Ritornello Chamber Music Festival Turns 11

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HYPERCUBE will play April 13 at Village Guitar and Amp Co. (Photo Supplied)

Saskatoon’s Ritornello Chamber Music Festival is now entering its second decade, and the popular annual event is making a few changes.

Violinist Carissa Klopoushak and pianist Jacqueline Woods co-founded Ritornello in 2008 to bring the chamber music concert experience into the 21st century. The festival, now marking its 11th anniversary, has become known for testing the limits of classical performance and for presenting music that offers listeners new sounds and experiences.

This year, Ritornello will be held in April instead of its usual May timeslot, running April 12 – 14 at three local venues. The festival will also have a vocalist on stage for the first time when soprano Chelsea Mahan performs during Ingrid Stözel’s To One Beyond Seas, a piece inspired by Mohawk poet E. Pauline Johnson. Mahan’s voice will add a new dimension to a concert-going experience that is typically focused on strings and piano.

The Ritornello 2019 lineup will kick off on April 12 with a concert at Convocation Hall on the University of Saskatchewan (USask) campus. The event will showcase the talents of violinist Véronique Mathieu, USask’s inaugural David L. Kaplan Chair in Music. 

On April 13, Ritornello will move from the concert hall to the club when New York City’s HYPERCUBE plays at Village Guitar and Amp Co. The group blends the acoustic and electric worlds for a cutting-edge chamber music experience that mixes saxophone, accordion, percussion and electric guitar.

Ritornello will close on April 14 with a show at Remai Modern, where musicians will perform in full view of the South Saskatchewan River. The event will feature collaborations from Mathieu, Katherine Dowling, Leana Rutt, Andrea Lodge and festival co-founders and artistic directors Woods and Klopoushak.

Tickets are on sale now and can be purchased online at ritornello.ca. In advance of Ritornello 11, the Saskatoon Express asked Woods some questions about the annual festival and what listeners can expect to hear. Here are her responses.

Express: Ritornello is now in its second decade. How does that feel?

Woods: We are so excited for the next decade of the festival, and sort of amazed to be saying that, actually. Our little festival has grown to establish itself on the national festival tour and we couldn’t be happier with where we’re at today.

Express: Why did you change the dates of the festival to April? 

Woods: May has become a bit of a logistical challenge for Carissa and I, work-wise. It’s also always been a challenge for Saskatchewanians, lake-wise. We’ve actually been toying with the idea to move the festival back to line up with the university year for some time, hoping it means we can include more of the regular university community – especially students – in our audience.

Express: This year marks the first time you’ve included a vocalist. Why was that decision made?

Woods: Véronique Mathieu, one of our feature artists this year and the new Kaplan Chair at (USask), mentioned the piece as one that she had loved performing while she was living in the U.S. The poetry, by Mohawk-Canadian poet Emily Pauline Johnson (1861-1913), also known in Mohawk as Tekahionwake, is a powerful commentary on nature and life that has inspired some really beautiful colours in the hands of composer Ingrid Stölzel. Ritornello musicians have collaborated with local soprano Chelsea Mahan before, and this piece seemed like the perfect fit for this year’s programming. We can’t wait to share it with our audience.

Express: What else is new this year?

Woods: HYPERCUBE is a really interesting contemporary ensemble from New York. I actually went to school at SUNY-Stony Brook (State University of New York at Stony Brook) with three of the four players and am so excited about what they’ve done with this group over the past few years. (Expect) percussion—a wide array of instruments. Electric guitar. Saxophone. Accordion. We’ve never had any of these instruments, so it means some fantastic new sounds for our weekend.

Express: When you are organizing Ritornello, what guides you in your planning and programming?

Woods: Carissa and I have an ongoing bucket list of (repertoire) we’d love to program for the weekend that has grown from our first festival. That’s always at the back of our minds. And, of course, the artists we want to work with – their instrumentation and “sweet spot” rep-wise are definitely a driving force in what audiences get to hear in the end. 

Express: How do you think audiences will respond to this year’s festival?

Woods: As usual, there’s something for everyone. Each program is unique and features an array of sounds and performers. The fact that each concert is at a different time and venue also gives our audience some real choice. If they’re lucky, they’ll attend all three and really experience an expanded sound world at three amazing — and very different — Saskatoon spaces. Special thanks have to go out to our co-presenters at the University of Saskatchewan Department of Music and our community partner, the Remai Modern. These partnerships and grant support from the City of Saskatoon, SaskCulture and the Saskatchewan Arts Board are what make this weekend possible.