Ottawa violist returns home on National Youth Orchestra’s Frenergy tour

Carolyn Farnand.

These days Ottawa native Carolyn Farnand lives in Hell’s Kitchen in New York City while she studies for her Master’s degree at The Juilliard School

It’s a bit of a trip to get home and she’s grateful for every opportunity. So that’s why she’s looking forward to joining the National Youth Orchestra of Canada on its Frenergy Tour with the European Union Youth Orchestra. The NYO and the EUYO will take the Southam Hall stage on Nov. 17.

Farnand has experience on big stages. She’s performed as featured soloist with Les Violons du Roy and the Domaine Forget Chamber Orchestra. She’s also performed  with the Canadian Opera Company, Hamilton Philharmonic, Niagara Symphony, the Schleswig-Holstein Festival Orchestra and the Royal Conservatory Orchestra and National Youth Orchestra of Canada. This past spring she was invited to the Royal Academy of Music in London to record and perform with Trevor Pinnock

Farnand is no stranger to the NYO. She was part of the program for three years starting in 2014. In each of those years she played a concert in Ottawa.

Her passion for music was crystallized at Canterbury High School where she started by playing the violin.

“It’s the best music school in Ottawa. I credit a lot of my love for music and my musical skills to Canterbury.”

These days, though, she plays the viola. She picked up the instrument when she was 17. It was love at first note. But the reason for her start on the viola was a bit unusual.

“I was auditioning for the Ottawa Youth Orchestra with John Gomez. This was the year they were going to Italy. I walked into my audition and he said ‘You shouldn’t be playing violin, your arms are too long’.”

Gomez urged her to pick up the viola and so did her teacher at Canterbury.

“It all happened quite quickly, but I have never looked back,” she said. “It feels so right.” She says, however, that her arms are actually a normal length. Still “I’m grateful for the change” because, she admits, she wasn’t all that passionate about the violin.

“I loved playing violin. I loved performing with it but I hated practicing. I hated learning the notes.”

Not so the viola: “There was this one concert in Italy with the Ottawa Youth Orchestra. I can’t remember what we were playing but I remember being in the middle of it and feeling this was amazing. I felt I would love to do this for the rest of my life. I never had that feeling with the violin.”

Farnand is returning to the NYO after a break of a few years as the orchestra’s principal viola.

She treasures her earlier memories. In the NYO program, she felt that everyone who attended were very serious and wanted to play music.

After a summer with NYO, she said, “it is really difficult to go back to the reality of school.”

The youth orchestra isn’t for kids. It’s virtually a professional experience for some of the best young classical musicians in Canada.

“When you are there you are surrounded by the love and passion and determination of people of pretty much same age. It’s a summer of being inspired. Everyone just wants to make great music and have a fun time and experience it all.

“There is always new repertoire, new experiences. They started bringing in things like house concerts. And in my last year we started to play at retirement homes. Everything you could want or need is there for your summer.”

This year she is just on board for the tour. She was invited back.

“I feel really grateful. I always try to work really hard when I’m making music because it’s people’s time and people’s art.

“So going back and doing one week will be exciting.” She’s even met her stand partner online. He’s from Berlin, Germany.

It isn’t easy taking 10 days off in the middle of term but she’ll be keeping up with her teacher Toby Appel at Juilliard by Skype. 

The Frenergy Tour
Featuring: National Youth Orchestra of Canada & European Union Youth Orchestra
Where: Southam Hall, NAC
When: Nov. 17 at 3 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.