Kensington Sinfonia looks to expand their audience with the help of Village Brewery

After 30 years of bringing excellent classical performances to Calgary audiences, Kensington Sinfonia is shaking things up a bit. Sure, you will still get the same quality performances, but there’s something new brewing — literally. Kensington Sinfonia has teamed up with Village Brewery to present the Village Sessions: a series of concerts held in the brewery’s taproom, with each concert featuring a smaller version of the KS ensemble and a guest musician. As an added bonus, they’ve also created a special cask with Village Brewery as part of the show. Nathaniel Schmidt is president of Kensington Sinfonia, and he was gracious enough to answer a few questions about this wonderful collaboration.

How the Village Brewery collaboration came about:

NS: In early 2017 we were looking to add a new series of concerts that reached a different audience. Our Main Series concerts run at a church on Sunday afternoons, which has worked really well for us, but we were interested in expanding our offerings. I used to work at Village Brewery on their bottling line and had also played a different concert in their taproom so the connections were more or less in place and we just needed to start talking. Eric Daponte, the marketing and taproom coordinator at Village is so supportive of hosting groups in the taproom that once the idea was out there it just happened. And with that being said, the whole Village Brewery crew has been wonderful to work with for these concerts.

Choosing their guest artists for each concert:

NS: Because this is our first season experimenting with the format, we decided to leave things up to violinist Laura Reid who was responsible for curating the shows. This season she picked a few artist she really loves and was looking forward to working with. In seasons to come we may pick a particular focus, but the broader goal of these is work with artists or groups we wouldn’t typically collaborate with in our Main Series concerts.”

The next guest artist performing Thursday, Kris Ellestad:

NS: Kris Ellestad has a really distinctive way of approaching his music. I know that when I turn on one of his tunes (I’m listening to Endless Joy from his 2015 album Faebles as I write this) it makes me feel really excited not just about his tune but music in general. There’s a lot of powerful energy in his music that comes through so strongly and I’m really excited that he’s going to be playing with us for this Session. In an intimate venue like the Village taproom, his stage presence will fill the room and I think be something really special.

Having both the current and incoming artistic directors, Donovan Seidle and Laura Reid, work together to create the current program:

NS: Donovan and Laura have been buds for a long time so it’s kind of a dream duo as far as planning is concerned. They work seamlessly together. Donovan handles the string arrangements and Laura does the programming as well as leads the ensemble (except for this concert which we couldn’t work out with her schedule and we’re very lucky to have another one of our violinists, Genevieve Micheletti, handle the lead). We’re very lucky that Laura has agreed to take on the role of artistic director for Donovan. Actually, we’ve always been really lucky. Donovan has been our artistic director since 2006 and has kept the ensemble really strong. Laura has been a consistent member of the ensemble as well and was the person we all thought of once Donovan announced his departure.

The beer that they have created for this upcoming session and how it jives with the program:

NS: The beer for this Session is … risky. So far, it’s been Donovan and I that discuss and come up with the ideas for the special brew. The first one was a coffee vanilla brown ale, which we figured would be drinkable and approachable while still being new — something that we want for these shows. This time we’ve gone for Earl Grey, anise, and peppercorn in the Blacksmith Ale. Originally we were just going to do Earl Grey, but as we were testing things out at Village we got a little more adventurous. This second concert feels more risky and adventurous in a way because the first show had a lot of buzz and eventually sold out. When something is new, it can be easier to get out there. Now with this second show is where the real risk comes in. Can we make this work more permanently?

Why Kensington Sinfonia is different from other classical outfits:

NS: Classical music can be a little daunting at times, but I believe that we’re starting to see a bit of a Renaissance in how it’s approached on stage. For a long time things were stuck in this barrier between audience and ensemble and luckily that’s starting to change. I think that Kensington Sinfonia was ahead of the curve in that sense. For a long time we’ve billed ourselves as “Calgary’s accessible classical music ensemble.” When you come watch us, our musicians talk to you, we explain what we’re playing and why we like it. There’s no barrier. With the Village Sessions we’re breaking that down even more. You get to sit right around the group and watch them communicate with one another which is really fun. We perform with a smaller version of the group, a string quintet, which is two violins, viola, cello and bass, and all the players are hanging around in between songs drinking beer with the crowd, which I don’t think you get with too many string quintets. And it goes without saying that these are really talented musicians. These are really some of the best string players in Canada and you can to sit around and have a beer with them! Doesn’t get much better than that.

The Kensington Sinfonia’s next Village Sessions performance with guest Kris Ellestad takes place Thurs, Feb. 22 at the Village Brewery Taproom. Tickets are limited, for info check out their website.

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Kari Watson is a writer and former Listings Editor of FFWD Weekly, and has continued to bring event listings to Calgary through theYYSCENE and her event listings page, The Culture Cycle. Contact her at