Montreal Chamber Music Festival: First-class jazz is in the cards

Montreal Chamber Music Festival screen grab

Musical gems culled from three centuries played in small-group formations by top-tier performers—that and some first-class jazz is in the cards during the month-long Montreal Chamber Music Festival that gets underway this month.

Talking about it with festival founder, cellist Dennis Brott, I returned in my mind to the marvelous acoustics of the wood-roofed St. George’s Anglican Church where locals and tourists soak up the vibe and the sounds.

The first of 17 ticketed concerts is on May 9, a first here by the Boston Chamber Music Society, playing Menotti’s Suite for Two Cellos and Piano, the brilliant Shostakovitch Piano Quintet in G, and Schubert’s sublime String Quintet in C major, featuring two cellos, one played by Brott.

Noting that viola player Marcus Thompson is among his oldest friends, Brott says this should impart a particular atmosphere to the stage and ricochet to the audience.

“When the public senses that there are friends having a good time making music together, it is not only relaxing, it is captivating,” he remarked.

Another feature is a three-concert tribute to the chamber works of Camille Saint Saens. It kicks off May 14 with the Fine Arts Quartet, which has just released a Naxos twofer of his chamber works, performing the String Quartet #1 with Brazilian pianist Christina Ortiz, The Piano Quintet in A minor, and the Barcarolle. There is a free pre-concert talk at 7 pm by musicologists Sabina Teller Ratner and Richard Turp.

They perform Saint Saens’ ubiquitous Carnival of the Animals on May 15 as part of a potpourri of pieces, including excerpts from Robert Schumann’s Trout Quintet and virtuosic displays by prodigies Annie Zhou, 14, and Daniel Clarke Bouchard, 12.

The May 13 format repeats May 16 with a few additions, playing the String Quartet #2, Piano Quintet in B flat major, Fantasy in E flat for Cornet and Piano, and the Septet.

No chamber festival would be complete without the music of Johann Sebastian Bach, and on May 22, 16 winners of the competition to play the Canada Council’s collection of vintage string instruments—by Stradivarius Guarneri del Gesù, and Gaglinao—will perform together for first time, playing a solo piece by the master.

“You can hear the difference,” Brott said about the instruments. “Some have a deeper timbre, some have a more treble timbre—each has its own qualities. For the public, it is a palette of colour and sound, for the performer a chance to hone your own craft. It’s only you that’s the limiting factor.”

On May 23 is the not-to-be-missed six Brandenburg Concerti—in Brott’s words, “among the greatest music ever written, each one is different, with fantastic colour qualities. We will be using modern instruments, but with Baroque bows.”

Soloists include such established stars as Elizabeth Wallfisch, the Australian baroque violinist, trumpeter Jens Lindemann—“probably the best trumpet player in the world today”—award-winning descant recorder player Vincent Lauzier and renowned Montreal harpsichordist Hank Knox.

Bach week is capped by a May 25 concert with all six violin concerti featuring one, two or three solo violins. Rachel Barton Pine is lead soloist, joined by violinists Elizabeth Wallfisch and Timmy Chooi and OSM principal oboist Ted Baskin.

On May 30, the Emerson String Quartet, among the world’s finest, plays Haydn (String Quartet in G Minor #3), Bartok (String Quartet #2 in A minor), and Beethoven (String Quartet #8 in E Minor ‘Rosumovsky’).

Among the jazz events of note, the revived 1960s a capella group The Swingle Singers performs May 18 from a mixed Bach and pop repertoire. On May 31, the Brazilian guitar duo of Sergio and Odair Assad are joined by Cuban clarinetist Paquito D’Rivera in Latin classical music and some jazz.

All concerts are at St. George’s Anglican Church, Peel and de la Gauchetière. Tickets cost $40, plus service fees. Children under 13 pay $5. 514-489-7444.

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