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Photo: Alexander Vlad courtesy of Chamberfest

Future of Ottawa: Classical music with Carissa Klopoushak

By Apartment613 on April 27, 2021


This week in the Future of Ottawa series, we’re taking a deep dive into four of Ottawa’s most unique music communities—what they’re like now and where things are heading. Read on for a guest post from Carissa Klopoushak on the future of classical music in Ottawa, or read Kevin Bourne on hip hop, Ed Lister on jazz, or Adriana Ciccone on experimental music.

Carissa Klopoushak has made a name for herself as a curious, creative, and versatile musician. Based in Ottawa, she is a proud member of Canada’s National Arts Centre Orchestra and the Ironwood Quartet. Carissa currently plays on a 1851 Jean Baptiste Vuillaume violin, generously on loan from the Canada Council for the Arts Instrument Bank. She was named Artistic Director of Ottawa Chamberfest in March 2021. Connect with Carissa on Twitter or Instagram.

NACO violinist and Chamberfest’s Artistic Director, Carissa Klopoushak. Photo: Alexander Vlad.

Apt613: What is the current state of classical music in Ottawa?

Carissa Klopoushak: Classical music is well positioned in Ottawa. We have a lot to be proud of here. We have a wealth of ensembles, groups, choirs, and organizations, all with wonderfully dedicated followings, many strong educational and community organizations, and many committed, creative artists, all doing their best to keep creating and to stay engaged.

But 2020 brought a reckoning, and it’s one that we really need to face head-on. COVID-19 has certainly impacted our industry, but so have (rightfully, finally) movements of social accountability—issues of racism, misogyny, and flagrant abuses of power, in particular.

We need to take a hard look at who we traditionally exclude and how to honestly rectify this. We need to identify, call out, and guard against future predatory behaviour. We will likely adjust expectations for touring/travel to consider our environmental impact. These issues have all come to a volcanic point this year, and must be addressed, thoughtfully, honestly, and without delay.

From constraints come possibilities. We have a huge opportunity afforded to us to reconsider our path, shake things up, and make space for something new and better-suited for where we want to go. Ottawa has the chance to be a leader here, and I say we take it.

If you care to make a prediction… Where is classical music going in 2021?

I think that the ownership of the “classical” genre will open up to be more inclusive. Accessibility will be a new and real focus. And LIVE experiences will flourish again, because there’s intangible magic that’s created when everyone is in the same room that cannot be truly captured any other way. Both audiences and artists are clamouring for it.

Where in your wildest dreams could classical music in Ottawa go in your lifetime?

Boundaries between genres will (continue to) be torn down—music is music, after all. A broader, more inclusive definition of ‘Art Music’ will exist. I believe that accessibility and early childhood opportunities will be more evenly distributed through communities of various backgrounds and incomes. Ottawa will continue to both welcome and export amazing artists from around/to the world, but I think (hope?) that we will grow to be known more for our risk-taking, innovation, and creativity.

I’ll speak more specifically about chamber music (my wheelhouse) for a minute. Chamber music is really all about the small ensemble; the connection between a small number of musicians playing together. I foresee and welcome uniquely curated presentation experiences, focusing on intimacy, comfort, and welcoming new audiences. I see collaborations across cultures and genres. I see the beautiful, traditional chamber music canon expanded to include overlooked voices of the past. I see wonderfully concocted programming combinations, and increasingly open-minded audiences who want to hear more than only what they already know.

What is the best innovation to take place in classical music since the pandemic started affecting Ottawa?

Organizations embracing live streaming technology with high production values has been hugely important in both sharing and enhancing live experiences. I applaud the groups spending time, effort, and money on building the infrastructure to do this well. Not only will this get us through this time with smaller—or no—audiences, but applied appropriately, will increase access to our craft for many people who have been historically left out. I think it’s here to stay, and it’s a good thing.

I’ve personally learned a lot about production this year, having so far presented eight Chamberfest concerts in a hybrid livestream/in-person model. It’s been an incredible period of growth, and a fun challenge to try to capture and share the live experience in a way that translates through a screen to people’s living rooms. We’ll continue this model through the summer, and I’m so thankful for the whole team who makes this happen—it takes a village.

*Who* is the future of classical music in Ottawa?

New voices. Underrepresented voices. I think the future is wide open for young creatives with something special to say. We’ve never had more access to libraries of recordings and video performances. There is no shortage of excellence at our fingertips. But that’s no longer enough—it’s now the baseline for more. Classical music is far more entrepreneurial now than it has been historically, but also never more community or socially-minded. I think more light will be given to those who take risks and want to make change.

Tell us something you wish somebody told you when you started your career in classical music (whether performing or festival administration)?

My friends will laugh; I could (still) use some help with time-management and saying “no.” When you’re an artist, and fantastic opportunities arise, it’s difficult to pass them up. But sometimes it’s so important to do so, to make space for your creativity to flow.

Back in 2015, Apartment613 took a look at the future of Ottawa across several different sectors. In 2021, we’re bringing the series back, asking experts, artists, and community leaders to shed some light on their local field or industry, as it stands now and where they think—or dream—it will go over the next few years. Every week we’ll profile a different cultural sector in Ottawa, leaving no niche unexplored—from social justice to theatre, bars to sports, to the future of the municipality and its natural environs. Keep an eye out for a new batch of posts every Tuesday on