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Are you planning to be a classical music tourist this summer? To pack your shades, shorts and flip-flops and hit the road in search of fresh air, sunshine and great music? CBC Music is all over this idea. To get you better acquainted with some of the classical music festivals happening in Canada this summer, we’re running SPF '12: Summer Preview of Festivals. In today’s instalment, we visit Winnipeg’s Agassiz Chamber Music Festival.

Agassiz is named for the vast glacial lake that once covered most of southern Manitoba and large parts of neighbouring provinces and states.

Today, the Agassiz Chamber Music Festival is firmly rooted in the heart of Winnipeg.

The music, however, will transport us to all corners of the globe, from Claude Debussy’s Paris – celebrating his 150th anniversary – to Brahms’s idyllic summer in Thun, Switzerland, to Dvorak’s sentimental summer in Spillville, Iowa, a town full of Czech ex-pats.

The Agassiz festival is a friendly and intimate affair, with most concerts taking place at Eckhardt-Gramatté Hall at the University of Winnipeg. It’s clear the musicians have a blast performing together, so audience members are keen to get up close and personal. The musicians usually chat from the stage before each work, which adds to the relaxed atmosphere and is both enlightening and entertaining for the listeners.

Cellist Paul Marleyn has been the artistic director of the festival from its beginning in 2000. He can’t hold back his love of chamber music.

“Hearing world class chamber music is one of the great experiences that life can offer,” he enthuses.  “I deeply believe that one doesn’t need anything but an open heart to be moved and transported by chamber music, when it’s played fabulously (the quality of the music and the artists is the key). Chamber music, or as I prefer to call it, art music, is for everyone. Come – you will love it!”

This year the Gryphon Trio, horn player Jamie Sommerville and violinist and violist Scott St. John top the long list of invited guests. And rest assured, Winnipeg’s famous mosquitoes are not invited.

Top three Agassiz picks

Brahms’s summer of 1886 – Thun, Switzerland
June 9, Crescent Fort Rouge Church
There’s nothing like exquisite and peaceful surroundings of the Swiss countryside to inspire beautiful music. The Gryphon Trio is featured in the Brahms Piano Trio, Op. 101 and his Violin Sonata, Op. 100.  Marleyn gets to fulfill a longtime dream of performing with pianist Jamie Parker in Brahms’s Cello Sonata, Op.99.

Calling to the Mountains, Calling to the Moon
June 12, Eckhardt-Gramatté Hall
Horn player Sommerville plays two horn trios in this concert, an energetic one by Canadian composer Kelly-Marie Murphy and one by Brahms, filled with his signature alpine horn calls. As well, Roman Borys of the Gryphon Trio plays the role of Pierrot, courting the moon in the Cello Sonata by Claude Debussy, the composer-of-honour at this year’s festival.

Festival Gala Finale – Press Gangs and Guest Pangs
June 15, Crescent Fort Rouge Church
Sommerville plays Schumann’s romantic Fantasy Pieces for Horn and Piano with pianist Aimee Tsuchiya. While Schumann was writing these pieces, his wife, Clara, was fighting off the press gangs banging on the door.

The Gryphon Trio returns to play birthday boy Debussy’s Piano Trio. The "guest pangs" refer to a young Debussy falling in love with the beautiful daughter of his hostess one summer. Then it’s all hands on deck with Schubert’s exuberant Octet.


Banff Centre boasts Beethoven, baroque and beautiful views

Indian River Festival: opera, oysters and perfect acoustics

Domaine Forget International Festival begins 35th season

SPF '12: Summer preview of festivals

CBC Music's 2012 festival guide

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Agassiz Chamber Music Festival celebrates Debussy's 150th birthday

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