Classical Music: New Orford String Quartet plays Beethoven, Brahms

Tonight, the Victoria Conservatory of Music, in its series VCM Presents, will sponsor an appearance by the renowned New Orford String Quartet, one of Canada’s premier classical ensembles (April 4, 7:30 p.m., Alix Goolden Performance Hall, $20/$17, under 18 free;

Since its debut in 2009, the NOSQ has toured throughout North America, appeared often on CBC Radio, recorded CDs for several labels and had university residencies.

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The foursome is ensemble-in-residence at the University of Toronto, artists-in-residence at the University Club of Toronto and artistic directors of the Prince Edward County Chamber Music Festival.

The NOSQ comprises the concertmasters of the Toronto and Montreal Symphony Orchestras, the latter’s principal cellist and the principal violist of the Detroit Symphony. One of the violinists, Jonathan Crow, has a Victoria connection.

Born in Prince George in 1977, Crow studied at the Victoria Conservatory of Music before moving to Montreal to study and perform. He has been the Toronto Symphony’s concertmaster since 2011. He also teaches at the University of Toronto and is artistic director of Toronto Summer Music.

Crow has performed in Victoria often, alone and with the NOSQ, under auspices including Eine Kleine Summer Music, the Victoria Summer Music Festival and Conservatory events. He was last here in February 2018, when he joined the Victoria Symphony in a Prokofiev concerto.

Tonight’s program includes two masterpieces of the standard repertoire, Beethoven’s C-sharp-minor quartet, Op. 131, and Brahms’s A-minor quartet, Op. 51/No. 2. (The NOSQ’s recording of Brahms’s Op. 51 quartets won a Juno in 2017.)

The NOSQ is devoted to Canadian music, classics as well as new works, and tonight’s program will open with a piece written for it in 2016: Les Veuves (The Widows), by Uriel Vanchestein, a native of Montreal.

Based on a dark poem by a Québécois folk singer, it tells of a member of the Abenaki First Nation, in Quebec, who seeks revenge for the clearcutting of Abenaki land by burning down the bar where the loggers have gathered, creating widows in the process.

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This weekend, the Sooke Philharmonic Chamber Players and Chorus will perform secular and sacred music under the baton of the Chorus’s director, Nicholas Fairbank (Saturday April 6, 7:30 p.m., Sooke Community Hall; Sunday April 7, 2:30 p.m., Quarterdeck Ballroom, Royal Roads University; $25/$20/under 19 free;

The program includes three popular works: Mendelssohn’s English anthem Hear My Prayer, Brahms’s Liebeslieder waltzes and Chichester Psalms (1965), by Leonard Bernstein, whose centenary was celebrated last year. The Mendelssohn will feature Sooke-based soprano Nancy Washeim, while the Bernstein will feature Taiwanese-born countertenor Gary Sun, who studies at the Conservatory.

Fairbank will also lead his own Canción amazónica (Song of the Amazon), from 2016, inspired by a visit he made to a town on a tributary of the Amazon River. The work is sung mostly in Spanish, and draws on texts and melodies native to the region.

The first concert ever given by the Victoria Baroque Players, in 2011, was titled Bach on Palm Sunday, and every Lenten season since then it has offered some kind of serious, Easter-themed concert. On Sunday, it will continue that tradition with an all-German program mostly comprising sacred vocal works (7:30 p.m., Church of St. John the Divine, $28/$25/$5;

Seven members of the VBP will be joined by its regular partner in choral music, the St. John’s Chamber Singers, directed by David Stratkauskas, and by four vocal soloists.

As usual, there will be music by Bach — Kyrie, motet, Sanctus — though also works by two composers who served as cantor at the St. Thomas School in Leipzig, the same position Bach took up in 1723: Johann Schelle (1648-1701) and Johann Kuhnau (1660-1722).

The program also includes a cantata and a trio sonata by the greatest of Bach’s older German contemporaries, Dieterich Buxtehude (1637-1707).

Admired as both an organist and a composer, Buxtehude was a role model for the young Bach. In the fall of 1705, in fact, the 20-year-old Bach took a leave of absence from his church-organist position in Arnstadt and walked more than 400 kilometres north to Lübeck, just to meet the venerable Buxtehude and listen to him play.

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