“No question, this is the largest and most ambitious programming we’ve ever done,” says Julian Armour of the 2019 Music and Beyond festival in Ottawa (July 4 to 17). “And the biggest things are bigger than anything we’ve ever done.”
And well they should be. The rhetoric may be reminiscent of Barnum (or an American president), but the excitement is well placed, considering the watershed that is 2019 for Music and Beyond – this is season number 10.
Every year since 2010, July in Ottawa has meant Music and Beyond’s omnibus of classical music performances at venues throughout the capital. And, as its name implies, the festival also aims to make sometimes surprising connections with topics beyond the music itself – “beyonds” such as food, wine, puppetry, painting, or science.
Among 2019’s featured cross-pollinations are circus arts, Canadian history and, of course, the number 10 (and its multiples).
The usual tally of events is between 80 and 85. This year, however, Armour and his collaborators have pulled out all the stops, offering a full 100. A circus-themed performance opens the festival at Dominion-Chalmers United Church, while the Canadian Museum of History is the planned site of an internationally live-streamed performance of Handel’s Music for the Royal Fireworks, replete with pyrotechnic display.
Both history and the number 10 figure in a remarkable 2019 commissioning project, the unlikely result of Armour having encountered a circa-1945 map of then-central Ottawa. The map was scattershot with seemingly random, numbered dots – each of which turned out to represent a serviceman fallen in World War II.
Armour ingeniously transformed the map’s grid into musical staves and the dots into notes, then distributed the resultant melodic suggestions among 10 composers for development into a series of original pieces to be performed at this year’s festival. “It’s so powerful to realize that the relationship of notes is of neighbors on a street,” Armour says .
Other highlights include a July 7 solo recital and July 10 Mozart concert featuring internationally acclaimed Canadian soprano Jane Archibald (“It’s her Ottawa debut,” notes Armour, “a real coup”); a performance by pianist Simone Dinnerstein and the Manitoba Chamber Orchestra on July 15; and a huge gala concert by legendary Ottawa conductor and choir director Brian Law, making a rare and triumphal homecoming appearance on July 17.
Organizing each year’s festival entails prodigious labours, and never lacks for adversity (a fire this April, for instance, knocked out the festival offices’ communications for two weeks). But Armour and his staff are clearly equal to it all.
“There’s always an emergency if you’re an arts organization,” Armour says cheerily. “But you roll up your sleeves and get back to work. We are soldiers.”
For further information, passes, and up-to-date Music and Beyond festival scheduling, see www.musicandbeyond.ca