Chamber Chatter, 19 March 2019

PLEASE PUT DOWN the Chamber Chatter and pick up the renewal form, which your usher would’ve handed to you. I say this bluntly because any other introduction would’ve just been a roundabout way of enticing you to do just that. But now that you’ve feasted your eyes on the 2019/20 season, I’ll furnish the renewal form with a few more flourishes.

A chamber orchestra, one usually hopes, plays chamber music, and there’s little argument that the golden age of chamber music was the classical and baroque periods, when Bach and Mozart were writing. So, while I do not take it for granted when the MCO performs B’s+M’s divinely inspired works (never mind that miracles enjoy their status partially by virtue of how rarely they appear)—I am not surprised when they are programmed, as they both are consistently in our 2019/20 season. When they stick to major keys, Mozart and Bach are also almost always audience-pleasers, vessels of cheerfulness, and most orchestras need their fair share of that. So, Karina Gauvin and The Winnipeg Singers performing Bach cantatas in December? Gloria in excelsis!

But one of our working assumptions at the MCO is that our audiences are curious people, with a taste for the novel. So, I know that many MCO regulars will look forward to our more adventurous and historically eclectic concerts. Among them is our March show co-produced with the Cluster Festival, and which features local ‘chamber-folk’ musician and early-music specialist Raine Hamilton. I’ve only occasionally been among an audience so clearly charmed as the one present for Raine’s performance with Camerata Nova a couple of weeks ago. The musician told stories and jokes, played the fiddle and guitar, and sang over her distinctive melange of indie-folk and chamber music, with hints of the Medieval. The audience of seasoned classical concertgoers was gradually transformed from the sort who knowingly refrains from clapping between movements into a lively crowd, humming along to Raine’s ethereal melodies and rushing to the CD table at the end to buy her albums.

Another popular singer with a passion and finesse for music on the periphery of the classical music canon is Isabel Bayrakdarian, with whom the MCO collaborates at next season’s June concert. Isabel will be well known to MCO audiences not only for her many concerts performed over the years at Westminster, but also as the featured soloist on the MCO’s JUNO-nominated CD Troubadour and the Nightingale, a voyage into the world of traditional Armenian music. At her June concert, Isabel remains within the tradition of European music, singing underperformed arias by master-composers Gluck, Hasse, and Vivaldi—all from operas titled Il Tigrane. The title is a reference to Armenian King Tigran II. His reign, which saw Armenia emerge as the strongest state to Rome’s east, inspired a libretto by Francesco Silvani that was adapted separately by the three composers just mentioned. But it’s the King’s wife Cleopatra (no, not that Cleopatra) who is the focus of Isabel’s project. The singer tells us that while “historians omitted Cleopatra’s name and existence completely … she was instrumental in making him the greatest king in Armenian history.” Evidently she also inspired some tremendous arias, which Isabel promises to deliver with her usual lyricism and virtuosity.

Another concert that presents treasures from the outer-edges of the classical canon is our season-opening concert with violinists Timothy and Nikki Chooi. The toast of the music press and winners of scores of international prizes, the brothers are featured on a South American- centric program, with works by Villa- Lobos, the immensely popular contemporary composer Golijov, and Piazzolla, the “King of Tango.” The Chooi brothers perform the Piazzolla work along with Bach’s Double Violin Concerto, a requisite of any concert featuring two violin virtuosos. I think this concert fairly reflects the tone of much of our 2019/20 season’s repertoire: plenty to satisfy the purists and traditionalists, but with a generous helping of the new and the global.

Now, why don’t you get back to studying that renewal form?