Instrumental Society of Calgary’s Rolf Bertsch talks chamber music and sharing a love of Brahms

Do you know that Calgary has a prominent chamber music scene? One group contributing to it, the Instrumental Society of Calgary (ISC), is putting on the final concert of their 2017-2018 season on Sunday, May 27th at 3 p.m. in St. Stephen’s Anglican Church (1121 14 Ave. S.W.).

I spoke to Rolf Bertsch, the artistic director for the ISC, about this weekend’s performance, titled Aimez-vous Brahms?, and the value of experiencing high-quality chamber music. 

“My role is, primarily, to assure the ongoing artistic quality of the concerts that we present,” says Bertsch. “Another important factor (is figuring out) who or what is gonna attract a crowd.”

Bertsch has held this position within the ISC for the past four years, and the biggest change in that time is related to where Calgarians hear the performances. 

“We were beginning to feel limited in how we could present our concerts at Scarborough United Church, which is where we were for a few years. It’s a wonderful venue and it’s used by many organizations and it’s nothing really against Scarborough — it’s just that we wanted to kind of have value-added and so we looked at other possible venues, and colleagues and friends of mine mentioned this St. Stephen’s Anglican Church.”

Some features of the ISC’s current venue that caught Bertsch’s attention were its theatrical lighting, stellar acoustics, and use of chairs instead of the traditional pews.

Bertsch also spoke highly about the city’s larger musical venues.

“We’re very fortunate here in Calgary, because we have … the Jack Singer, the Rozsa Centre, and the new Bella Concert Hall — these are fantastic acoustics,” says Bertsch. “I don’t know that we as a community are aware and fully appreciate just what a blessing that is for our performers, to be able to play in those kind of concert venues.”

This weekend’s Aimez-vous Brahms? concert will showcase three musicians as they perform the work of Brahms: Isabella Perron, a teenage violinist (and recent violist — more on that in a moment); her mother, Johanne Perron, a cellist; and Calgary-based pianist Krzysztof Jablonski. One of Bertsch’s initiatives for the ISC has been, in recent years, to incorporate a season theme when designing the concert programming.

“This year, to underline the Canada 150 celebrations, we’ve called it True North,” says Bertsch.

As a result, the Aimez-vous Brahms? concert will deviate from Brahms for just a moment to open with some Canadian content from composer Éric Champagne. Isabella Perron will perform this piece for solo violin, and then the young violinist by training will demonstrate her versatility by switching to the viola for a Brahms sonata alongside Jablonski.

“Last year … somebody suggested (to Perron), ‘Well, why don’t you try the viola?’ ” Bertsch explains. “She picked up a viola and learned … some major viola repertoire in a matter of a few weeks!”

Johanne Perron will follow her daughter with a Brahms sonata of her own, this time for cello and piano. The concert will then conclude with all three musicians reunited for a performance of Brahms’s Trio No. 1 in B Major.

“All three of these (Brahms) works are great pillars of the chamber music repertoire,” says Bertsch. “So it’s really finishing the season with a bang.”

The ISC, which also maintains an active educational component, will include a pre-concert performance by an up-and-coming young piano student approximately 20 minutes prior to the show’s 3 p.m. start.

“Part of our mandate is to create opportunities (for students),” says Bertsch. “It gives the kids, the most talented young performers, an opportunity to play the repertoire.”

Bertsch offers his perspective on the incredible impact of this art form in general.

“You can take these black-and-white scribbles on a page that were written hundreds of years ago and bring them to life in a way that touches and moves people,” he says. “It’s an immensely powerful medium when it’s performed with commitment and skill … We’re extraordinarily blessed to just be able to open a book of music and be able to communicate.”

Aimez-vous Brahms? takes place Sunday, May 27 at St. Stephen’s Anglican Church (1121 14 Ave. S.W.). Tickets for this performance and those in the ISC’s 2018-2019 season, are available at

Jill Girgulis is a student at the University of Calgary and a regular contributor for as well as When she’s not busy studying for her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree, she can most often be found in one of the first three rows of the Jack Singer Concert Hall.