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Graphic novels, selfies, DJs and more: Festival aims to break old-school reputation

Photo: Claudia Cordova 

A chamber music festival sounds like something reserved for our grandparents. 

But that’s an idea that Ottawa’s International Chamber Music Festival, or Chamberfest, hopes to change.

From July 23 to Aug. 6 the festival will host a variety of musical genres with a new concept to bridge the generation gap, including performances at the University of Ottawa.

This year’s theme of Chamberfest is Re:generations, meant to bridge the generational gaps of chamber music. Chamber music is a broad category, encompassing all genres of music played using a small group of instrumentalists.

James Whittall, director of marketing and communications for Chamberfest, says there will still be traditional classic music but also much more that will appeal to younger fans with alternative tastes.

Whittall says the festival plans to move chamber music into areas that would have startled the generation before it with a fresh look and new ways of performing.

“Every generation brings (chamber music) into new genres and does things with it to modernize the art form,” he says.

For example, internationally known DJ Kid Koala’s performance of Nufonia Must Fall—based on his graphic novel of the same name—will tell the story of a robot who has fallen in love with a human who doesn’t know he exists. It features puppets, musical accompaniment by the Afiara String Quarter, and Kid Koala on the turntables. He will perform July 31 and Aug. 1 at De La Salle high school. 

Another performance will feature social media integration with #UncleJohn, a reimagined opera that takes the original story of Don Giovanni and modernizes it with an entirely rewritten portion with selfie and Twitter references. The performance at the University of Ottawa’s Tabaret Hall from Aug. 3–6 will be set up as if it’s a real wedding where the audience is meant to be the ceremony’s guests, sitting at tables while being served drinks throughout the show.

“One of the biggest biases people have about chamber music is (that) it’s a ‘museum art,’ one of those things that never changes,” says Whittall.  He says this year’s festival aims to prove that chamber music is in fact “living art” and changes with the times.

Whittall says organizers aren’t too worried that the shift toward more modern music will be a problem. In fact, in just more than a week, Chamberfest already broke their previous sales records.

Whittall recommends students check out the ChamberFringe series on July 24 at Saint Brigid’s Centre for the Arts, which he says will be a good way to get connected with the festival with late-night events featuring a range of music such as jazz, improv, folk, rock, and live DJs.

The wide selection will give a taste of what chamber music is really all about, he says. “It’s not your grandmother’s classical music concert, that’s for sure.”