Thirteen Strings: Violinist Marc Djokic on the ascendant with a new album and more

Marc Djokic. Photo: Shane Gray.

If the violinist Marc Djokic’s partner the visual artist Avery Zhao has a favourite song it might just be The Lark Ascending by Ralph Vaughan Williams.

“When I first met my wife, she had good knowledge of classical but when I introduced it to her, that became her favourite piece.

She regularly urges him to play it.

In fact it means a lot to Djokic to be able to play the piece that have become a bit of a date song for the couple in concert with Thirteen Strings on Tuesday evening especially since Zhao is an Ottawa native.

The Lark Ascending is in essence a tone poem and was written by Ralph Vaughan Williams during the First World War. It was inspired by a poem written by George Meredith about the song of the skylark. Vaughan Williams’ work has been voted Britain’s most favourite piece of classical music.

Djokic and Zhao would certainly agree.

“It is a very lyrical work and very deep in feeling,” he said. “Any listener could give it their own sentimental meaning. It is very reflective and flowing.  flowing.”

Djokic said he likes music with a lot of colour and emotion.

“It is music that I can envision myself playing.”

On his recently released first CD, a lot of the music he is playing is fast-paced and virtuosic. Lark Ascending is something different.

“It is a chance for me to show that I can make long lyrical lines and that’s something I will definitely enjoy playing for the Ottawa audience” in his first solo concert with Kevin Mallon, the chamber orchestra’s music director.

“He’s a great conductor. It goes a long way when you are playing such a work with good conductor.”

In addition to the performance by Djokic, the concert will also feature a new young performers chamber ensemble called Camerata.

Djokic’s first CD is called Solo Seven and it is on the ATMA classique label. It features seven works by contemporary Canadian composers Richard Mascall, Christos Hatzis, Matthias Maute, Kevin Lau, Ana Sokolovic and Vincent Ho. It was released in September.

The label was keen for Djokic to record a solo violin disc.

“And I thought for a debut CD that might be interesting.” It seems to have worked out well.

“A lot of the composers are my friends. The pieces aren’t commissions, but some of pieces were recorded for the first time on a major label.”

There is some risk in recording a solo violin album, Djokic said.

“A solo violin piece, without any collaboration with another instrument sometimes has trouble getting off the ground and going somewhere. But, I believe, these pieces have the energy to keep the interest in the listener.”

Maybe the energy in the recording was encouraged by the place where it was recorded.

“It was me and the recording engineer in this freezing cold church. They had to turn the heating system off because it made a noise. We were in there freezing for three days in late winter.” But his fingers survived and a solid debut disc is now on sale.

The record was a big step for Djokic whose career has been expanding in recent years.

He won the lucrative Prix Goyer in 2017-18 and was recently named concertmaster of the McGill Chamber Orchestra.

He is a Halifax native and comes from a very musical family. His father is Philippe Djokic, who is a leading violinist and a professor at Dalhousie. His mother, Lynn Stodola, is a concert pianist and Dalhousie professor as well. And his sister Denise is a well-known cellist.

Marc Djokic is also an artist in residence at the CAMMAC music centre in the Laurentians north east of Ottawa.

Teaching also seems to run in the family.

“I love teaching,” he said. “I have a few students in Montreal and I’ve given master classes at a few universities.

At CAMMAC, he’ll be teaching and performing. One of the pieces he’ll play this summer will be an interesting work by the Vancouver composer Jocelyn Morlock.

He likes the vibe.

“It’s a nice place to be in the summer. Anyone can come and learn music. That’s kind of influenced the idea for the Morlock piece because it includes a kids choir, a small instrumental ensemble and an adult choir. It does fit within spirit of CAMMAC by getting lots of folks involved.”

He has begun to travel to and perform in Europe having worked in Switzerland and in Italy recently with more coming up this summer. And you’ll often find him in one of his many collaborations the guitar violin Trio Tangere; his work with percussionist Beverley Johnston; piano duo with Julian Leblanc; Air, Strings and Keys with theramin player Thorwald Jorgenson and Valerie Dueck on piano and the multi-disciplinary Art Crush.

And he performs with his sister Denise, although less so than when they were younger.

“We are playing together for the first time in a long time at Scotiafest this summer,” he said. They did perform a lot of duet concerts earlier in their careers including playing the Brahms Double with Symphony Nova Scotia.

And there is, he said, a video of the two of them on the Noncerto channel playing inside the Confederation Bridge between New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island.

“It sounded amazing except for the sound of the cars. Turns out the bridge is hollow underneath the road surface to allow for cables to pass from the mainland to the island. The played in that hollow space.

It’s fair to say that Djokic is familiar to the Ottawa audience. He’s been coming here to play since he was a boy.

“As a kid I would come up here with my parents when they were playing chamber music in Ottawa in the summers. I was studying violin at the time and I go the opportunity to perform with my parents and sister here.

“From there I got to know people and started to play more and more here.” He’s often at Music and Beyond. And Avery Zhao is from Ottawa.

He said he loves playing before the Ottawa audience, which he says is very knowledgable and open to all forms of classical music.

Thirteen Strings presents The Lark Ascending
With Marc Djokic
Where: Dominion-Chalmers United Church
When: Feb. 26 at 7:30 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.