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La Scena Musicale - Vol. 7, No. 6

Ottawa's Music Scene - Classical music is alive and well in the Ottawa region.

March 1, 2002

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The Other Orchestra

Even though the Ottawa Symphony Orchestra's history can be traced back to l894, it was only in 1965, under the leadership of Maurice Haycock, that local musicians decided to form this ensemble. Their first obstacle was an almost total lack of funds†- there was not even enough money for the maestro's podium back then! Now under the musical direction of David Currie, the OSO has become the National Capital Region's largest orchestra. It boasts 100 musicians, all local, and specializes in music from the large symphonic repertoire.

Over the past several years, audience numbers for each season's five concerts have increased steadily. The current season will come to a grand close on May 7 in the National Arts Centre, with the performance of Marjan Mozetich's Concerto for Two Harps and Berlioz's Symphonie fantastique. Lucie Renaud

Chamber Music

"The Harris government has been barbaric to arts groups in Ontario," says Julian Armour, founding director of the Ottawa International Chamber Music Festival. "Government cutbacks in the early 1990s has he made it difficult for groups to present concerts." It is a small miracle, then, that since 1994 Ottawa has been a world chamber music capital. This is thanks to Armour's summer festival, which in 2002 will take place July 26 to August 10 with over 100 concerts. "There was a void of chamber music being presented at the time. The public response has been tremendous," says Armour.

Two years ago the Ottawa Chamber Music Society decided to build on its success and launch a chamber music concert series of nine concerts during the regular year. It recently presented violinist Gil Shaham to a sold-out audience. "The Ottawa public has a high level of education and are ideal consumers of classical music. One of our goals is to develop new audiences." Not one to rest on his success, Armour launched his first Winter Festival in January 2002 with the Association of Canadian Women Composers and will launch a new CD label, called CMS Classics, in March 2002. The goal of CMS Classics is to capture some of the best performances from the Chamber Music Festival. The OCMS's fifth activity is the Family Music Fair, now in its fifth year, a day-long event of 120 mini-concerts and workshops of all kinds of music that will next take place on June 9 in association with the Department of Music, University of Ottawa. Last year 3,000 kids and adults paid the $5 entry fee. www.chamberfest.com

Armour is also principal cello for Thirteen Strings, a chamber string orchestra originally composed of players from the National Arts Centre Orchestra and founded by Brian Law. The 26-year-old ensemble is now directed by Jean-Francois Rivest, who programs a mixture of baroque, romantic and modern repertoire at almost every one of its series of six concerts. One concert each year includes the Junior Thirteen Strings as a mentoring program. The remaining concerts this season include Jean-FranÁ ois Rivest's instrumentation of J.S. Bach's The Art of the Fugue (March 1) and "The Power of Dance" (April 12). www.thirteenstrings.ca

Choral Town

The number of good voices coming out of the Ottawa region has been increasing in the last few years thanks largely to Ottawa's choral tradition. A large number of church choirs has been responsible for producing the likes of Daniel Taylor and Gerald Finley, both alumni of the St. Michael's Choir. "There is a vibrant choral scene," said Laurence Ewashko, conductor of the Cantata Singers of Ottawa, Opera Lyra Chorus and three choirs at the University of Ottawa. "Most Protestant and Anglican churches have strong choirs." He cautioned, "we help build and nurture young singers, but Ottawa does not have the pull to keep the good young voices here. We encourage them to find opportunities in Montreal and Toronto." Nevertheless, choral music is enjoying great popularity amongst singers and the public. Recently Kevin Reeves has started Seventeen Voyces, and Lisette Canton has a new Bach choir. The Ottawa Choral Society, one of the oldest choirs in the city, is again directed by Iwan Edwards. The Cantata Singers under Ewashko and Centennial Choir conducted by James Caswell are both semi professional choirs. Both the University of Ottawa and Carleton University have community choirs which perform large-scale works. Carleton will be performing the St. Matthew Passion while the U of Ottawa choirs will perform a Bruckner Mass. Wah Keung Chan

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