The Agassiz Chamber Music Festival will be back with a bang when it presents Connected!, a full slate of livestreamed concerts, virtual artist interviews, cyber masterclasses, workshops, roundtable discussions, and emerging artist showcases that runs May 30-June 5.

The Agassiz Chamber Music Festival will be back with a bang when it presents Connected!, a full slate of livestreamed concerts, virtual artist interviews, cyber masterclasses, workshops, roundtable discussions, and emerging artist showcases that runs May 30-June 5.

This year audiences at the 22nd annual event will also be treated to a tale of two cities, with the festival’s seven nightly programs alternating between Winnipeg’s Laudamus Auditorium, tucked inside the Canadian Mennonite University, and the University of Ottawa’s Tabaret Hall. (Interloper Brandon slips in with a cameo appearance on Wednesday, featuring a concert by rising pianist Jammie Lee.)

SUPPLIED</p><p>Cree composer Cris Derksen’s chamber piece White Man’s Cattle will be heard on Monday.</p>

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Cree composer Cris Derksen’s chamber piece White Man’s Cattle will be heard on Monday.

"We wanted to be in full force this year and the number of artists is certainly not less than any other year," says artistic director Paul Marleyn, a former University of Manitoba music professor who now teaches at the University of Ottawa. "The quality of artists is also absolutely what our audience has come to expect, and I’m just so excited that we’ve managed to make this happen. It’s going to be such a blast to see these concerts online!"

After last year’s necessarily skeletal event, solely composed of three "At Home with an Artist" Zoom presentations, owing to the global pandemic, this year’s concerts — available to view by purchasing a weeklong pass or individual tickets — will be streamed through the festival’s YouTube channel, with each program hosted by Andrea Ratuski. The former CBC Radio producer leads nightly "Meet the Artist" preshow interviews at 7 p.m. with concert broadcasts available for up to 24 hours post curtain time.

Many fan favourites will be back, including world-renowned Canadian clarinettist James Campbell, violinist Axel Strauss and pianist Stephane Lemelin, joined by cellist Marleyn — all masked and following strict COVID-19-related health and safety protocols — in the Festival Opener on Sunday at 7 p.m. (all times CST) from Ottawa, featuring works by Brahms, Glick and Turina.

Winnipeg artists include Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra principal players — concertmaster Gwen Hoebig, associate concertmaster Karl Stobbe, violist Daniel Scholz and cellist Yuri Hooker — who will be joined by dynamo pianist Paul Williamson in a program of intimate works by Rosza, Kodaly and Brahms during the Karl Stobbe and Friends concert on Wednesday.

Think "chamber music" and kinder, gentler string ensembles typically come to mind, so the loud ‘n’ proud festival debut of the WSO Brass Quintet, composed of Paul Jeffrey, trumpet; Isaac Pulford trumpet; Aiden Kleer, French horn; Keith Dyrda; trombone, and Isabelle Lavoie, bass trombone, is an unexpected treat. The Agassiz Brass concert streams on Friday, June 4.

This year’s festival celebrates music by Manitobans, with a spotlight on Indigenous artists. Métis composer Karen Sunabacka’s Ripples (2019) for viola and cello, and Juno Award-nominated Two Spirit Cree composer Cris Derksen’s White Man’s Cattle for string quartet will be heard on Monday, further imploding the centuries-old notion that classical music only champions dead white European composers.

"Cris’s piece is a little bit shocking," Marleyn says of Derksen’s roughly 10-minute work, which he first heard at another festival a few summers ago. "It begins with a recording of a white farmer who has recently moved from England to Canada, and acquired some land… He speaks about how the bison need to be eliminated to make space for the ‘white man’s cattle,’ and you see his pride and complete thoughtlessness of what was there before he came along. It’s actually quite moving and very powerful."

SUPPLIED</p><p>Métis composer Karen Sunabacka</p>

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Métis composer Karen Sunabacka

Another highlight will be the world première of Winnipeg composer Jim Hiscott’s solo clarinet arrangement of James Campell’s Midnight Strutt, dedicated to the world-renowned performer during the Minature to Monumental show on Thursday. The program also includes Paul Juon’s Four Miniatures for clarinet, cello and piano, and venerable Russian composer Tchaikovsky’s Piano Trio, with acclaimed pianist David Jalbert joining Lemelin on the bill.

Bridge over Troubled Waters (Tuesday), an aptly titled show for these turbulent pandemic times, is named for Frank Bridge’s Cello Sonata and also features Poulenc’s Clarinet Sonata and Brahms’ Piano Quartet in A.

Last but not least, City Loves brings together the two "apart but together" metropolises in a final, glorious combustion of chamber music, thanks to the magic of digital technology, featuring Piazzolla’s The Four Seasons of Buenos Aires and Tchaikovsky’s Souvenir de Florence for String Sextet, with the grand finale also including newly appointed Ottawa Chamberfest artistic director/violinist Carissa Klopoushak, among others.

Marleyn is keenly aware that this year’s all-digital version presents a golden opportunity to build the festival’s international audience, both throughout North America as well as in Europe.

"It’s a fantastic development for the festival, and a major silver lining for us. We first saw this happen last year with ‘At Home with an Artist,’ where we had people tuning in from all over the world," the upbeat musician says, adding that the festival may well consider streaming its live concerts with an in-person audience in a post-pandemic age.

For further information, including livestream festival passes and individual tickets, visit agassizfestival.com.

holly.harris@shaw.ca