As I watched the Chamber Players of Canada rehearse for Saturday’s Christmas concert, I felt myself overcome by something like holiday spirit. Granted, some of my good cheer may have seeped into me, osmosis-like, from the frankly gigantic Christmas tree that towered to my left. But I think that the vast majority of it was due to the combination of string instruments with snowy weather.
Something about the holidays just screams out for musical accompaniment. And so it’s fitting that the Chamber Players of Canada are kicking off their fourth season with their annual Christmas concert. “For me, Christmas is all about music,” says Julian Armour, Artistic Director.
And while their annual concert has become an Ottawa tradition, the music is anything but. “We’re not playing Jingle Bells,” Armour laughs. Attendees to the concert will be regaled with the likes of Bach, Holst, Puccini, Reinecke and others. Not your standard holiday fare to be sure. “It’s music that is less often heard, but is really in the festive mood,” says Armour. “People aren’t going to hear music they’ve been hearing in shopping malls for the last three months.”
For most of us, that is no small kindness. And while the chance to escape the drone of another tiny-bopper’s rendition of Frosty the Snowman blaring from mall speakers may be draw enough, the music the Chamber Players will be playing is as diverse as it is exquisite. “We really are interested in music from the Baroque and even the Renaissance period all the way up to the stuff that was written yesterday,” says Armour. “There’s so much beautiful music from all eras.”
The Chamber Players of Canada are known for their willingness to try new music, to stray away from the continually played classical favourites. Armour tells me that he hopes that his selections will always be able to please the classical music novice as well as the veteran. And while the variation is certainly a draw, the Chamber Players of Canada are remarkable for their level of virtuosity. The troupe contains some of the very best talent in Canada, and this Saturday’s concert will serve as an excellent showcase. The lineup features Soprano Joyce El-Khoury, who played Mimi in La Bohème at the Castleton Festival and performed at the Tanglewood Music Festival and the Beijing Opera; violinist Alexandre Da Costa, who won last year’s Juno for best classical album; Marie Bérard, concertmaster of the Canadian Opera Company Orchestra and three-time Grammy nominee; and the list goes on!
In addition to their beautiful Christmassy music, the Chamber Players will be bringing copies of their soon-to-be-released album of Mozart pieces to Dominion-Chalmers United Church on Saturday. “Ottawa’s getting a pre-release,” says Armour, happily. The album features two lesser-known, but no less wonderful, Mozart piano concertos, featuring pianist Janina Fialkowska. It also features the perennial favourite, “Eine Kleine Nachtmusik.” “It’s probably the most heard piece in all of classical music,” says Armour. “It’s usually done with a big orchestra, but he wrote it for five people, and it’s rarely heard and rarely recorded that way.” Taped at South Minister United Church in Ottawa, the album is a very good listen. Every pluck of every string comes through wonderfully, and the pieces are enchanting.
The Chamber Players are well loved in Ottawa, and it seems the feeling is mutual. “Ottawa audiences are unbelievable,” says Armour. “They’re adventurous; I’ll do something new and they won’t say, ‘I don’t know that. I don’t know if I’ll like it.’ Instead they say, ‘that looks interesting. I’m going to check it out.’”
The Chamber Players of Canada will be yuleing the tides this Saturday, Decemeber 22 at 7:30 at Dominion-Chalmers United Church. Tickets are availiable through their website.