5 questions for Yosuke Kawasaki and Jethro Marks

This week, NACO is performing the rarely heard complete version of the Pulcinella ballet suite, Stravinsky’s neo-classical tribute to Italian Commedia dell’arte. The guest conductor is Matthias Pintscher, the formidable German double threat (he also composes) who took over the podium at Ensemble Intercontemporain in 2013.

Also on the program is Mozart’s smiling, effervescent Symphonie concertante for violin and viola. Instead of bringing in outside soloists, NACO will be showcasing the considerable talents of its own Concertmaster, Yosuke Kawasaki, and Principal Viola, Jethro Marks. Continue reading

5 questions for John Dapaah


John Dapaah (Photo: Sarah & Gee Photography)

One advantage of writing through Tales from a Red Chair, as opposed to in a mainstream daily paper, is that I enjoy a lot more freedom to tinker with ideas. Today I’m introducing a new feature to the blog.

I’ll be asking Ottawa musicians and dancers (and visiting guest artists) the same five questions. Their answers should be revealing, entertaining, and–I hope–unexpected. Kicking things off is young Ottawa pianist John Dapaah. Continue reading

NACO Principal Guest Conductor Storgårds nominated for a Grammy

Nice little Ottawa connection to the 2017 Grammy Nominations announced today.

John Storgårds, the NAC Orchestra’s superb Principal Guest Conductor, is nominated in the Best Classical Instrumental Solo category for his recording of the Dvorák Violin Concerto with Christian Tetzlaff and the Helsinki Philharmonic, on the Online label. 

More on today’s classical Grammy nominations here.

Reviewing as a political act


Media analyst Ross Dawson predicts that newspapers will be extinct in Canada by 2020. (http://rossdawson.com/blog/launch_of_newsp/)

People have been asking me why I started this blog. Like many of the freelancers caught up in Postmedia’s slow death, the sudden (but not unexpected) news that the Ottawa Citizen was cutting my classical review column gave me a chance to think about how and even if I wanted to continue in this field.

Unlike some of my former Citizen colleagues, I have a stable, full-time “day job”. I don’t depend exclusively on my freelance income to live (although the extra money was always nice).  This affords me the luxury to experiment with this blog format and tweak it until I think it’s worthwhile to try to get some funding for it.

The goal is to launch a Patreon campaign early in 2017. If I don’t need the income, why seek funding? Because I consider myself a professional arts journalist, not a hobby writer. I have a degree, honed my craft, and made my exclusive living at it for many, many years. I believe in paying artists and musicians for their work; the same holds true for journalists. If I manage to get enough Patreon subscribers, I’ll be able to pay not only myself, but other local writers affected by the Postmedia cuts. People like Peter Robb, my wonderful former editor at the Citizen, who was freelancing regularly. Or Patrick Langston, the Citizen’s longtime theatre critic.

So why does this matter? Here are three reasons:

Ottawa’s classical music scene deserves coverage: With Postmedia’s decision, Ottawa is now the only G20 capital that will not have regular coverage and criticism of classical music in its mainstream media. It’s a travesty, when you consider we have a dynamic, worldly new music director at the National Arts Centre,  and are putting millions of taxpayer dollars into revamping the concert hall. Criticism isn’t only about providing an informed opinion on musicians from night to night; it’s also a way to report back on the results of these massive public investments.

Music criticism, to me, is a political act. For as long as I’ve been writing reviews (and I sold my first one to a newspaper when I was 20), I’ve been one of the only women, and certainly one of the only persons of colour, in what remains a field dominated by older white men. Just as orchestras are starting to look at expanding the diversity of their musicians and administrative staff to better reflect their communities, it’s vitally important that the people writing about classical music reflect a range of views and experiences. When NACO announced its 2016-17 season, the dearth of women on the program was immediately glaring to me. When I flagged this to my male editor, he admitted that he hadn’t noticed. I also remember how daunting it was as a young, aspiring critic, to have no role models, not one person who looked remotely like me to indicate that this was a viable career choice. So yes, I want to keep writing because I feel that my perspective has intrinsic value, not only my knowledge and skill.

Newspapers may be gasping their last, but good journalism doesn’t have to. I’ll be honest: when Postmedia decided to merge the Ottawa Citizen and Sun newsrooms in January 2016, I knew my column’s days were numbered. It wasn’t a matter of if, but when, I would be cut. That’s when I started thinking about what reviewing might look like in a post-Postmedia world. I knew that at this point, it would be naive to count on traditional media to come to my rescue, so I had already resolved to go my own way if I had to. Many full-time critics also publish successful blogs (The Classical Beat by WaPo’s Anne Midgette and The Rest is Noise by The New Yorker’s Alex Ross come to mind). That’s not even counting all the online ventures by both independent writers and professional musicians who write on the side. In short, I’d been planning this blog for several months, and had already mentally prepared myself for the inevitable axe blow, so when the time came I was able to launch quickly and in an unsentimental frame of mind.

The common thread through all these reasons? I started this project because I was taught that action is the antidote to disappointment. I am my immigrant mother’s daughter: I’ve never been the type to sit around and wait for someone else to come up with a fix.