Calgary Pro Musica continues to bring world class chamber music to audiences 40 years on

What if someone told you that every few months in Calgary you could see some of the best musicians in the world perform classical music? What if someone else told you that some of these world class musicians end up being trained and nurtured right here in our city? And what if yet another person said you can see all of this in a world class concert hall a short drive from where you live?

What if I told you one organization in Calgary is responsible for making all of this happen? Well, for over 40 years Pro Musica has been curating some of the top talent from around the world and bringing it to Calgary. After all this time they’re not showing any signs of slowing down and as the final concerts of their season approach, they’re ending another year with some compelling music-making.

“This is a unique program and a special opportunity for Calgarians” says Artistic Director Dean O’Brien about their Masters Series performances on April 29 and 30 at the Rozsa Centre at the University of Calgary. Speaking about the featured piece on both concerts, Felix Mendelssohn’s String Octet, O’Brien says “You’re going to hear one of the most energetic, lively, spirited, exciting pieces of chamber music that’s every been written,” which, uniquely will be performed by two of the most captivating string quartets in the world, the Dover and Pacifica, who will be teaming up to get the full eight players required to perform the work.

Let’s not get ahead of ourselves though. There are a lot of words being thrown around here that maybe need a bit of explaining. First off, chamber music. “Chamber music is music written for a small group where there’s only one person per part,” explains O’Brien who is himself a chamber musician and plays viola in the University of Calgary String Quartet amongst many other activities. “When you go to the symphony, you’ll see a whole section of violins playing the same thing. Chamber music is not this way.”

Instead, chamber music features more intimate playing with a lot of communication and interaction between the performers. “It’s the type of music that many composers have used to write their most profound and emotional music,” continues O’Brien, “You think of Beethoven for example, his late string quartets are really the most personal and emotional music he wrote.”

A string quartet is made up of two violins, viola, and cello and as O’Brien says, many of the greatest composers have written their most profound works for the ensemble. For Saturday and Sunday’s concerts, you will get to hear two powerhouse string quartets that are widely considered to be two of North America’s best.

What’s interesting about these concerts is that you’ll be able to hear them perform together for Mendelssohn’s Octet but then each quartet will take the stage alone—Pacifica on Sunday, Dover on Monday—performing some of their own repertoire, which is a great incentive to take in both events.

Felix Mendelssohn, a German composer who was a child prodigy along the lines of Mozart, wrote the Octet when he was only 16. The composition is considered one of the greatest pieces of chamber music ever written and the chance to see it performed by two quartets of this calibre is extremely rare.

When asked what to expect at the show, O’Brien says “I can’t imagine anyone not being taken with the youthful enthusiasm of the piece…it’s not stuffy, it’s engaging, it’s a much more active experience then you could imagine.”

Rounding up Pro Musica’s season on May 7th is the Dick Matthews Young Artists Debut Concert featuring the Walden Trio. The group—made up of violin, cello, and piano—all currently study music at the University of Calgary and have recently made it to the quarter finals of the Fischoff Competition, the biggest chamber music competition in the United States. Coincidentally, the Pacifica Quartet are themselves past winners of this competition, which puts the Walden Trio in very good company.

This is all part of Pro Musica’s efforts to help foster a community of music making in Calgary. “We don’t just want to be a concert presenter, we want to have a big impact on the arts scene here in Calgary and cultivate a new generation of artists, it’s a way for us to give back,” says O’Brien of the program and Pro Musica’s other outreach efforts. In addition to a concert, the Walden Trio also receives instruction from Pro Musica guest artists, career development instruction, and an organized series of school performances.

For O’Brien and Pro Musica, it’s all about being part of Calgary’s cultural fabric and exposing Calgarian’s to classical music from around the world. If you haven’t seen one of Pro Musica’s concerts before, this weekend is a great chance to see what it’s all about while also hearing some of the greatest music in the genre being performed by some exhilarating players, and once you’re converted you can check out the next generation of classical music greats only one week later.

The Masters Series featuring the Dover and Pacifica String Quartets takes place April 29 at 7 p.m. and April 30 at 8 p.m. The Dick Matthews Young Artists Development Program Debut Concert featuring the Walden Trio takes place May 7 at 8 p.m. All performances at the Eckhardt-Gramatté Hall – Rozsa Centre, purchase tickets online or at the door.

(Photo: Dover Quartet. Credit: Carlin Ma)

Nathaniel Schmidt is a composer, educator, and writer in Calgary who spreads his wings in a wide variety of ways. After a decade working in the arts, he will begin a law degree at the University of Calgary in Fall 2018.