by Paul Shore
The Clear Lake Chamber Music Festival has graced the cultural landscape of Western Manitoba for almost a decade. As the tenth concert series approaches, the Festival can look back on exceptional performances, world premieres, innovative programming and the showcasing of renowned performers, and the introduction of new artists, performers, and works.
The Festival is the brainchild of Alexander Tselyakov, professor of Piano at Brandon University and winner of the top prizes at international competitions including the famed International Tchaikovsky Competition in 1986. A concert performer who debuted at the age of nine, and a resident of Canada for 21 years, Tselyakov explains the philosophy behind the Festival as a fusion of several important goals. First, the concert series brings classical masterpieces in live performances to people who may never have encountered them before. Once they have heard them, the supposed “inaccessibility” of works associated with the names of famous composers can vanish and the experience becomes one never to be forgotten. The concert series also appeals to music lovers who might otherwise wait long years to hear a favourite work by Ravel or Mihaud.
The location and physical setting of the festival’s venues over the years has remained an important consideration. Inspired by outdoor performances series in beautiful settings such as Massachusetts’ famed Tanglewood concerts, the Tselykovs have sought to stage events in appealing environments where people already enjoy spending their summer free time. A very positive experience with a summer concert series in British Columbia convinced Alexander Tselyakov that Manitoba could become the home of an equally enduring Festival. Located in almost the exact geographical center of the North America continent, Brandon, Erickson, and Onanole have proven an excellent drawing point for people from nearby cities and the countryside, and also from places as far away as Europe. Combining recognized masterworks, new compositions, and the whimsical and fun, the Festival has remained committed to offering varied fare with a broad range of appeal. And in a decade of performances, no work has ever been repeated. Finally, a guiding principle through the history of the Festival has been to spotlight the talent of Brandon University’s nationally recognized School of Music and to provide a platform for young and emerging talent.
The Festival started in 2006, with four performances, including the world premiere of Gerhard Ginader’s “Tracks, Tricks, for Piano, and Strings, performed on violin, viola, cello, piano and tape and commissioned by Alexander Tselyakov with a grant from the Manitoba Arts Council. The Festival has now grown to include more than half a dozen performances in recent years in various venues. Among the most recent of these news sites is the Lutheran Church in Erickson, MB. The discovery of this venue is a clear case of “seek and ye shall find.” In 2014, thanks to the gracious hospitality of Pastor Jim & Deacon Hilde Vickers, and of their congregation, several concerts were held in this inviting and acoustically fine space. This year two of the Festival’s concerts will be performed here, a few minutes’ drive south of Onanole on Highway 10.
A decade of Festivals has produced more than a few memorable moments. Composer Jim Hiscott kept right on composing as the rehearsals for the 2008 concert series progressed. Performers got the latest guidance for the piece just as soon as Hiscott thought of it! Also in the category of “developing stories” the case of Michael Cain who was expected to perform on one of the Festival’s jazz Cruises. Delayed by a late flight connection and undeterred by a speeding ticket or two, he made a prestissimo dash to Clear Lake and arrived just in time in a golf cart, frantically waving his hat to the concert goers as he approached the dock from which the concert boat was about to sail. Sometimes arrivals have not been anticipated: Several years ago, the Tselyakovs were staying in a lakeside cottage during the Festival when early one morning three quite enthusiastic visitors (but so far, without concert tickets) appeared at their window. They were a family of bears! Only one question remained: Where was Goldilocks?
Speaking of animals, a combination of poetry by local writer Laurie Block and accompanying music in the 2007 Festival offered up a very surprising mental image of a pig on a poster, hanging on the wall of the smallest room in the house… you had to be there, we are told. Then there was the time that some of the female performers were trying to decide of long or short skirts were more appropriate. After some debate, a few artists had persuaded one performer that a shorter skirt would be just fine, so the night of the concert, this performer was
onstage duly attired in a shorter skirt. But her colleagues for some reason opted for long skirts. On other occasions male performers faced the peculiar challenges of less-than-perfect-fitting or oddly coloured tuxedoes. Still, the show always went on and a fine concert was enjoyed by all.
Highlights of a more specifically musical nature include a guest performance by Westman’s own James Ennis, who teaming up with Alexander Tselyakov, gave an electrifying performance of works by Grieg, Ysaye and Prokofiev on the opening night of the 2011 Festival. Anniversaries of beloved composers have been the occasion of homages to Haydn and Mendelssohn (2009), Beethoven (2007), and Liszt (2011) to name a few. Virtuosity and technical coordination were required – and delivered– in large does when in 2010 Bach’s Concertos for one, two, three and finally four keyboards were all performed on the same stage in one evening.
Influences and Founders
Among the performers and composers who have shaped the character of the Clear Lake Chamber Music Festival are Schumann, Liszt, and Chopin (all both composers and performers). The great twentieth century pianists Vladimir Horowitz and Svatislav Richter have been an inspiration for Alexander Tselyakov, who also recalls seeing Shostakovich in the audience during a performance in the Soviet Union many years ago. Poets, from Ogden Nash to Ezra Pound, have likewise left their mark on performances, as have the flourishes of lighter veins of music from Scott Joplin and George Gershwin to Gilbert and Sullivan. Edgy and innovative works such as Intrada by Randolph Peters, which employed the doubling of chamber music instruments, and pairing of literary and musical expression, such as Kenneth Nichols’ setting of Ezra Pound’s “A River Merchant’s Wife” to chamber music accompaniment, have added to the achievements of this concert series. The interface of classical and jazz genres and concerts designed around the themes of the lives, loves and works of composers are also distinctive characteristics of the Clear Lake Chamber Music Festival.
Some memories are both personal and musical. Daniel Tselyakov, who performs in the first concert of the 2015 Festival, reminisces about meeting violinist James Ehnes:
I’m a huge fan of James Ehnes. But when it comes to meeting my heroes, I’m kind of an embarrassment. Socially, I either try to be too cool, or turn into a giggly teenage girl.
They say you’re not supposed to meet your heroes, but this was an exception. He’s one of the coolest guys I’ve ever met. He’s a very laid-back and grounded individual. … Performing with him was great because with him you have to bring your A game, and you know during the rehearsal process that the end-result will be high quality. And as a musician you want to be surrounded by musicians who elevate you and inspire you in new ways…
Every cultural institution has its founding figures. The festival has been very fortunate to have been blessed with strong and visionary supporters who make its launch a success. These include Marc Ricoine, Jennifer Woodbury, Jay Winburn, Lydia Comty (October 6, 1931- August 5, 2013), Ken and Eileen Frazer, Mary Jo Carrabré, Theo Fourie, MD, and Alla Turbanova and Alexander Tselyakov.
Who knows what names might be added to the list of festival supporters and contributors in the years to come: this year The Clear Lake Chamber Music Festival can claim a university president (Dr. Gervan Fearon, of Brandon University) among its performers, surely a unique achievement among 2015’s summer music festivals. This year will also be two world premieres: the quartet “Clear Lake in Dusk” by Patrick Carrabré, a work specially commissioned by Alexander Tselyakov and the Clear Lake Chamber Music Festival to celebrate the Festival’s 10th anniversary and produced with the generous support of the Manitoba Arts Council. In addition, the Festival will premiere a work by Professor Ken Nichols entitled “Wheat City: 1900s: Making Modern Brandon,” drawn from the feature length movie of the same name and produced for the MTS series Stories from Home.