Classical Unbound Festival

"Our first priority is to entertain, but we are always trying to get under listeners' skin, to connect them viscerally to our performances. We want us and them to explore the boundaries of what it means to attend a classical music concert"...

If you are here, you are a fan and I truly, sincerely appreciate your affection for our musical offerings. Classical Unbound 2017 was a true success, and it is clear that there is an ardent demand for our very specific musical offerings as part of an August in Prince Edward County.

However, Classical Unbound Festival's eStorefront has temporarily shut its doors. Unfortunately, the practicalities of life have precluded our ability to stage a full 2018 season, and we will not have the immense pleasure of seeing you this summer for our regular 2 weeks of "changing what it means to go to a classical concert".

Solutions to staging a partial 2018 season and a full 2019 season are being worked on, and those on our mailing list will be informed. For you, adjoined below is Classical Unbound Festival's story, with quotes from us, all of which illustrate why we've so enjoyed performing for you.

My very best to you, our audience,

...Thor Eglington (Chair, Executive and Creative Director)

Click to contact us.

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The history of Classical Unbound Festival...

Ten years ago, Thor discovered for himself the beauty of the County. Soon, he and his wife (Joanna) and toddler son were making day trips from their home in Ottawa to hike the dunes, walk the southern smooth pebble beaches, and explore the burgeoning viticulture and gastronomic scenes. They often took the Glenora ferry to symbolically reinforce their departure from their urban lifestyle to this 'other'.

This sounds like many visitors to the County, except that Joanna is the principal flautist of one of Canada's premiere orchestras: the National Arts Centre Orchestra (NACO). By the fall of 2014, Thor and Joanna had teamed up with two other NACO musicians who had quite separately fallen in love with the County: Yosuke and Jessica, the NACO Concertmaster and Associate Concertmaster. These 3 musicians were the festival's 3 Co- Artistic Directors. A 3-arts-to-1 business ratio is rare in festivals, but it naturally reinforced the artistic integrity of Classical Unbound.

Our dream was to create a classical music festival that was very unlike the musicians' professional performance environment. That environment is one is of plush halls, tailored acoustics, grand repertoire, and a multitude of musicians playing in regimented unity. "The musicians' home-hall [Southam Hall] at the NAC is fabulous, and each of them has played in many others, and each of them has performed with many festivals. Those performances are fantastic, but you cannot deny that there is a certain formality there, including a prescribed set of behaviors the performers and audience are expected to uphold. In a sense, Thor as an audience and Joanna, Yosuke and Jessica as musicians wanted to bust-out of the concert hall, to break-free of the unifying rigor that is necessary to enjoy and create incredible music in that situation."

Seeking the flexibility of being able to shift where musicians and audiences are placed during a performance was a first step in 'busting-out', something provided by venues not originally designed as performance halls. These 'unconventional' venues have become fashionable of late, but Classical Unbound reached further.

Freedom from the concert-hall also meant the freedom to enhance the concert experience by selecting repertoire and instrumentation specific to each new performance context. "Apart from the obvious acoustic considerations, such as a wildflower-field performance requiring pretty brash penetrating sound whereas a barrelroom is restricted to softer solo and duo performance, we push the whole performance context as far as we can. If the audience sight-line includes the razor-sharp Lake Ontario horizon behind us, or if outside a barn-venue's open panel doors birds are nesting, or if crickets are doing their thing inside a winery-venue's walls, that influences what we program for that venue. We have gone so far as to consider a concert in a Lavender farm's blossoming fields, using the bees' buzzing to supplement the drone-like foundation in some pieces, and of course that incredible smell would reinforce all sorts of beatific musical impressions".

Unconventional venues with these performance freedoms are plentiful, but Prince Edward County was a particularly exact fit with what Classical Unbound was all about. That fit included the County as an agricultural and winery area that "overtly connects attendees to the root-source of food and the pleasure of wine - the food people eat and the wine drunk during concerts comes from directly beneath their feet". The many timeless performance-capable buildings were another plus. The "fresh-water endlessness of Lake Ontario contrasted with desert-like sand dunes, in-turn contrasted with lush verdant pastoral hills" added a further dimension to audiences' ability to be "suspended in the musical moment". "These qualities exist elsewhere, but not all together. It is having all of this experiential richness at your fingertips that is so magical about the County for our festival".

Growth was rapid. A key element is that the performances did not sacrifice musicianship caliber. "It was a conscious decision to stick with top talent in each of our concerts, across all instruments. This stretches the business-case considerably, but it guarantees that the greatest emotionality is squeezed out of each composition." In addition, passing-on performance skills was a priority: the festival planned a mentored performance program.

"We started-off with a few concerts with food by Chef Jamie Kennedy in Chadsey's winery hay-barn among the bales in 2015. In 2016 we added the Grange winery tasting-hall, another farm barn-hall, and Sujo Bae's Soup Opera gourmet restaurant. Our 2016 season got us nominated for an Ontario Premier's Award for Excellence in the Arts.

For 2017 we staged 3 festival-support urban-outreach prequels, in Stratford, Ottawa and Toronto, as well as the August festival itself. In August, there were 6 different-programme concerts across 3 performance contexts: 2 very-different-feeling halls at the Grange and Hillier wineries, and the Mt Tabor historic church with especially comfy 1950s movie-theatre seats. There was an additional free concert aligned with theatrical themes in collaboration with The Backyard Shakespeare Players, for kids, tweens and teens. There was an additional Moroccan-themed "Méchoui Unbound" with Chef Sujo Bae with impromptu performances "where musical magic was strong".

A concert in a wild-flower field at Three Dog winery had to be cancelled, and a concert in Rosehall Run's barrelroom was postponed (the harvest was so plentiful in 2016 that there was not enough room between the barrels for an audience). "I love that aspect of our festival: the connection to everything that is happening immediately around the venues: it is as if we are part of the County's lifeblood that ultimately originates in the soil".

Classical Unbound 2017 featured 15 top-flight orchestral musicians and the world-renowned operatic singer Krisztina Szabó. Ensembles included piano, woodwinds, strings, and voice. The repertoire extended from the traditional to select compositions from 3 active composers who were onsite to speak about their pieces. Donors, and local and national Sponsors were true collaborators, and helped to bring the season to a sold-out closing concert.
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