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Hayden, Mozart and Kid Koala at Chamberfest 2015

By Janoah Willsie on July 20, 2015




The Ottawa International Chamber Music Festival aka Chamberfest starts July 23 and runs for fifteen days. We spoke with the festival’s Director of Marketing and Communications James Whittall about this year’s festival.

Apt613: Describe Chamberfest in a couple sentences.

James Whittall: World’s largest chamber music festival: sentence number one. And a very important sentence too. Also one of the most innovative music festivals in the country.

Can you tell us about this year’s theme?

It’s been themed as “Regenerations” and the idea behind that is the music programmed into this year’s festival really does enable the idea of each generation bringing its own sensibilities and listening preferences to the interpretation of this music.

The most prominent example is the Haydenfest, a mini festival within our festival, focussing in on the seminal works of Frances Joseph Hayden who has been called the father of the string quartet. When he was a court musician and composer, he was isolated from the rest of the European musical world in the Esterhazy family estate way off in the country. Composing in that environment, he was, as he himself says, forced to be original. He took forms like the string quartet and reworked them and we are still using his reimagining of these forms and compositional techniques today.

Another good example is #UncleJohn, an opera by a group called Get Some Great Theatre out of Toronto. What they’ve done is taken Mozart’s Don Giovanni and modernized it, placing it within a wedding reception with the audience as the guests and the main action taking place at the head table. They’re going to be using iPads and texting and doing selfies with the audience. It’s going to be quite an interesting take on the original Mozart.


There are younger ensembles like the Afiara String Quartet who have been doing some very interesting work with scratch DJs. They’re treating the DJ as an integral component of the artistic creation. That’s where Kid Koala’s Nufonia Must Fall comes in. It’s Kid Koala’s vision of a silent graphic novel in a live environment. We’ve got puppets and a dozen very highly detailed sets, a scratch DJ, a string quartet, all being done with video on a big screen and edited in real time. The whole thing is going to be fascinating and I have a very strong feeling that those performances are going to sell out.

Tell me about the subfestivals, how do they all fit together in the Chamberfest?

We’ve got New Music Now, a two day mini festival of new and contemporary music. We’ve got Chamberfringe which is all our late night stuff happening at St. Bridget’s. That’s kind of the edgier side of Chamberfest. We call it “Chamberfest After Dark: only the musically adventurous need apply” and it’s a fun, kind of cabaret thing. At the end of a very long day, it’s always something really cool and it’s just lovely to go there, hang, have a beer, listen to some very interesting music and relax.

What do you hope that people take away from Chamberfest?

A new appreciation, or at least a more exciting appreciation for music. Music of different genres doesn’t exist in a vacuum. You can draw direct lines between classical music and all sorts of other genres: jazz, rock, world music. Coming to this festival and listening to the breadth of the music that is available gives a reinvigorated sense of music as a whole. The performers are having a conversation with each other through music and by watching and listening very carefully you can start to understand the dialogue. That can give you really interesting perspective on how music is made and I think that people coming to the festival for the first time are going to be amazed at how they listen to music after that.

Any last thoughts?

Come to the festival and have a great time! It’s a lot of fun. Fifteen days, more than a hundred events, many of which are free, there’s some really interesting stuff at night, all the theatrical performances are going to be fun, the music is engaging. What a great way to spend a summer!

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and length.

The Ottawa International Chamber Music Festival takes place from July 23 – August 6, 2015. Check out their website for the festival guide and ticketing information. Call 613-234-6306 to reserve your seat.