PSQ features at festival

Agassiz music event celebrates 20th anniversary with high-profile quartet


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The Agassiz Chamber Music Festival turns 20 this year and is throwing itself a birthday bash when it returns with another weeklong celebration of intimate chamber works on May 27.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 15/05/2019 (1364 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The Agassiz Chamber Music Festival turns 20 this year and is throwing itself a birthday bash when it returns with another weeklong celebration of intimate chamber works on May 27.

“We think it’s very grand, and certainly when we started out in 1999, we never would have thought of continuing for 20 years,” cellist and founding artistic director Paul Marleyn says over the phone from his home in Ottawa, where he teaches at the University of Ottawa. “I think the feeling across the country amongst the many artists who have now played with Agassiz is that this festival is very strongly established.”

The annual rite of spring for Winnipeg music lovers, which runs through June 2, offers a series of nightly concerts as well as various satellite events — including a film, roundtable discussion, pre-show interviews, emerging artist showcases and master classes with world-class musicians eager to share their pearls of wisdom with the next generation of players.

SUPPLIED The Penderecki String Quartet — Jerzy Kaplanek (from left), Katie Schlaikjer, Jeremy Bell and Christine Vlajk — is playing at the Agassiz festival.

One — er, actually four — of Agassiz’s most illustrious guests this year will be the internationally renowned Penderecki String Quartet, a.k.a. PSQ, which will make its festival debut and will be the first full-time professional string quartet to grace the festival’s stage.

Marleyn says it’s a coup to draw such a high-profile group for Agassiz’s latest instalment. It’s also a healthy barometer of the festival’s evolution; it has an annual operating budget of $70,000 compared to the $11,000 seed money the University of Manitoba provided in 1999.

“The PSQ is one of the country’s leading string quartets and are wonderful players of the 20th- and 21st-century repertoire, in addition to the regular masterworks,” Marleyn says of the Waterloo, Ont., group that marks its 31st anniversary this year. “You need a fully professional, internationally experienced quartet to play pieces with these kinds of extremely difficult musical demands, and that’s what the PSQ does so beautifully.”

PSQ — Jeremy Bell and Jerzy Kaplanek on violin; Christine Vlajk on viola; and Katie Schlaikjer on cello — will perform during five of the seven nightly concerts, including their own dedicated “the PSQ in Concert” on May 29, which will feature works by Suk, Bartok and Schubert — with Marleyn joining his string compatriots for the latter composer’s sublime String Quintet in C.

The cellist is also looking forward to bringing in Canadian violinist Amy Hillis with her collaborative pianist Katherine Dowling for a solo noon-hour recital on June 2. The Montreal-based musician will be performing on her 1820 Joannes Franciscus Pressenda fiddle she won as a loan through the Canada Council’s Musical Instrument Bank, in which rising classical stars are given the opportunity to get their hands on rare, prized instruments as they hone their artistry.

Other festival highlights include “From the North European Plains,” which includes works by Brahms, Penderecki and Dvorak’s seldom-heard Piano Quartet in D on May 28, while “Where East Meets West” features a program of Dohnányi, Ligeti and Mendelssohn on May 30.

Audiences will be given a sneak peek of “Agassiz on Tour — Blue Ocean” that it will take on the road to the Festival of the Sound in Parry Sound, Ont., personally invited by its artistic director, Canadian clarinetist James Campbell, who has frequently appeared on the Agassiz stage, with Marleyn likewise performing.

The program being offered on June 1 features English pianist Martin Roscoe, Winnipeg violinist and WSO associate concertmaster Karl Stobbe, Manitoba composer/accordionist Jim Hiscott and Marleyn, hosted by radio broadcaster Andrea Ratuski.

The program titled for Hiscott’s Blue Ocean for clarinet, cello, accordion and piano — WSO principal clarinetistMicah Heilbrunn will stand in for Campbell in the Winnipeg show — also features works by Bach and Schubert.

This year’s lineup also offers a poignant pair of musical bookends. Its May 27 opener, “Time Traveller.” features (nearly) the identical bill from Agassiz’s maiden voyage on June 25, 1999, performed by violinist Axel Strauss and violinist/violist Aaron Au, who played that inaugural show, rounded out by the world première of Manitoba composer Randolph Peters’ fourth string quartet, Murmurations.

Similarly, the gala finale, “Looking Backwards — Looking Forwards,” that features Winnipeg soprano Sarah Jo Kirsch, Marleyn and Roscoe on June 2, wraps up with Schumann’s Piano Quintet that also capped the 1999 festival. A special grace note will be seeing Winnipeg’s beloved, now-retired violist Rennie Regehr introduce the evening, as he did 20 years ago.

Another highlight will be hearing a rare live performance of 20th-century absurdist composer Erik Satie’s Sports and Diversions, for narrator and piano, Parts I and II, performed by Ratuski with pianist Stephane Lemelin during “Iberian Romance” on May 31. The evening that tees off at 7 p.m. with a showcase of emerging local chamber musicians (also heard on May 28) features Ravel’s Sonata for Violin and Piano, as well as Joaquín Turina’s sultry Piano Quartet.

“The Turina feels like just having a wonderful evening strolling in Seville,” Marleyn says of the 20-minute work he describes as “full of melody, optimism and sunny disposition.

“It’s an absolute gem.”

Last but not least, film buffs will be treated this year to a free screening of Alison Chernick’s 2018 documentary Itzhak, highlighting the life and legacy of legendary Israeli-born violinist Itzhak Perlman on May 28 at 3 p.m.

“Things are looking terrific,” Marleyn says of his chamber music baby now grown into a hale n’ hearty, strapping young musical adult entering its third decade. “We have such a loyal and enthusiastic audience, and it’s been extremely gratifying. We’re all looking forward to our next 20 years!”

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