Come Together: The Blueridge Chamber Music Festival celebrates 10 years of music-making on the North Shore. The Mainstage series runs from Aug. 8 to 18 at Presentation House with two free satellite events at Mountain View Cemetery on Aug. 4, and at the Polygon Gallery on Aug. 25.
At first glance, the Blueridge Chamber Music Festival can seem like a very pedigreed affair.
Multi-lingual musical masters, ground-breaking artists, international prize winners, Harvard fellows and doctors of music abound.
For the musically uninitiated, it can all seem rather… highfalutin.
“No, not at all,” assures Dory Hayley, soprano and artistic co-director of the festival. “We’re definitely not snooty.”
Now in its 10th year, the Blueridge Chamber Music Festival remains true to its roots with its come-one-come-all invitational tone.
After all, as Hayley explains, chamber music – which originated in the 18th and 19th centuries – has always been a way to be social and was created to be performed by a small number of musicians, traditionally a group that could fit into a large room, often in people’s homes.
Deemed “the music of friends” in the early 1900s, that’s in fact how the festival began on the North Shore.
Hayley and Colombian-Canadian pianist Alejandro Ochoa, also a festival co-director, had both arrived in Vancouver from Montreal in 2009 and decided to “host a little event to get some friends together,” says Hayley, a North Vancouver native.
Growing from those humble beginnings, this year’s festival (Aug. 4–25) will draw hundreds of audience members to four different venues to enjoy 38 artists and 10 concerts.
Based on the theme “Come Together,” the 2019 program revolves around several of the most iconic works of chamber music ever written, including Brahms’ Piano Quartet No. 2; Elgar’s Piano Quintet; Beethoven’s String Quartet Op. 59 No. 1 “Razumovsky”; and Mendelssohn’s Octet for Strings.
Hayley says these pieces will be presented in dialogue with newer and rarer works, such as 2019 JUNO award winner Ana Sokolovic’s Commedia dell’Arte, Shulamit Ran’s Lyre of Orpheus and Bruno Maiuri’s interactive La Fiesta, allowing audiences to approach both the beloved and the less familiar with a fresh ear.
The festival kicks off Aug. 4 with an “uncomfortable” presentation of Arnold Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire at Mountain View Cemetery in East Vancouver – uncomfortable because the work features “music that’s hard to listen to,” Hayley says.
How does that fit in with the idea of friendly melodies?
“Our philosophy is that we want people to feel empowered to form their own opinions about the music that we perform, whether those opinions are positive or negative,” Hayley explains.
“One of the really sad things in the world of classical music is that people feel these are monoliths and that they have to like them. And if they don’t like them, it’s because there’s something wrong with them, or because they don’t have enough education, or because these pieces are part of the elite.
“Actually, I think if you approach classical music with an exploratory outlook, with the feeling that you’re allowed to like some pieces and you’re allowed to not like some pieces, then it’s a much more interesting experience. Then you can start to ask yourself, ‘Why do I like this piece by Brahms, but I don’t like this piece by Mozart?’
“That’s why we try to perform not only pieces from the classical canon, but we also try to put in pieces that are written today or written in recent times so that people have a little bit more of a connection and they really do feel a sense of ownership of the music, that they’re allowed to have their own experience with the music.”
The festival launch event is free and features choreography by Métis/Anishinaabe/French-Canadian/Welsh dance artist Olivia C. Davies.
Another unique performance (also free of charge) explores the passage of time and takes place Aug. 25 at the Polygon Gallery with emerging Tahltan/Tlingit soprano/composer/performer Edzi’u.
Time Out at the Polygon blends Edzi’u’s "Kime Ani" – an electronic body of work that weaves soundscapes and recordings of storytelling by three generations of her family’s grandmothers – with one of the most monumental chamber works of the 20th century, Morton Feldman’s For Philip Guston. It’s all set against the backdrop of Christian Marclay’s 24-hour video installation at the gallery, The Clock.
You’ll want to set aside some time for this one. The event clocks in at more than four hours.
“I think being in the moment and listening to this piece for such a long time … it’s going to be a really meaningful and special meditative experience,” Hayley says, adding people are welcome to listen in a way that makes them feel comfortable—and that includes laying on yoga mats (please bring your own).
Hayley is excited to present Composer-in-Residence Dr. Camilo Mendez, a Hong Kong-based Colombian writer of “cosmic algorithms” who performs with the Bozzini Quartet Aug. 8 (Orpheum Annex), and the Erato Ensemble Aug. 15 (Presentation House) and Aug. 16 (Orpheum).
“He is really interested in ‘preparing’ instruments,” says Hayley.
In layman’s terms, that means he “does stuff to them to make them sound different,” she says.
Mendez composed a new piece for the festival this year and it involves playing music inside a piano with various items — a piece of cardboard, a tiny fan, a mallet, a flute that’s been taken apart and put back together with tinfoil. Hayley will sing though a loudspeaker attached to a drum, so the voice is “weird,” she says with a chuckle.
“Again, this is a process for us, as performers, of having a completely different way of learning the music and performing the music than usual, so we think the audience can connect to that as well because they see us experimenting,” Hayley says.
The final concert of the festival (on Aug. 17 in North Vancouver and Aug. 18 in Vancouver) is a chamber music party – and you get to pick the music. Vote for your favourite works from a list of 10 classics, and Redshift and friends (including Hayley and Ochoa) will perform the most popular choices. There will also be the chance to discover your inner performer with an audience-participatory piece by Venezuelan composer Bruno Maiuri.
The Blueridge Chamber Music Festival runs Aug. 4–25, with the concert series taking place Aug. 8–18. Single tickets are $30 (regular) and $15 (student/artist). Festival Passes are $90 (regular) and $45 (student/artist). Tickets available at brownpapertickets.com.
For a full schedule of performances and artist bios, go to blueridgechamber.org.