Prince Edward County Chamber Music Festival marks its 20th anniversary




For two weekends in September (8-10 and 15-17), St Mary Magdalene Church will be filled with the sounds of classical music from over 250 years, from Mozart to a brand-new world premiere by Canadian composer Marjan Mozetich.

All of it is brought to us by an almost completely volunteer brigade of organizers. Maureen Dunn, the Chair of the festival described to the Gazette the challenges of bringing everything together. There’s the competition of other summer festivals; there’s the fact that Picton is not a big city; there’s the budget! Over the years, these challenges have been met through hard work and generosity.

There is a network of volunteers who billet visiting musicians. Many of these hosts have established longstanding friendships with their annual visitors, who alike attest to this added bonus. Violinist Andrew Wan says this festival is like home: “this picturesque setting with great restaurants. We love our billets; they always put us up with terrific people and it’s kind of a hometown festival: we play all types of festivals throughout North America, but this is the place that we always look forward to coming back to every year, every September.”

Mr. Wan is a member of the New Orford String Quartet (Pictured), who serve as the Artistic Directors of the Festival, organizing years in advance each program and slate of visiting musicians.

Picton is conveniently about halfway between Toronto and Montreal, which are home base to many working orchestral musicians. The audience too reflects this dynamic. About half come from within the County, and half from the Toronto-Ottawa-Montreal triangle. Some visitors will book one weekend or the other. Many return year after year, not only supporting the Festival, but contributing to the County economy at large.

Ms. Dunn expressed gratitude for the Festival’s venue, St. Mary Magdalene: “they’re absolutely a wonderful partner; it’s a great place to hear music: the sound is really good.” The church and the festival have also coordinated in acquiring and maintaining the piano. In its first few years they had been using “somebody’s home piano” which had to be moved to the performance location. Eventually the church sponsored the purchase of a dedicated piano, paying for most of it over a couple of years through concerts, and the Festival is in charge of maintaining it, including a major overhaul last year.

Both Ms. Dunn and Mr. Wan spoke of working together to organize this 20th anniversary edition of the festival. “We’re very proud we managed to get this far as a community group,” said Ms. Dunn. Wan noted that “one thing that is really exciting to us and we find unusual is that this region houses a lot of terrific Canadian composers. Every concert has at least one work that is from the region.”

From its very inception, one of the special mandates of this festival has been the inclusion of contemporary Canadian compositions among the “classics.” At the time we spoke, the New Orford Quartet had not yet received Marjan Mozetich’s brand new work, and they were excited to begin rehearsals this month. “We’ve been talking about this for the better part of a year. We told him what else would be played on the program so it can serve a nice foil.   We’ll get together at various times and work on it but the premiere will be in Picton and that’s always exhilarating—and a little bit terrifying.”

Another commitment the PEC Chamber festival makes is to young artists. Ms. Dunn noted that the festival sponsors concerts for school students in May. Mr. Wan spoke of being a young musician in Alberta and being able to play with Stéphane Lemelin, the previous artistic director and founder of the festival. This year, Mr. Wan and the New Orfords will join forces with Mr. Lemelin for Schumann’s Piano Quintet. “Of course Stéphane is super popular with our audience, said Mr. Wan, “but we also wanted to carry on this tradition of helping promote the next generation of artists. We have a wide range of seasoned and upcoming performers like our young artist-in-residence, David Liam Roberts, a terrific cellist. I had opportunities like this when I was his age: to have some trust put in add me as the next up and coming kid. I think it’s exciting for audience feel invested in the futures of all these young artists.” The Viano Quartet, winners of the 2019 Banff International String Quartet Competition fall into this category too.

Come out to hear both established and future stars playing music both classic and contemporary. For the full program and tickets, visit: