Arpita Ghosal is a Toronto-based arts writer. She founded Sesaya in 2004.
A stray quip about Ensemble Made in Canada (EMIC) – “you are the rock stars of chamber music” – has turned out to be prophetic.
The touring and performance schedules of the piano quartet – composed of Angela Park (piano), Elissa Lee (violin), Sharon Wei (viola) and Rachel Mercer (cello) – rival those of any rock supergroup. Their week began with a concert at the Kitchener-Waterloo Chamber Music Series. On Wednesday, they will perform in the Canadian Opera Company‘s (COC) Free Concert Series at the Four Seasons Centre in Toronto. They follow this with a Friday collaboration at Western University with the Vocal Studio in the afternoon and an evening Opera Soirée, both with COC Music Director Johannes Debus. After this conclusion of their weeklong residency at Western University, they will cap off the week with a concert at the Five at the First Chamber Music Series in Hamilton on Saturday.
And all of this is in addition to each member’s additional master classes and solo and ensemble performances.
So yes, EMIC is much in demand! Yet all four members manage to balance performance and teaching with family duties. As one of Canada’s most sought-after pianists, Ms Park would not have it any other way: “Touring gives us an amazing chance to travel and meet different audiences. It’s a great learning experience for us as we get to play our programs in various venues under a wide array of circumstances.” Touring can be taxing at times, especially when schedules are packed with back-to-back travel, concerts, teaching, and meetings, but she is firm that “it’s a special experience that would be hard to give up!”
That said, this lifestyle necessitates being “super organized.” Time is limited, so activities like practice have to be efficient. “Taking care of oneself… It can be tough,” Ms Park pauses soberly. “Family and work take up most of my energy, but it is something that I am working on to make more time for! Having good family support certainly helps to make performing and travel possible.”
Ms Park is one of the busiest and acclaimed professional pianists in the country, with a solo career that could easily keep her calendar full. So why add group collaboration to an already over-full schedule? “It’s rewarding to be in a group where everyone has their own strong personality and style of playing, and yet . . . we complement each other musically.” Each meeting, whether to rehearse or perform, contributes to a familiar feeling of being more “gelled together.” Though rehearsals and “managing our crazy individual schedules” are hard work , everyone maintains a good sense of humour, “and that keeps things fun.”
The week is certainly crammed, but each performance is unique and prized. For instance, on Wednesday, EMIC will perform at the COC’s Free Concert Series with special guest clarinetist Dionysis Grammenos. “He is in fact the Assistant Conductor of the COC this month, and we’re so lucky he made time to fit in concerts with us. He’s an incredible musician and inspiring to work with.” The program will consist of Schumann’s Fantasy Pieces Op 73 for Clarinet and Piano, and the Brahms Clarinet Quintet Op. 115 for Clarinet and String quartet. “Each of these pieces are masterpieces and will complement each other beautifully for this program. I couldn’t imagine a better way to spend a lunch-hour!” The Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre is an acoustically-rich and intimate atmosphere , a haven within the bustle of Toronto’s downtown core where the audience can experience EMIC and Grammenos among fellow music lovers – for free.
While this is EMIC’s first time participating in COC’s acclaimed Free Concert Series, their concert at Five at the First’s First Unitarian Church will be like the prodigal quartet returning home, and not just because cellist Rachel Mercer happens to be the Artistic Director of the series. Having performed in the Five at the First “since the beginning”, EMIC is a series staple, something which Ms Park considers “an honour….I admire so much what Rachel Mercer and Michele Corbeil have done to create and sustain this wonderful series,” which has created a true fan base of annually returning loyal fans.
“I love performing for 5 at the First knowing that the audiences will be familiar, encouraging, and open-minded to hear both traditional and contemporary works,” she enthuses. Novelty and experimentation are appreciated: “audience members often tell me that the contemporary work was their favourite piece on the program.” A regular audience and a familial audience make the 5 at the First series an especially conducive venue for trying out new pieces in their repertoire – which Ms Park admits can be an otherwise “nerve-wracking” prospect.
EMIC’s program on February 10th “The Romance of Josef Suk” revolves around the “Romance” theme – just in time for Valentine’s Day! In addition to a mixed program of duos and quartets, the audience can also expect to hear each member of the quartet highlighted in a different role. “We are excited about the Suk Piano Quartet, which is rarely performed, but we’re sure the audiences will enjoy it. It’s an energetic, youthful work, and the second movement is my personal favourite, with some incredibly tender and magical moments.” She is also eager to perform the Clara Schumann 3 Romances for Violin and Piano, which she has wanted to perform for quite some time. “They are elegant, heart-soaring pieces,” she offers, “and it’s likely that many people may not be as familiar with Clara Schumann’s music, so it should be a refreshing treat.”
What does EMIC’s future hold, and how busy will they be? In the spirit of their patriotic name, Ensemble Made in Canada is helping to put compatriots on the musical map with a large-scale project they are about to launch. Mosaique will include “14 commissions by Canadian composers, a national concert tour in 18-19, and an audience art participation that will be showcased on a special website.”
So expect that the schedule of this dynamic group will remain full to bursting. Nonetheless, Ms Park and her fellow musicians continue to manage their “crazy individual schedules” with aplomb. Best of all, they have also “managed to keep moving forward and to keep the quartet a priority, as well.” In the meantime, audiences in southern Ontario can- and should – indulge in this spate of opportunities to catch this award-winning quartet . . . right in our own backyard.
News You Can Use
What: Brahms Clarinet Quintet performed by Ensemble Made In Canada and Dionysis Grammenos, clarinet (part of the Canadian Opera Company’s Free Concert Series)
When Wednesday, February 7, 2018, 12 PM
Who: Audiences of all ages
Where: Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre in the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts, 145 Queen St W, Toronto, ON M5H 4G1
What: The Romance of Josef Suk (part of the 5 at the First Chamber Music Series) performed by Ensemble Made In Canada: Angela Park (piano), Elissa Lee (violin), Sharon Wei (viola), Rachel Mercer (cello)
Who: Audiences of all ages
When: Saturday, February 10, 2018, 3 PM
Where: The First Unitarian Church, 170 Dundurn St S, Hamilton ON, L8P4K3
Information and Tickets: 5 at the First
Explore and Learn: Ensemble Made In Canada
© 2018 Arpita Ghosal, Sesaya