Arts & Culture

Chamberfest: What You Need To Know

The Ottawa International Chamber Music Festival is filled with unexpected delights. Yes, there will be classical music small ensembles – but also street music, electronic music, children’s shows, jazz, multimedia, and medieval chants. 

We spoke to the Chamberfest’s artistic director and one of its star local performers for an insider’s scoop. The festival runs July 21 to Aug. 3.

Roman Borys, artistic director:

What makes the festival special?

When someone first attends a Chamberfest concert, they immediately become aware of the amazing chemistry that occurs between our audience and our artists. This is in part due to the beautiful and intimate venues, but mostly it has to do with the fact that people in this community have become addicted to the personal and dynamic nature of live music performance when it’s presented by world-class artists. Over the years, we’ve been fortunate to welcome listeners for whom live music performance is as important as their next meal, and they like nothing more than to have new friends join them in the experience!

What will surprise visitors about the festival?

There are very few festivals in the world that aspire to present the breadth of music that we do. While we focus on music made by small ensembles, one can be sure to hear everything from medieval chants to string quartets and turntables. Yes, there will be classical music – but also street music, electronic music, children’s shows, jazz, multimedia… It’s incredible, and it’s exciting to engage with on both sides of the stage – musician and audience. There’s something anyone can be a part of at Chamberfest.

What are you looking forward to the most about this year’s festival?

I’m thrilled that this year we’re focussing on how both contrasts in culture and women contribute to music. That’s so inspiring to me, both as an artist and as a music lover. I’m especially looking forward to seeing how that plays out in our late-night shows, which we call Chamberfringe. These concerts are presented in a licensed, cabaret environment: they’re an opportunity to watch truly varied, high-calibre artists – from scratch DJs to classical improvisers to dancers – work together to really experiment with music before the audience’s eyes.

Miriam Khalil, soprano

The Ottawa-born singer performs July 30. Photo by Nikola Novak

What is your favourite thing about Chamberfest?

The variety of Chamber music concerts and the proximity to the musicians. It is so intimate and immersive and you can’t help but become involved in the music making. Also, there is something for everyone; classical, fusion, contemporary, interdisciplinary, vocal, instrumental, I could go on and on but you should just go and experience it for yourself.

Where is your favourite performance venue in Ottawa?

The Astrolabe Theatre. It is an outdoor amphitheatre behind the National Gallery. At night it becomes quite magical with the Ottawa river behind it and beautiful views of the Parliament. I have performed there in the past but my most memorable memory there is years ago when Cesaria Evora did a concert there. It was out of this world.

What is the most surprising thing about your profession?

The relationships you form with your colleagues and the respect and support you have for one another.

What other local acts would you recommend at Chamberfest this year?

It’s an amazing line up this year but one concert that I can’t wait to hear is Constantinople by Christos Hatzis (Aug. 2). It is a beautiful fusion of Eastern, Western, contemporary, religious and secular music. It’s quite haunting and really moving.

What is your favourite song to sing in solitude (or in the shower)?

“Dream On” by Aerosmith and anything by Whitney Houston.