Blueridge Chamber Music Festival offers something old and something new

The Blueridge Festival North Shore Series runs until Aug. 19 at Mount Seymour United Church, 1200 Parkgate Ave., North Vancouver. Concerts begin at 7 p.m. Tickets: $25/$15 (single); $75/$45 (festival passes) available online at blueridgechamber.org.

The more Dory Hayley listened to the classical music pieces – the angrier she became.

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Brahms and Beethoven had always been on the brain for Hayley, co-director of the Blueridge Chamber Music Festival. But this summer Hayley and fellow co-director Alejandro Ochoa are having a late-Romantic love affair with Croatian composer Dora Pejačević.

“I actually got really angry when I heard this music,” says Hayley. “It’s stunning: lush, exciting, tuneful, and quite original. So why is Pejačević not even a footnote in music history textbooks?”

Although she died relatively young, at age 37 of complications from childbirth, Pejačević produced an impressive catalogue of symphonic, chamber, and vocal music that will beguile Blueridge festival audiences.

"It's very interesting music with a big romantic flavour, yet cryptic at times; devilishly difficult,” says Ochoa, who will perform Pejačević’s works with the Borealis String Quartet.

If chamber music is about relationship, there’s no relationship more powerful than the string quartet, which is often compared to a “four-way marriage,” explains Hayley. Headlining the Blueridge Festival this year is the nationally renowned Borealis String Quartet, whose members teach music with Ochoa at Kwantlen Polytechnic University.

“Just hearing one of their recordings is enough to understand why they are in a league of their own: expressive, powerful, intimate, virtuosic,” effuses Ochoa.

A conscious decision was made for the ninth season of the festival to feature more female composers. Hayley and Ochoa sat down and listened to literally hundreds of chamber music pieces written by women from the 1800s onward.

“We've always been enthusiastic and pretty indefatigable about looking for under-appreciated pieces to surprise people with at Blueridge,” explains Hayley. “But for some reason – our own prejudice, I guess – women composers have not been a big part of that exploration.”

The festival is ushering in a new era – one that will give a voice to more female composers. In addition to putting the spotlight on Pejačević, this year’s program also includes music by late German composer Clara Schumann and local “composing giant” Jocelyn Morlock.

All Blueridge artists experience déjà vu during the festival’s run. They play their first concert at the Orpheum Annex and then create a classical carbon copy the following evening at Mount Seymour United Church in the Parkgate area.

The festival’s home venue has a familiar comfort for Hayley who would give piano lessons at Mount Seymour United Church as a child. Both she and Ochoa are in awe of the church’s acoustics, not to mention the majestic forested setting.

Blueridge is branching out this summer with a new position: the Poet in Residence. Appointed to the inaugural post is Vancouver-based Métis/Icelandic writer Carleigh Baker who earned acclaim for her debut story collection, Bad Endings.

For Blueridge audiences, Baker will read a set of new poems with themes such as renoviction and mansplaining that offer modern-day interpretations of Austrian composer Hugo Wolf's Italian Songbook.

Baker’s poems will accompany a rare complete performance of the Songbook, which Wolf called “the most original and artistically perfect of all my works.” Renowned Germany-based tenor Colin Balzer, Hayley and New York pianist Manuel Laufer will bring the songs to life. Translations of the original poems will be projected above the stage.

“The Italian Songbook ages unusually well,” says Hayley. “Every song is a surprisingly modern little gem about breakups, makeups, or community life. But we wanted to make it a little more resonant to this specific place and this specific moment. That’s where Carleigh comes in. We wanted her to take away that veil of time and place, and make people feel like they’re the first listeners to this piece – like the songs were written especially for them.”   

Classic musical purists need not cringe because the festival will still include perennial favourites like Brahms Trios and a Dvořák quartet.

“Blueridge will never stop programming Brahms!” says Hayley, with a laugh. “Our goal is to present audiences with the most gorgeous and moving and interesting classical music, and not to be limited to just what’s written by dead white guys. But let’s face it, those dead white guys wrote some pretty exquisite music!”

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