May 15, 2019

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!"

Holly Harris

Winnipeg Free Press

June 11, 2015

Paul Marleyn is an internationally celebrated cellist himself, actively performing in the festival: "I think what makes the festival truly unique is that it's so personal and individual, everyone speaks with their own voice, there's one pianist, one violist, one violinist, one cellist."

 

Schnittke's 'Piano Quartet in A minor (after Mahler)' distinctly captured the idea of each musician "speaking" with their individual musical voice. The synchronized movement of the work contrasted with disparate harmonies forced the audience to listen selectively to the different instrumental lines, and consequently how they work together to create a panorama of sound. Schnittke's work is a riveting spin-off of Mahler's 'Piano Quartet in A minor' (1876), and includes a 24-bar quote from Mahler right at the end, with the exception of a bizarre last note. The performance given on Wednesday night (Axel Strauss, violin; Dan Scholz, viola; Paul Marleyn, cello; Stéphane Lemelin, piano) was also evidence of the extraordinary musicianship and onstage camaraderie that exists between the musicians at the festival.

 

From Klezmer to Beethoven . . .Wednesday night's Agassiz Chamber Music Festival bared its ecclectic programming. I don't know how else to describe last night's concert at The Agassiz Chamber Music Festival, except to say that it was sexy. Catty? Foxy? No, I think sexy is the word i'm looking for - and I promise that is the last time I'll say it. Srul Irving Glick's 'The Klezmer's Wedding' ended Wednesday night's program with a collage of klezmer-inspired folk music sounds, including impassioned wails from James Campbell's clarinet. Here was some serious classical music funk which had more than a few white-haired heads fervently nodding and stockinged feet twitching. The entire audience was clapping by the end, but who are we kidding, everyone secretly wanted to get up and dance!

Sara Krahn

Classic 107

June 11, 2012

The celebrated Toronto-based Gryphon Trio is the special guest ensemble this year, and they lived up to their superlative billing. Annalee Patipatanakoon, violin, Roman Borys, cello, and Jamie Parker, piano, play as a cohesive unit, melding every nuance, every expression as only a group that has been together nearly 20 years can. Their reading of Brahms' Piano Trio in C minor, Opus 101 grabbed listeners from the start with its intensely dramatic opening. From powerfully stormy to gently subtle, they moved through Brahms' many moods as if they were living them. 

 

Festival artistic director Paul Marleyn and Parker started the evening with Brahms' Sonata for Piano and Cello in F, Opus 99. It went from zero to heart-pounding in about a second, as this perfectly balanced duo burst into Brahms' signature passion instantly. Parker's playing was wonderfully fluid, with a crisp clarity enunciating every rippling note. Marleyn was at his best, playing with graceful ease. This is a work obviously close to his heart, as he transferred every feeling to the audience with spacious, elegant bowing and a resonant and satisfying low register.

Gwenda Nemerofsky

Winnipeg Free Press

June 14, 2009

Agassiz International Music Festival is throwing itself a party all this week, celebrating not just its 10th year of music making but also the 200th anniversary of German composer Felix Mendelssohn's birth. A series of ten concerts are showcasing the 19th century master's chamber music between June 10-20, performed by a crackerjack ensemble of musicians assembled by the annual festival's Ottawa-based founding artistic director/cellist Paul Marleyn.

 

Ironically, it wasn't birthday boy Mendelssohn who stole the show, but Hungarian interloper Béla Bartók. The 20th century composer's jazzy Contrasts for clarinet, violin and piano (1938) is a thrilling piece not often heard, remarkably co-commissioned by the King of Swing himself, Benny Goodman.

 

Clarinetist Fan Lei, violinist Scott St. John, and pianist Katherine Chi's flawless delivery exhibited bravura technique and ironclad conviction, with St. John so physically engaged with his instrument he fairly leapt out of his chair. Chi -- notably, the first prizewinner of the prestigious 2000 Honens International Piano Competition -- also added strong backbone to the ensemble while Lei easily handled the virtuosic demands of the compelling, thoroughly modernistic piece.

Holly Harris

Winnipeg Free Press

June 08, 2008

Friday night's concert, "Muse of History -- Clio" (this year's festival celebrates the nine Greek muses) combined the performance of a single work, Franz Joseph Haydn's the Seven Last Words of Christ for String Quartet, Op. 51 with readings from Chief Seattle of the Dwamish nation's 1852 reply to U.S. president Franklin Pierce. The U.S. government had made an offer to buy the land of Seattle's people. His response was one of concern, warning and teaching -- about the land, its meaning, its life-giving, and the crucial need for its preservation.

 

Local actor Steven Ratzlaff read Seattle's response between sonatas played by quartet members Mathias Tacke and Aaron Au, violins, David Harding, viola and artistic director Paul Marleyn, cello. You couldn't have asked for more conviction from these players. They played their hearts out, making the opening sonata serve as an ominous harbinger of things to come -- devastation of land, wasted resources and polluted waters.

"Historic Article"

Winnipeg Free Press

June 15, 2007

As a dedication to the late Russian cellist and conductor Mstislav Rostropovich, Trio Hochelaga played Tchaikovsky's only piano trio, his Opus 50, written as a memorial to his friend, the great piano virtuoso Nicolai Rubinstein. The score is inscribed "To the memory of a great artist," making it a most suitable choice for the dedication.

 

Trio Hochelaga did an inspired job with this work, opening with Marleyn's lovely rich tone gliding through the sumptuously passionate melody. Lemelin had many opportunities to shine -- the piano part is virtuosic and elaborate. He made the most of the many moods presented, playfully bounding about and deftly presenting strong chords, while always keeping things balanced and appropriate. Robert's bow flew, sounding almost viola-like in her dark-toned lower register. 

Gwenda Nemerofsky

Winnipeg Free Press

June 10, 2007

Friday night's concert included return appearances by violinists Yehonatan Berick and Kerry DuWors, Marleyn, and pianist Stéphane Lemelin performing a program of mostly-Eastern European works. Making his Festival debut was violist Jethro Marks, with CBC radio's Andrea Ratuski hosting. 

 

First hearing a CD of Bartók's original folk recordings of three short pieces, alternating with Berick and DuWors' gutsy musical re-interpretation of each song accomplished what the best concerts do: creating an invaluable context that allows the listener to hear the music with fresh ears and new insight. The duo performed ten more of the duets, highlighted by the swooping glissandi and foot-stomping rhythms of Transylvanian Dance.

Holly Harris

Winnipeg Free Press

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