Now that three years have passed since former artistic director and cellist Julian Armour quit Chamberfest and the new regime has had a few seasons under its belt, it seemed a good time to track down Roman Borys. The self-described producer is also an accomplished cellist. Along with colleagues Annalee Patipatanakoon and Jamie Parker, they comprise the Gryphon Trio. In the transitional years of managing the artistic side of the Ottawa International Chamber Music Festival, the three-member ensemble was charged with planning the dozens of concerts and events together; now, perhaps taking a leaf from the playbook of the failed artistic triumvirate at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival, Borys is in charge with his playing partners proffering advice as needed or required. This arrangement makes perfect sense and may coincidentally contribute to the longevity of the trio: any chamber ensemble—populated by highly sensitive musicians with artistic temperaments and already setting the course of its own world—is just one dust-up away from disbanding; simultaneously trying to find constant consensus and compromise on what amounts to hundreds of subjective decisions involved in planning an entire season is just asking for trouble. So far, it’s working on all fronts: here’s to more of that!
Just after personally sorting out an accessibility challenge (like all senior arts executives without an army of staff, Borys does everything possible to ensure that even a single disgruntled concertgoer doesn’t become a negative publicist) for a patron at The Church of St. John the Evangelist (Studio), we slipped into an adjacent coffee shop to reflect on the progress to date.
JWR: Now that you are into your third year, how has the journey been so far?
RB: We’ve successful made the transition from being a one-person show to an organization. That’s so important for the future. We’ve also reached out to all sorts of interesting resources to get younger people into the halls. [Most notably the annual “A Musical Breeze—Bicycle Parade,” a free event where parents and kids ride along the Rideau Canal, stopping at “sound” stations along the way to hear and participate with such artists as Ryan Scott, Jesse Stewart (percussionists) and the Torq Percussion Ensemble.] Anna, Jamie and I work well together; we enjoy each other’s company and trust each other completely. We’ve all seen other groups fall apart—there’s some force that pulls them in different directions. Unlike symphonies [and their conductors] we have to take full responsibility as chamber musicians and avoid becoming ensnared into the type of music produced by dysfunctional orchestras.
JWR: Even though we’re just a few days into the 2010 festival, how are plans coming along for next year?
RB: As always, we have lots of unsolicited ideas and suggestions—we could never hope to bring everyone here that wants to play. I’m constantly fishing around and doing research. Because of scheduling, some artists have already been booked, but the actual programs are still in progress. The core repertoire [string quartets, piano trios] will always be well represented, but more and more we are adding early music and new music programs. For years Tafelmusik has set the bar and now many smaller organizations are springing up trying to meet that level of quality. This year’s Skye Consort and Ensemble Caprice come to mind. They all have dedicated leadership and slightly different flavours. For the challenges of new music, we will continue to engage people like Gary Kulesha to help the audiences feel comfortable and not leave a performance thinking that “we weren’t smart enough to understand it.” [New Music Dialogues] As you know, we’ve done some multi-year projects such as all of Beethoven’s string quartets; this year Stewart Goodyear is doing the complete [Beethoven] sonata cycle—he offered to do it in a weekend but we managed to get him to stretch them out over five days. 2011 is Liszt’s year [born October 22, 1811] so we’ll have lots of bits and pieces from him.
JWR: You and I both have seen what a wonderful experience the festival can be, yet it’s not as widely known as some other international music festivals (cross-reference below). What would you say to readers who are intrigued by the programming and considering a visit?
RB: Ottawa has a gorgeous urban environment—just steps away from the trees, rivers and canal, yet it’s certainly not a “bug” festival or held in a concrete jungle. Standing in line in the sweltering heat [this well-travelled image of the festival’s early days may have some think twice about attending; so far in 2010, the longest wait has been 2 minutes], with seven options a day when would you eat if you had to line up? We’ve really improved the ticketing system. The diversity of the program is incredible. Many are hearing sacred repertoire for the first time; everyone enjoys the small ensemble collaboration and sharing the late-night events that are filled with extraordinary passions. [Not least of which was Borys’ for Astor Piazzolla which he and his Gryphon colleagues, as well as vocalist Patricia O’Callaghan aptly demonstrated, serving up “Broken Hearts and Mad Men” in zesty cabaret style at this season’s opening 10:30 p.m. soirée.] As much variety as we have, it’s still a safe place to come for the chestnuts. I’m engaging performers who can express their ideas clearly, who are able to reach out and committed to excellence. The city welcomes everyone: we’ve got a real love-on for chamber music here. JWR