By Philippe Mineau
For years now the Ottawa Chamberfest has been organizing a late-night series known as Chamberfringe—a space created to allow musicians and their audience to mingle, to experience shows that are experimental in nature, all in a laid back café-style setting. According to organizers, it was important that this space have a stocked bar, and that the audience be encouraged to circulate and socialize during and after the concert. After all, chamber music originated in the salons of Europe, dubbed “the music of friends.” One gets the sense that this series is an attempt to bring chamber music back into a social sphere—to create a scene, a mix of Berlin in the Dada years and the salon concerts at the Mendelssohn’s a century prior, mixing the enjoyment of classical music and libations into the social fabric of Ottawa.
Two-time JUNO nominees Sultans of String wrapped up the 2016 Chamberfringe series with a joyful concert featuring sitar master Anwar Khurshid. With part of the stage taken up by café tables, and some numbers featuring Hindi-style dancer Geneviève Beaulieu, the concert was certainly more exotic and experimental than regular Chamberfest offerings, with a hint of cabaret thrown in the mix. Led by an Ottawa native, violinist Chris McKhool, Toronto-based Sultans of String offered up a lively mix of Celtic reels, Latin rhythms, gypsy-jazz and south-Asian soundscapes interspersed with numbers that pulled toward folk music, like Neil Young’s “Heart of Gold,” or Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind”. With balanced arrangements and space for the musicians to let loose on the strings, Sultans delivered an energetic showcase of world music clearly inspired by their evolving interests in different styles and traditions, and their joy for creating.
Chamberfringe will be back next year, and will probably be the only place you can catch a hi-hat and stomp-box solo as part of the long-standing classical music festival. For the uninitiated, it’s especially worth checking out.
Sultans of String will perform again in Ottawa, December 20 at the NAC Studio for a holiday-themed show. Tickets are available here for $39.