rooted and organic. Ironwood is a kind of tree that grows around here and iron and wood are two components in our instruments,” Klopoushak said.

Three of the four members of Ironwood have young children, so a weekend festival in Prince Edward County is appealing because the children can be part of what they are doing.

“We want to bring the children and have them part of what we do. I don’t want to be away for three weeks away from kids at this time in my life,” Linnebach said.

Classical Unbound Festival with the Ironwood Quartet
Concert 1: The Shoulders of Giants
Where: The Grange Winery
When: July 26 at 7 p.m.

Concert 2: Ironwood Unbound
Where: The Old Church Theatre
When: July 27, 7:30 p.m.

Concert 3: Summer Nocturne
Where: Hillier Creek Estates Winery
When: July 28 at 7 p.m.

Tickets and information:

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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.