The world-class Scotia Festival of Music, an annual event since 1980, takes place in Halifax at the Dalhousie Arts Centre from May 28 to June 11. There are 13 concerts in all, featuring everything from chamber masterpieces to whimsical poetry, young local orchestral musicians to star international soloists, along with a showstopper involving eight pianists on two pianos. We asked some of the musicians to pick the performances that excite them the most.
Philip Chiu, Juno-winning, Montreal-based pianist
Top pick: Nova Scotia’s OMBAK Gamelan Ensemble, believed to be Atlantic Canada’s first professional group dedicated to Indonesian percussion music.
As musicians we talk about the French and how they heard a Javanese gamelan ensemble performing at the world’s fair in Paris in 1889, and what an influential moment it was. But most of us have never heard a live gamelan orchestra.
The piece I’ll be playing is Debussy’s Estampes. The first movement of that piano suite is Pagodes, which is directly inspired by the sound of a gamelan percussion ensemble. During the concert I’ll be following OMBAK, directed by Ken Shorley. I’m going to hear a gamelan ensemble live for the first time, then segue right into a piece by Debussy. I feel so privileged to be able to soak in the sounds of this ensemble and imagine what Debussy heard in 1889.
Also on the program is Mendelssohn’s Cello Sonata No. 2 in D major with Ani Aznavoorian, who is just an amazing cellist, and pianist Andrew Armstrong, whom I’ve never met personally but have heard about in only the most glowing terms. I love the piece with all of my heart.
Gwen Hoebig, violinist and concertmaster of the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra
Top pick: Façade, a product of the roaring twenties featuring the surrealist poetry of Edith Sitwell and the precocious music of William Walton.
It’s a piece I’ve never heard live. I don’t believe it is performed often in Canada, and it sounds like it is completely fun. Last summer at the festival we did a piece similar in concept, with a narrator, but Façade will be much more light-hearted.
The Scotia Festival of Music has always had an element of experiment to its programming. It’s varied and wide-ranging – there’s something for everyone. It’s also fun for us as players to be able to do all these different things.
Dinuk Wijeratne, Ottawa-based pianist who is conducting the festival’s orchestral gala, playing with his jazz trio and having a string quartet of his performed
Top pick: Debussy’s Cello Sonata by cellist Blair Lofgren and pianist Simon Docking, the festival’s director.
I’m interested in a number of performances, including the OMBAK Gamelan Ensemble. I’ve also never heard a performance of Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade. It’s funny that the only way I’ll get to do that is by conducting it myself.
It is going to be exciting to hear Debussy’s Cello Sonata in the hands of Blair Lofgren and Simon Docking, who are such incredible musicians. While I confess I don’t know the piece note for note, I’ve listened to it enough to know that I am completely intoxicated by it. And then you want to hear it performed by great musicians just to see what they can do with it interpretively.
I’m speaking very much with my composer’s hat on, but the Cello Sonata is such a remarkable combination of rigorous form and fantasy at the same time. Those two things really pull in different directions, but somehow Debussy pulls it off. It’s just so tight, and at the same time you always get the feeling it was almost improvised.
Andrew Armstrong, Massachusetts-based pianist
Top pick: Philip Chiu’s performance of Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 1 in D-flat major, Op. 10 at the festival’s closing gala.
I chose the Prokofiev, partly because I love the music with unbridled passion and partly because I’m excited to get to hear Philip Chiu play in person for the first time. I’ve been an admirer from afar.
To me, the Scotia Festival of Music is a perfect summer festival. There is an incredible integration of the young artists and the visiting artists and the music-loving community, all in this beautiful, thriving organism. It’s all this inspiration going in every direction.
There’s a sense of shared purpose – a shared community caring for one another through music and caring for music through one another. It’s incredible.