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Carson Becke and Meghan Lindsay
Noon, July 21, Carleton Dominion-Chalmers Centre, 355 Cooper St.
Tickets at chamberfest.com/tickets
Pianist Carson Becke has always believed in maintaining the traditions of classical music, but what really ignites his passion is digging into the repertoire to uncover the gems that rarely see the light of day.
That sense of adventure will be in the spotlight on Friday, July 21, when the Wakefield-area musician makes his Chamberfest debut in a noon-hour concert with his friend and collaborator, soprano Meghan Lindsay. The pair has assembled a program that includes music by an underrecognized British woman, two Spanish composers and a reworking of Richard Strauss’ Four Last Songs.
“One of the things of classical music is there’s this very standard canon of repertoire that gets reinforced, repeated over and over again, and that’s good because what we’re doing is a tradition, and traditions have to be maintained,” said the Ottawa-born, Oxford-educated musician in an interview.
“But there’s lots of other music that is still part of that tradition but for whatever reason, it’s been overlooked or we’ve decided it isn’t as important. That’s something Meghan and I are trying to do: Make sure our programming is thoughtful and takes into account music that isn’t always played as often.”
One of those gems is the music of Rebecca Clarke (1886-1979), a celebrated British viola player who was also a talented composer. Becke has been performing her work for almost 10 years.
“Every time I play one of her pieces, I just kinda fall more and more in love with her music,” he said. “The best way that I can describe it would be if you took Debussy and Benjamin Britten and Vaughan Williams, smushed them all together and then gave it a slightly sombre, almost menacing quality.
“Clarke is a spectacular composer so I try to play her music as much as I can because I think she needs a lot more recognition than she currently has as one of the most important composers of the 20th century,” he added.
However, the centrepiece of the pair’s program is a new arrangement of Strauss’ final work, written months before his death in 1949. Becke had always been unimpressed with the original piano version of the orchestral piece, declaring it “totally unsatisfactory. It doesn’t do what it’s supposed to do,” he says. “It doesn’t support the voice and it doesn’t actually sound like an orchestra.”
So he went back to the score and came up with a new piano transcription that “really feels like the full orchestra.” Accompanied by Lindsay, Becke played it in concert for the first time last February.
The two musicians first met during the pandemic, when Lindsay and her husband, clarinetist Juan Gabriel Olivares, moved to the Gatineau Hills to raise their family. It was a homecoming of sorts for Lindsay, who was born in Ottawa. Becke and Lindsay soon realized they had a lot in common musically.
“Meghan is a very dramatic singer,” Becke said, describing their partnership as one of the good things that came out of the pandemic. “She’s primarily an opera singer but what I love about her is she’s totally flexible and she’s able to feel totally comfortable as a concert singer or a lead singer, which not all opera singers are. She brings her storytelling ability to art songs.”
When COVID-19 restrictions were lifted, Becke and Lindsay not only began performing together but also co-founded a festival, with Olivares, to bring classical music to venues in the Gatineau Hills. The second edition of the Hills Winter Music Festival took place in February.
Becke, as classical fans in the region will know, is also a key organizer of Pontiac Enchanté, the annual classical-music series in rural West Quebec. As a programmer himself, he has great respect for Chamberfest artistic director Carissa Klopoushak and her eclectic approach to chamber music.
“I think she’s really trying to challenge what we mean by chamber music and make people realize that it’s bigger than a string quartet or piano trio,” he said. “It’s really about all kinds of collaborative music making. I love that that’s the direction she’s taking, and that’s what she’s trying to show with the very diverse, very open festival that she’s programmed.”
Chamberfest begins Thursday, July 20, and runs until Aug. 3, with dozens of concerts in several downtown venues. The Carleton Dominion-Chalmers Centre serves as the main stage for high-profile concerts by violin superstar Jame Ehnes, ace pianist Hinrich Alpers, the Ottawa-born piano virtuoso Angela Hewitt, pop star Sarah Slean with the Ironwood Quartet, Ottawa opera sensation Wallis Giunta, festival favourites the Gryphon Trio, and the Isidore String Quartet, winners of the 2022 Banff International String Quartet Competition.
Also on the program is the late-night Chamberfringe series, which features boundary-pushing performances, mostly at Club SAW (67 Nicholas St.), by the likes of Josh ‘Socalled’ Dolgin with Warhol Dervish, brass quartet the Westerlies, Aline Homzy’s Étoile Magique, and fiddler Anna Ludlow (Ludlow at La Nouvelle Scène Gilles Desjardins, 333 King Edward Ave.).
Chamberfest also includes midday matinees, family-friendly shows, concerts in unexpected places, such as Beechwood Cemetery and The Record Centre (1099 Wellington St. W.), a festival edition of the popular interview series, Chamber Chats, and much more. Livestream content is also available.
Postmedia journalist Peter Hum, a food critic by day and jazz pianist by night, is part of the Chamberfringe festivities, too. Along with another talented Ottawa jazz pianist, Steve Boudreau, the pair launch Nonlinear, a new album of original compositions, with a concert at La Nouvelle Scène Gilles Desjardins on July 26.
For complete information on the schedule, and to buy tickets, go to chamberfest.com.