To appreciate Montreal is to celebrate its greatness as a centre for creative expression, and for many that means music at the Montreal Chamber Music Festival.
With 22 concerts from May 8 to 31 at the lovely and accessible St. George’s Anglican Church at Peel and de la Gauchetière, the festival offers a broad selection of popular and lesser-known works performed by acclaimed musicians and rising stars.
The setting in the all-wood interior, staged for excellent acoustics and uninterrupted site lines—and with padded seats—makes for a near-perfect environment.
Cellist Dennis Brott, who created and curates the festival, has added some new and potentially spectacular elements to turn this year’s edition into a memorable one.
Brott has recruited three of our greatest pianists: virtuoso André Laplante and multi-award winners Jon Kimura Parker and Angela Cheng.
“The whole idea was to celebrate that which is great in Canada, a success story unlike any other country, comparable to the former Soviet Union,” he said in an interview.
It is “a population explosion of absolute world-class renown,” due in part to solid support from the Canada Council for the Arts and the Conseil des arts et des lettres du Québec.
Laplante, 64, who specializes in romantic repertoire, plays May 8, with soprano Karina Gauvin and the Dover Quartet in Fauré’s La Bonne Chanson, followed by Schumann’s great piano Quintet in E flat major. He plays works by Ravel and Liszt May 13.
Cheng, 54, will display her classical expertise May 20 in a Viennese evening of pieces by Haydn, Mozart, Schubert and Beethoven.
Praised by Brott for his “fantastic flamboyance and dexterity and ability in modernist style,” Parker, 54, will perform the Quebec premiere of a transcription of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, May 27. Originally written as a ballet, Stravinsky first published a two-piano arrangement, and later orchestrated it.
“Parker created this one-piano transcription, and it is a tour-de-force,” Brott said.
The term “chamber music” might sound staid to those who do not understand it refers to solo and small-ensemble performances.
“It’s a very democratic art form. There is no conductor telling you what to do. It’s a collaborative art form, the most democratic of classical music expression.
“I call upon my friends, many of whom come and do us a favour, for reduced ‘friendship’ fees. Often I will return the favour.”
A spirit of “friendship, familiarity and love of music” prevails on stage and is felt in the pews, and this is among the reasons that last year 10,000 tickets were sold.
“There is an incredible kind of ebullience, warmth of joy, and that is what music should be,” Brott said with pride.
In another first, Brott has engaged some of the brightest young artists with roots in Israel to perform in three classical and one klezmer concert.
Pianist Inon Barnatan, born in Tel Aviv but raised in the U.S., is a 2009 winner of the Avery Fisher Career Grant. With violinist Giora Schmidt, son of Israeli musicians who live in the U.S., they will interpret works by Schubert May 14 and 15, including the universally loved Trout Quintet on the second night.
Violinist Itamar Zorman, another Avery Fisher winner who in 2011 shared top prize at the Tchaikovsky International Competition, will be joined by Schmidt for a virtuoso performance—sonatas by Leclair and Prokofiev, followed by some Moszkowski and Sarasate with pianist Suzanne Blondin.
The Israeli connection wraps with the Moldova-born klezmer and Yiddish singer Vira Lozinsky, performing May 23, with the Emil Aybinder quartet. In 2012 she won the grand prize at the Amsterdam Jewish Music Competition.
That gig is part of the Friday jazz series, which features Chicago vocalist/arranger and Grammy-winner Kurt Elling and his band May 9.
It’s a tribute to the songbook created in Manhattan’s Brill Building.
That is where Carole King wrote So Far Away and others penned On Broadway, Come Fly with Me, and I Only Have Eyes for You.
Other jazz series events: Brassfire May 16, featuring trumpet virtuoso Jens Lindemann and master trombonist Wycliffe Gordon; Gypsy Jazz & Django, as performed by the Stochelo Rosenberg Trio May 30.
Vivaldi’s familiar Four Seasons will be offered with a difference May 20, each movement interspersed with a composition it inspired by Astor Piazzola, titled Las Cuatro Estaciones Porteñas and featuring Martin Beaver (violin) and Denis Plante (bandoneon).
Lovers of the string quartet will have the opportunity on May 10 to hear two groups that won top prizes at the Banff international competition: The U.S.-based Dover Quartet will play Barber’s Quartet in B Minor, whose second movement is known as the Adagio for Strings.
The all-female and Canadian Cecilia String Quartet will play Janacek’s Quartet No. 1, inspired by Tolstoy’s novella The Kreutzer Sonata, in turn inspired by Beethoven’s Kreutzer Sonata for violin and piano. Both quartets will then join forces to play Mendelsohn’s gorgeous Octet in E flat major.
Of course, the Dover is featured in the opening concert May 8, playing Vivian Fung’s Third String Quartet, on the basis of which it won the 2013 Banff Award. Fung will give the pre-concert talk at 6:45 p.m.
The Dover Quartet, Brott said, are “homogeneous, insightful, play with integrity and passion and I’m proud to present their premiere in Montreal.”
The festival, now in its 19th year, closes May 31 with all five of Mozart’s concertos for violin, which flow gracefully in major keys.
They will be played by the festival strings, winners of the Canada Council’s Music Bank Competition, and the soloist is the estimable violinist Cho-Liang Lin.
Find the full lineup is at festivalmontreal.org/festival/en. Tickets cost $44, seniors pay $40, students $20. There also are packages, and four free concerts May 27-30 at 12:30 pm. 514-489-7444.