La Scena Musicale

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Ensemble OVO: Independent in Ottawa

By Natasha Gauthier

It’s not easy being a musician in Ottawa. Like Washington, D.C, our nation’s capital abounds in large, well-funded, symbolic institutions of national pride, but struggles to cultivate the smaller, more diverse, homegrown groups that make cities like Montreal or Vancouver so culturally vibrant.

The National Arts Centre dance season, for example, imports the best international companies and productions in the world—yet Ottawa has no professional dance company with a regular season, be it ballet, modern or contemporary. The presence of showcase federal museums like the National Gallery and Museum of Civilization make it difficult for smaller galleries to get noticed. Opportunities for musicians who don’t play with the National Arts Centre Orchestra can be limited, especially if they want to perform in a genre—such as early or contemporary music —that isn’t mainstream orchestral or chamber music.

Andrew Burn is trying to change that. The 22-year-old Ottawa bassoonist has founded a new historically-informed group that he hopes will inspire other local musicians to carve out their own space.

“I think Ottawa can potentially have just as much musical talent as bigger cities like Montreal or Toronto,” says Burn, who is in the final year of a B. Mus at Carleton University, specializing in both modern and baroque bassoon. “The difference here is that there’s a lack of artists who are entrepreneurs. Especially the younger musicians. Outside the NACO, the only musicians who are successful are 45 and older. The younger ones don’t see a way to break in, so they leave and they don’t come back.”

Burn could have joined the exile, trying to win an orchestra audition in North America or Europe. Instead he’s launched Ensemble OVO, which stands for “Our Very Own.” The group’s core is made up of Burn, harpsichordist Marie Bouchard and soprano Anne-Sophie Neher. Burn will augment the trio with additional musicians as programming requires.

“Ottawa has the Ottawa Baroque Consort, but it’s not regular work, and they have scheduling issues,” Burn notes. “Meaning that they’ll work around the schedules of other groups in Montreal or Quebec City or Toronto that their members play in. With OVO, I wanted a group that people would eventually schedule around us.”

An ambitious goal, perhaps, for a group that has yet to give its first official concert. But Burn is nothing if not optimistic.

“If you want young musicians to stay, the only solution is to show that there’s variety and movement in the music scene. People told me a market like Ottawa, where the audience is more traditional, couldn’t support two period instrument groups. But I think it’s good to have competition.”


Ensemble OVO makes its debut on Friday, October 21 with a program called Avec le bon goût:
Music from the time of Louis XIV & XV.
Burn, Neher and Bouchard will be joined by cellist Olivier Henchiri and transverse flautists Laura Chambers and Roseen Giles for a selection of French Baroque rarities, including Lully’s Trios pour le coucher du roy, as well as works by Couperin, Boismortier, Marin Marais and Michel Pignolet de Montéclair. The concert takes place at 7:30 pm at Church of St. Bartholomew (125 MacKay Street). Tickets are $25; visit for more info, or "like" the group on Facebook:

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Sunday, 16 October 2011

This Week in Toronto (Oct. 17 - 23)

Conductor Valery Gergiev

The big news for classical music fans this week is the return of Russian conductor Valery Gergiev and his Mariinsky Orchestra to Toronto's Roy Thomson Hall on Oct. 21. Gergiev will conduct Stravinsky's Firebird Suite, Prokofiev's Piano Concerto No. 3 with the great Alexander Toradze, and the Shostakovich Symphony No. 1 - what a great program! This is definitely one of the premiere events of fall season.

The Toronto Symphony Orchestra is presenting two evenings of Rachmaninoff's Symphony No. 2, conducted by frequent guest Stephane Deneve. Pianist Lars Vogt returns to play Mozart Piano Concerto No. 16 K. 451. Rounding out the program is Stravinsky's neoclassical Concerto for Chamber Orchestra "Dumbarton Oaks" Performances on Wed. Oct. 19 and Thurs. Oct. 20 at 8 p.m. Deneve is also conducting two performances of Peter and the Wolf, as part of TSO's Young Peoples' Concert series on Saturday, Oct. 22, at 1:30 and 3:30 p.m.

The Canadian Opera Company is wrapping up its fall season this week with the last four performances of Rigoletto, on Oct. 17, 18, 20 and 22. The last show is given by the first cast of Ekaterina Sadovnikova, Quinn Kelsey and Dimitri Pittas. I attended a second time last week (on Oct. 13) to catch the second cast, particularly Canadian soprano Simone Osborne as Gilda. She is certainly one of the rising stars in the Canadian operatic firmament. She is a lovely Gilda, beautifully sung, child-like, vulnerable, and totally believable. Lester Lynch, the second cast Rigoletto has been a bit overshadowed by the spectacular Quinn Kelsey, which is unfortunate. Lynch was absolutely up to the task and gave a riveting vocal and dramatic performance. The second cast Duke, David Lomeli, was fabulous on Oct. 13, singing with terrific ringing tone and a resplendent top, complete with high Cs and I believe one high D! Also very interesting on Thursday Oct. 20 is the noon hour concert at the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre given by Canadian bass Robert Pomakov with the Gryphon Trio, in a newly arranged version (by Canadian composer Gary Kulesha) of Moussorgsky's Songs and Dances of Death. This piece fits Pomakov's sonorous bass perfectly. Be sure to show up an hour ahead to ensure a seat.

Royal Conservatory of Music's Koerner Hall features Russell Braun, fresh from a sensational run of Iphigenia in Tauris at the COC. Braun is on an artistic high - singing better than ever in all the important venues like Covent Garden, the Met and the COC. Just recently he was honoured with the Opera Canada Awards for his excellence as creative artist. This is your chance to catch him in a very interesting program - the chamber version of Mahler's Das Lied von der Erde, with baritone instead of a low mezzo! I came very close to hearing Russell and the Smithsonian Chamber Players in this piece a few years ago at the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival. Unfortunately I had opera that evening - so close yet so far! If you like Das Lied and have never experienced the chamber version and/or a baritone instead of a mezzo, this is your chance! Saturday, Oct. 22 at 8 p.m. And, if you were like me - totally blown blown away by COC's Orfeo last season under the magical baton of conductor Harry Bicket, we have another chance to see him conduct this week, on Friday 8 p.m. at Koerner Hall, leading the visiting baroque orchestra The English Concert, in a program of Purcell, Telemann and Vivaldi. On the program is the Vivaldi Concerto for Two Trumpets, a wonderful piece for anyone fond of brass! Bicket will be directing from the harpsichord. He is to my ears the best of the best in baroque.

Canadian soprano Isabel Bayrakdarian, last heard in the Glenn Gould Studio Prima Donna concert celebrating 75 years of CBC Radio, is giving a recital with her pianist husband Serouj Kradjian, at the Markham Theatre on Oct. 21, 8 p.m.

Now for something very different - The Amici Chamber Ensemble is presenting La bonne cuisine: Exploring Taste and Sound. The event takes place on Sunday Oct. 23 at 3 p.m. at the Glenn Gould Studio. What better way to spend a fall afternoon with music and culinary delights?! Coloratura soprano Aline Kutan will provide the vocal fireworks, joining Amici regulars Joaquin Valdepenas, David Hetherington, Serouj Kradjian plus guests Marie Berard, Michael Sweeney and Andrew McCandless in an afternoon of delightful music-making. La bonne cuisine is in collaboration with James Chatto and chef Alex Feswick (chef of Brockton General, voted #10 new restaurant of 2011 by Toronto Life. Ms. Feswick will be preparing 4 or 5 hors d'oeuvres "which complement sounds, themes and overall feelings projected by the musical offerings of the Amici Chamber Ensemble." Chatto is hosting the concert.