Carissa Klopoushak was recently appointed Artistic Director of Ottawa Chamberfest. She became interim Artistic Director after Roman Borys stepped down and has now taken on the role permanently. Apt613 spoke to Carissa about her role, her vision for the festival, and the challenges posed by COVID-19 for Chamberfest and the classical music world at large. This interview has been edited and condensed.
What do you do for the organization, specifically?
I’m responsible for all of the artistic programming of the organization. I’m always on the lookout for really interesting, compelling programming, artists who are doing interesting things; creating and curating a lot of that myself, putting combinations of people together to make interesting things happen.
Chamberfest is a celebration of a small ensemble. [I]t’s things like string quartets, smaller groups, more intimate: it’s like indie band [or] house show versus stadium rock. [W]hat we’re doing is more intimate. It can still be pretty rock-ish and fun, but you can really watch that magic happen between the people performing and the audience.
What unique qualities and perspectives do you bring that will be helpful?
I’m a musician with many arrows in my quiver. I’m a professional violinist. I’m in the NAC orchestra and in a string quartet called Ironwood. I have spent a lot of time playing in other chamber music collaborations. I know a lot of people in that scene and like to work with them.
Also, I’ve spent a lot of time in other styles of music, particularly eastern European folk music. . My background is Ukrainian, so I’ve grown up jamming and playing and singing Ukrainian folk music. I have a band with my brother and four other guys where we play—we call it “turbo-folk”—folk rock, pretty fun music for Ukrainian parties. And I’ve dabbled in a lot of other styles and play a lot of other instruments. So, what I bring to the table is versatility, openness, and curiosity. I am genuinely interested in what people have to say. I love to collaborate.
I think it warrants being said that I’m female, younger than some other artistic directors out there, and I think that that itself brings a different perspective to how I do things and who I bring to the table. Classical music has often been seen as this largely white affluent kind of thing, but that doesn’t reflect accurately who’s involved. There’s a lot of amazing artists from all kinds of backgrounds. It’s important we get the balances right, that we reflect our community better.
What visions and plans do you have for Chamberfest?
We’re planning a summer festival. We’re in the middle of a concert series right now and we’re going to ride on the success of the format that we’ve figured out, which is a hybrid model of presenting. We are livestreaming our concerts, welcoming small audiences into our hall when allowed – not right now, for instance – but we have all fall and, in the spring, because regulations have allowed for it.
We are launching the summer festival on May 10. [I]n a typical year, when we launch, we might have a little more information available earlier. This year, we’ll have to take a little bit more of a “wait-and-see” approach, but we are absolutely planning a two-week festival from July 22 to August 4. It will continue to be a mixture of livestream and in-person.
I think that the arts will be in a rebuilding period in the next while. We will not have full capacity in audiences for a while. But there’s a lot of opportunity as well. With COVID, we can really rethink how we do things, why we do them, who we’re bringing to the table, and who gets excluded.
We can also be thinking about environmental impact. People are jet-setting across the world and we’re presenting them when they come, but maybe it’s time to start paying a little more attention to that.
What are some challenges you are facing?
COVID is a challenge that everyone is facing right now. But I think for me, the real beauty of chamber music is that it’s happening live and being in the same room where the magic is happening and not being able to offer that as freely as we normally do is a little disheartening. We want to get back to gathering and really sharing an experience.
[T]here’s also been all of this absolutely overdue social upheaval. We need to be addressing these societal issues and I think that everyone has the opportunity to look at how they do things and see how they can improve on what it is they’re doing, how they can be more inclusive, where their blind spots might be.
I’m optimistic because I think that people are going to be really joyful when they can gather again safely and we’re all ready for it now, obviously. But I think people will appreciate even more what it means to be in the same room as other people and to give them your full attention, and to be present while someone’s creating some art for you.