New choir, new music, new junior ensemble part of ambitious 2018-19 Thirteen Strings season

Thirteen Strings gets ready for an ambitious 2018-19 season.

These is no doubt that Thirteen Strings is always ambitious in its programming.

That tradition continues with the 2018-19 season as organized by music director Kevin Mallon.

It begins on Oct. 12 with a concert featuring NACO oboist Anna Peterson and the concertmaster of Thirteen Strings Manuela Milani. But it continues right through to the final show next June.

“Thirteen Strings is a Baroque orchestra,” Mallon says, “but it is also making sure we have a good amount of Canadian contemporary music.” Mallon is also trying to feature “a lot of the important 20th century works. For example in that last concert there is some Schoenberg. It’s a highly romantic work, not a serial composition.”

You can certainly see this contemporary ambition in the opening concert as the orchestra plays Solace by the JUNO-winning Vancouver based composer Jocelyn Morlock. And it is there again in the Christmas concert when they will feature Quest by Alice Ho and finally in June they will play a major commission by the orchestra of a work by Barbara Croall that will feature a solo timpanist with strings.

In the same June concert, Thirteen Strings will feature a new work by the winner of the orchestra’s annual composition writing prize involving students from the uOttawa music program.

“In January we read four or five works by the best students and then a panel of composers will pick a winner who gets $1,300 and a performance. It’s a nice way for a young composer to get a start.”

And in another innovation, during the Good Friday concert, the ensemble will play the Seven Last Words by Haydn which lasts about 40 minutes. But instead of having the last words sung, Mallon will be asking Canadian and Ottawa-based poets in French and in English to write and read poems in between sections of the music. Expect an announcement on the lineup in coming days.

Then there is the appearance of a Baroque dancer in the first concert of the new year. That project will also involve some workshops at Canterbury High School.

But Mallon is also frying other important fish too.

“At the Christmas concert we will announce our own professional choir. Jamie Loback, of the Capital Chamber Choir, will act as the choral director and will put together the choir. We feel it is time have our own Thirteen Strings Chamber Choir.”

The new choir will debut and sing Bach’s Magnificat in what is the orchestra’s largest concert of the year.

“The choir is going to be a big deal for us. It will give us more flexibility. It’s not that we aren’t going to use other choirs but we do want to go our own way.

“We will be paying these people and there will be demands that I can make for a certain standard. You can’t sit back … you have to continue to be ambitious.”

In the concert called The Lark Ascending next spring, Thirteen Strings will unveil a new young performers chamber ensemble called Camerata.

Mallon said this group will be formed — by audition and invitation — by the best young musicians in the capital.

“We want Camerata to be top notch. It’s an important step for us. We will keep our junior orchestra too, but I don’t have any problem now in saying I want an exclusive group of 13 of the best string players. The NAC has a summer program for which they attract the best players and that’s what we are going to do here.”

The young musicians will typically be from age 16 to 20. But “if there is a really talented young performer at 14, I wouldn’t exclude them,” Mallon added.

In addition to the six concerts in 2018-19, Mallon says he expects that Thirteen Strings will record at least one CD and perhaps two for the Naxos label featuring music by Canadian composers Peter Togni and John Burge. The ensemble will also be active at the Music and Beyond Festival and in the annual Viennese Ball.

“Playing the Viennese style is important for string players. Many of my mentors were passionate about that music. It’s an important style to have under your fingers. That’s why I love doing it.” It’s also an example of Thirteen Strings working in the community.

The 2018-19 season
All concerts at Dominion-Chalmers United Church at 7:30 p.m. Tickets and information:

Oct. 12
Featured soloists: Anna Peterson oboe,
Manuela Milani, violin
Marcello: Oboe Concerto in D minor, S D935.
Morlock: Solace
Vivaldi: Concerto for four violins in D minor
 Serenade for Strings

Christmas Candlelight Concert
When: Dec. 4
Featuring Vincent Lauzer recorder
Introducing the Thirteen Strings Chamber Choir
Charpentier: Noels pour les instruments
Ho: Quest
Vivaldi Concerto for flute a bec
Bach: Magnifcat

The Lark Ascending
When: Feb. 26
Featuring violinist Marc Djokic
Elgar: Introduction and Allegro for strings introducing the Camerata ensemble of young players.
Williams: The Lark Ascending
Teleman: Overture-Suite Burlesque de Quixote

Les Foile de Versailles
March 22
Featuring Baroque dancer Marie-Nathalie Lacoursiere
Program: A program of dance music of 17th century France.

Seven Last Words of Our Saviour on the Cross by Franz Joseph Haydn
When: April 19 (Good Friday)
Featuring works on the theme by local and Canadian poets

Day and Night
When: June 3
Featuring timpanist Edward Reifel
New composition by Barbara Croall for timpani and strings
Mozart: Serenata Nocturne
Schoenberg: Verklarte Nacht

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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.