Classical Music: Five concerts spread over two weeks for Victoria Summer Music Festival

What: Victoria Summer Music Festival
When/where: July 23, 25 and 30, Aug. 1 and 6, 7:30 p.m., Phillip T. Young Recital Hall (School of Music, Maclaurin Building, University of Victoria); pre-concert talks 6:40 p.m.
Tickets: $35 (10% discount for four or more concerts), students $10. Call 250-294-7778; online at vsmf.org; in person at Ivy's Bookshop, 2188 Oak Bay Ave.; and Tanner's Books, 2436 Beacon Ave., Sidney

The 24th season of the Victoria Summer Music Festival, which begins next Tuesday, will comprise five concerts spread over two weeks, all in the 220-seat recital hall of the University of Victoria’s School of Music, which in terms of both size and acoustics has proven to be an excellent venue for chamber music.

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This year, the VSMF will feature several of the best local performers as well as major performers from out of town, including clarinetist Jose Franch-Ballester, the Pacifica Quartet and the Rolston String Quartet, all making their festival debuts.

The first two concerts, next Tuesday and Thursday, will both feature Franch-Ballester, who is a much-heralded Spanish-born clarinetist with an impressive international performing and recording career, though he now counts as a quasi-local: Since 2017, he has been an assistant professor at the University of British Columbia, in Vancouver.

On July 23, Franch-Ballester will join the Pacifica Quartet in one of a series of autumnal, deeply expressive chamber works with clarinet that Brahms wrote at the end of his career: the Quintet in B Minor, Op. 115.

The Pacifica Quartet, formed in 1994 and now based at Indiana University, is a renowned, much-honoured ensemble that the VSMF has been trying to land for years. Its large and interesting discography includes the Brahms quintet, and an album of Elliott Carter quartets that won a Grammy Award for 2008.

Also on July 23, the Pacifica will perform Shostakovich’s String Quartet No. 2 (it has recorded all of Shostakovich’s quartets) and La oración del torero (1925), by Joaquín Turina.

On July 25, Franch-Ballester will collaborate with two members of the Victoria Symphony — violinist Terence Tam (the orchestra’s concertmaster) and principal cellist Brian Yoon — as well as pianist Arthur Rowe, a UVic professor and the VSMF’s longtime artistic director.

The program will include Berg’s highly concentrated Four Pieces for clarinet and piano, Op. 5 (1913); Poulenc’s late Clarinet Sonata (1962); and Bartók’s popular Contrasts (1938) for violin, clarinet and piano, which was commissioned by Benny Goodman, who recorded it with Bartók himself and violinist Joseph Szigeti.

The program will close with Brahms’s Clarinet Trio in A Minor, Op. 114, Franch-Ballester’s beautiful live recording of which was released by iTinerant Classics in 2011.

The Rolston String Quartet, formed at Banff in 2013 and winner of the 2016 Banff International String Quartet Competition, will also make two appearances.

On July 30, it will perform Mozart’s magnificent “Dissonance” Quartet in C Major, K. 465, and Schubert’s late “Death and the Maiden” quartet, a work of Beethovenian scale, power and profundity. In between, it will offer the String Quartet No. 1, Métamorphoses nocturnes (1954), by Hungarian composer György Ligeti, a long single movement described by the composer as a variation form without a theme.

On Aug. 1, the Rolston will perform Haydn’s late Sunrise Quartet, Op. 76/No. 4, and the String Quartet No. 2, Waves (1976), by Canadian composer R. Murray Schafer, whose 13 highly innovative specimens form one of the great modern string-quartet repertoires. To close this program, the quartet will join Rowe in Schumann’s Piano Quintet in E-flat Major, Op. 44, one of the richest and most exuberant works ever written for strings and piano.

Finally, on August 6, the Toronto-based piano quartet Ensemble Made In Canada, which made its VSMF debut in 2016, will return as part of a special venture called the Mosaïque Project. It will perform a suite of 14 short works for piano quartet (i.e., violin, viola, cello and piano), all by Canadian composers, all inspired by particular regions of Canada and all commissioned especially for this project.

(British Columbia will be represented by Ana Sokolovics Splendor Sine Occasu — a title that quotes the motto on B.C.’s coat of arms.)

Since last July, Ensemble Made In Canada has been touring Canada with this suite, and that tour will end back here, in late January of 2020, with a residency at the Victoria Conservatory of Music comprising workshops, masterclasses and a concert.

Note: Thanks to a generous donor, free tickets to all VSMF concerts are available to the first 10 students under 18 who show up by 6:40 p.m.

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