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."
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."
"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!"