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La Scena Musicale - Vol. 17, No. 3 November 2011

Independent in Ottawa

by Natasha Gauthier / November 1, 2011

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It’s not easy being a musician in Ottawa. Like Washington, D.C, our nation’s capital abounds in large, well-funded, symbolic institutions of national pride, but struggles to cultivate the smaller, more diverse, homegrown groups that make cities like Montreal or Vancouver so culturally vibrant.

The National Arts Centre dance season, for example, imports the best international companies and productions in the world—yet Ottawa has no professional dance company with a regular season, be it ballet, modern or contemporary. The presence of showcase federal museums like the National Gallery and Museum of Civilization make it difficult for smaller galleries to get noticed. Opportunities for musicians who don’t play with the National Arts Centre Orchestra can be limited, especially if they want to perform in a genre—such as early or contemporary music —that isn’t mainstream orchestral or chamber music.

Andrew Burn is trying to change that. The 22-year-old Ottawa bassoonist has founded a new historically-informed group that he hopes will inspire other local musicians to carve out their own space.

“I think Ottawa can potentially have just as much musical talent as bigger cities like Montreal or Toronto,” says Burn, who is in the final year of a B. Mus at Carleton University, specializing in both modern and baroque bassoon. “The difference here is that there’s a lack of artists who are entrepreneurs. Especially the younger musicians. Outside the NACO, the only musicians who are successful are 45 and older. The younger ones don’t see a way to break in, so they leave and they don’t come back.”

Burn could have joined the exile, trying to win an orchestra audition in North America or Europe. Instead he’s launched Ensemble OVO, which stands for “Our Very Own.” The group’s core is made up of Burn, harpsichordist Marie Bouchard and soprano Anne-Sophie Neher. Burn will augment the trio with additional musicians as programming requires.

“Ottawa has the Ottawa Baroque Consort, but it’s not regular work, and they have scheduling issues,” Burn notes. “Meaning that they’ll work around the schedules of other groups in Montreal or Quebec City or Toronto that their members play in. With OVO, I wanted a group that people would eventually schedule around us.”

An ambitious goal, perhaps, for a group that has yet to give its first official concert. But Burn is nothing if not optimistic.

“If you want young musicians to stay, the only solution is to show that there’s variety and movement in the music scene. People told me a market like Ottawa, where the audience is more traditional, couldn’t support two period instrument groups. But I think it’s good to have competition.”

Ensemble OVO gave their first concert on October 21, with a program of French Baroque rarities. Burn says he will present present two more concerts this season, although he wasn’t able to share details yet. His goal is to build a resumé that will allow the group to qualify for provincial and federal arts council funding (in general, applicants must have been active for at least three conscutive years, with a minimum of three concerts a season).


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