Blueridge Festival is in seventh heaven

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The Blueridge Festival

Aug. 10 & 14 | Wrath & Redemption features music by Mendelssohn, Brahms, and Dorothy Chang

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Aug. 12 & 13 | Breath of Heaven offers Beethoven, Schubert, and Helmut Lachenmann

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Aug. 17 & 20 | Makrokosmos by George Crumb

Aug. 19 & 21 | Elixir music by Copland, Ravel, Fauré and Chang

Tickets & info: $10 to $20 from,

There’s no shortage of grass-roots chamber music programs during the regular season, but our summers have been a lot quieter since the demise of the Vancouver Chamber Music Festival and Musicfest Vancouver. A notable exception to the chamber music drought is the seven-year-old Blueridge Festival.

Blueridge started out almost impulsively. North Shore native soprano Dorothea Hayley and Colombian-Canadian pianist Alejandro Ochoa thought that the weeks of summer were a fine time for music-making. “It was a nice opportunity to get together with friends in semi-formal concerts, and we loved it and began to take it more seriously,” says Ochoa.

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Hayley chimes in: “We didn’t quite realize how organized we had to be. To start with, it works better when there is an audience!”

The team decided on combining concerts with a music camp, and to base the endeavour in the Blueridge area of North Vancouver. As the years went by, the Blueridge Festival grew in a practical, measured way: concerts were added, and then last year paired between North Vancouver’s Mount Seymour United Church (1200 Parkgate Ave.) and St. Mark’s Anglican Church in Kitsilano (1805 Larch St.). “This is only the second year, so it’s too early to say how it works. Last year was really an experiment. There hasn’t been a chamber music festival in Vancouver since 2006, so we felt sorry for the poor Vancouverites!” jokes Hayley.

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All festivals have two pillars: performers and repertoire. The Blueridge roster is flexible, but the playing-with-friends attitude prevails and this year’s selection of artists — mainly local but with some imports — is strong. Programing is another matter. Of course, all involved have their preferred showcases; but to make a festival work for audiences, it’s best to have a vision. “We err on the authoritarian side, but with some humanity,” says Hayley.

“We normally start with a kernel of a silly idea, and since this was our seventh anniversary it became ‘Seventh Heaven,’ ” Ochoa cautions: “But once the program evolves with input from everyone, the initial idea becomes barely discernable.”

A Blueridge hallmark is willingness to combine old favourites with some provocative new works. “We want chamber music to be a living art, presenting old music alongside new music without making it weird. New music is after all just the chamber music being written today,” says Hayley.

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A particularly impressive move is presenting a work by Helmut Lachenmann, a major figure on the international new music scene, in celebration of his 80th birthday this year. There is also a performance of George Crumb’s Makrokosmos, with New York-based pianist Manuel Laufer. And keeping with Blueridge tradition, there is a local composer in residence: UBC’s Dorothy Chang, who will have works on the opening and closing programs.

It’s unfair to ask performers/administrators about favourite works, but I did anyway. For Ochoa, it’s Brahm’s B-flat major String Sextet on the opening concert. Hayley’s choice is Lachenmann’s temA, written back in 1968. “It’s the second piece of his that I have performed,” she says. “And I think it is going to be a terrifying and thrilling experience!”

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