Updated July 28, 2013

The 2013 Ottawa Chamberfest (from July 25 to August 8) will again feature Christine Duncan's Element Choir, seen here in their outdoor concert at the 2012 festival. ©Brett Delmage, 2012
The 2013 Ottawa Chamberfest (from July 25 to August 8) will again feature Christine Duncan's Element Choir, seen here in their outdoor concert at the 2012 festival. ©Brett Delmage, 2012

Chamberfest's Chamberfringe 2013 lineup will showcase Cuban and Brazilian jazz, improvised vocals, and Phil Dwyer and Don Thompson in its crossover concerts this year.

The festival's prime-time concerts will continue to focus on the classical, chamber, and early music which it is best known for. But late at night and during the day, Chamberfest will feature a wider range, including artists with links to jazz and improvised music.

At its launch on March 20, Ottawa Chamber Music Festival artistic director Roman Borys said that “it's the total experience that I care so much about. The world is really full these days of great, great chamber groups and great artists that can communicate wonderfully, but to put them all together in an interesting way, such that in any given three-day period a visitor from out of town can get a taste of instrumental music, the contemporary music, the core classical, the Chamberfringe: that's the Chamberfest experience. That's the thing that I see everybody smiling about at the end of those two weeks.”

Chamberfest has been taking this approach for the past few years. In fact, several of the jazz artists also appeared at the 2012 festival, although often in different groups. Toronto pianist Hilario Durán, for example, played in a Cuban-chamber music concert last year. This year he will be performing with the Luis Mario Ochoa Cuban Quintet.

Most of these concerts will again be part of the late-night Chamberfringe series. That series may be more accessible to more listeners this year, because many shows have been moved one hour earlier, to 9:30 from 10:30 p.m. They will again be held at St. Brigid's Centre for the Arts in Lowertown.

Dwyer & Thompson: 30 years of collaboration, and a new album

Jazz Juno-winner Phil Dwyer, who appeared in Mark Fewer's 40th birthday concert at Chamberfest in 2012, this year will perform with Toronto multi-instrumentalist Don Thompson. Both Dwyer and Thompson are multi-instrumentalists: Dwyer on sax and piano, Thompson on bass, piano, and vibraphone – and they've played together in various Canadian jazz groups for 30 years.

On his website, Dwyer describes Thompson as “my biggest single influence in music, and even though our approach to many things can be quite different there is a certain sympatico between us that is a very special and magical aspect of my musical, and personal, life.”

The two will release a new CD in May called Look For The Silver Lining. The album is dedicated to two good friends whom they lost recently: saxophonist Ross Taggart and abstract painter Ted Godwin.

Their late-night collaboration on July 30 will feature “timeless standards and original creations … with strings attached.” That might be a reference to Dwyer's 2011 album, Changing Seasons, which featured Fewer on violin.

The Element Choir will reform

Chamberfest's 2013 theme is “Viva Voce”, putting an emphasis on vocal music. Well-known to local jazz fans, Toronto vocalist Christine Duncan will create a new edition of her popular, improvising Element Choir for this festival. This choir, which also appeared at the 2012 Chamberfest, doesn't sing songs or compositions as such. Rather, it explores textural and timbral sound qualities, soundscapes, rhythmic patterns, sound poetry, group and individual composition ideas, musical genre interplay, and extended voice techniques.

Ottawa residents can experience this choir in two ways: either as a listener at its noon-hour concert on August 2 – or as a member of the choir. That's because Duncan reconstitutes the choir in each city it performs, recruiting local volunteers, who train under her direction for several sessions (learning her system of conducting signals) before they perform.

Latin music, Gypsy Jazz, and more

Borys said this year's Chamberfringe concerts have “a pronounced Latin undercurrent”, with two Brazilian and one Cuban group. Jazz fans may want to check out:

  • July 26: The Montreal Guitar Trio (MG3). MG3 plays jazz and world music: “fully-engaged ensemble playing that skirts the four corners of the musical world.”
  • July 27: The Luis Mario Ochoa Cuban Quintet, with Ochoa on guitar and vocals, Hilario Durán on piano, and Paco Luviano on bass, plus a percussion section. Their music will range “from rumba to samba, bolero to waltz, son to cha”.
  • July 27, 10:30 p.m.: Van Django. Rooted in Gypsy jazz and inspired by the 1930s Hot Club de Paris, this group includes violin, cello, guitar, and bass. They mash together Mozart, Duke Ellington, The Beatles, and Deep Purple with their own originals.
  • August 2, 10:30 p.m.: Alan Hetherington and Choro Brazilian. Hetherington is a Canadian drummer/percussionist who has traveled and studied many musical traditions in South America and the Caribbean, and specializes in the many musical styles of Brazil. He founded and directs the Escola de Samba de Toronto. For the past 15 years he has spent winters in Brazil performing with groups there, including many of Brazil’s foremost Escola ensembles.
  • August 3, 10:30 p.m.: Jayme Stone's Room of Wonders. Banjo player Stone started out playing in jazz groups; his solo output has substantial world and folk dance influences, but his last CD also featured notable Toronto jazz musicians like Nick Fraser, Kevin Turcotte, and William Carn. Borys said he included Stone “just because I felt like it”.
  • August 7: Florquestra Brasil. This Ottawa group serves up a sultry selection of sambas, bossa novas, and Brazilian harmony, along with touches of Georges Brassens and Leonard Cohen. They recently released their first CD, Flortografia.

Several of these groups will also give free afternoon concerts at the National Gallery of Canada:

  • July 27, 1 p.m.: The Montreal Guitar Trio
  • July 27, 3 p.m.: The Luis Mario Ochoa Cuban Quintet
  • July 28, 1 p.m.: Van Django

Prime-time concerts at Dominion Chalmers United Church will also include a few jazz or improv events. On August 2, Quartango will appear with Haitian-born soprano Marie-Josée Lord for what Borys described as a “mash-up of grand opera and tango.” This Quebec group plays Astor Piazzolla’s tango nuevo, with hints of the classics, jazz and Celtic music.

On August 7, you can hear Venezuelan pianist Gabriela Montero demonstrate improvisation in the classical repertoire. Although improvisation is usually associated with jazz, in fact there was a long tradition of classical impromptu invention. The Venezuelan pianist has brought this back, improvising at her concerts on classical themes – and even on requests from listeners. She has released several albums of improvised music, one based on themes from Baroque composers, and another on music from Latin America.

On August 6, clarinetist Lori Freedman, who plays equally well in free jazz or chamber ensembles, will perform a one-hour free “snapshot” performance. Freedman was the featured artist at this year's IMOOFest, and thoroughly impressed the audiences with the range of her improvisations.

Seriously avant-garde, or theatrical

Several non-jazz Chamberfringe concerts might still interest jazz/improvised music fans:

  • July 28: Music for Harp, Cello, and Electricity: experimental music written and co-performed by NYC composer and celesta-player Nico Muhly. who has worked with both Björk and Philip Glass.
  • July 31: The Judgment of Paris: a dramatic retelling of the Greek myth with classical piano accompaniment, and featuring actors Brent and Bryce Carver and cabaret singer Patricia O'Callaghan.
  • August 5: The avant-garde JACK Quartet will play a microtonal string quartet by Georg Friedrich Haas, which must be performed in complete darkness, stimulating the aural imagination while removing the audience's visual relationship to the performers. New Yorker music critic Alex Ross gave the JACK Quartet's performance of this composition a glowing review, which Borys mentioned at the launch.

Other concerts, including more in the Chamberfringe series, are expected to be announced.

Chamberfest is now selling early-bird passports. A Chamberfringe passport, which will allow admission to daytime and Chamberfringe events, will be available for $99 as of June 1 (the price rises to $104 during the festival). Single tickets are not yet available: last year, Chamberfringe concert tickets were $25 and up.

    – Alayne McGregor

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