Chamber Music Festival Reviews



No winter blues in Pender Harbour

Rosemary Bonderud
Coast Reporter – March 2, 2017

During the Pender Harbour Chamber Music Festival’s Mid-winter Weekend, Feb. 25 and 26, glorious music played by three immensely talented musicians was a perfect tonic for the last days of winter. Long time friends, violinist Corey Cerovsek, cellist Adrian Brendel and pianist Michelle Mares, presented two concerts that will be long remembered by capacity audiences who could barely contain their admiration and appreciation.

Each musician has a stellar international reputation that began at an astonishingly early age. Born in Vancouver and now a citizen of the world, Cerovsek set his mark early by completing his PhD studies in both music and mathematics at the age of 18. Mares, another Vancouver prodigy, debuted at age 10 with the Mozarteum Orchestra in Salzburg, Austria and later completed her music studies there before embarking on a successful concert career in Europe. Londoner Brendel, son of renowned pianist Alfred Brendel and considered one of the finest cellists of his generation, is also artistic director of the dynamic Plush Festival in England.

From the moment Cerovsek, Brendel and Mares walked on stage at Pender Harbour’s intimate School of Music, you could feel their affection for each other and for the challenging repertoire they had selected for the weekend. During his introduction, Brendel received a laugh from the audience when he called the programme “chunky,” but that was no understatement. It was a tour de force, particularly by pianist Mares who dazzled in her foundation role in all seven demanding pieces. Cerovsek reinforced his reputation for a delicate balance of superb technique and passionate intensity and his performance of César Franck’s Violin Sonata in A Major brought many to tears. In his offering of Chopin’s Cello Sonata in G minor, Brendel demonstrated the broad range of sound and emotion that can be created by a true master musician who clearly loves his instrument.

As impressive as the artists were individually, it was their collective voice that impressed. During their performances of the Piano Trio in B Flat Major, Archduke by Beethoven and again in Brahms’ Trio No. 2 in C Major, the audience could feel the power of their exceptional musical talents and hear their fluid ease as a trio. With a warm smile from Mares, a gentle nod of the head from Cerovsek and a subtle squaring of the shoulders by Brendel, they became one. It was magic.

Following the exciting success of this recent weekend, the Pender Harbour Chamber Music Festival will now focus on the upcoming three-day summer Festival Aug. 18 to 20. This will celebrate Canadian musicians in Canada’s 150th year – including audience favourites the Gryphon Trio, James Campbell and Joan Blackman. Watch for details coming soon on this website.


Musical Fireworks in Pender Harbour

Rosemary Bonderud
Harbour Spiel

In celebration of Canada’s 150th. anniversary, the Pender Harbour Chamber Music Festival presented a sold-out three day festival that had many in the audience searching for new superlatives.

Beginning with the Rising Tide concert showcasing young musicians, Pender Harbour mezzo-soprano Rose-Ellen Nichols, Halfmoon Bay baritone Louis Dillon, and Gibsons pianist David Poon impressed with a selection of operatic favourites and Broadway show tunes. As musical collaborator/accompanist, Mr. Poon created the foundation for a most enjoyable afternoon that saw Ms. Nichols move skillfully from the role of a tender young girl in Nichols’ “The river merchant’s wife” to comic temptress in Cole Porter’s “The physician”. She was ably supported by the warm baritone of Mr. Dillon, son of respected Sunshine Coast vocal teacher Shelley Dillon.

On Friday evening, Canadian musical royalty, the Gryphon Trio (James Parker, Annalee Patipatanakoon and Roman Borys) and clarinettist James Campbell were well matched by pianist Alexander Tselyakov in Beethoven’s Trio in B-flat Major. Later, Rose-Ellen Nichols joined the Gryphon for a poignant offering of James Wright’s Letters to the Immortal Beloved based on Beethoven’s letters to an unidentified love. James Campbell then delivered a tour de force with Lovreglio’s Fantasia on Verdi’s La Traviata, followed by the Gryphon’s intensely felt performance of Brahms’ Piano Trio No. 1 in B Major.

Music written for dance is often featured in the Festival’s Saturday afternoon concerts. This year, Graham Campbell’s captivating arrangements of works by Piazzolla, Moura and Reinhardt were followed by two rollicking Klezmer dances played by James Campbell, violinists Joan Blackman and Maria Larionoff and pianist Tselyakov.

On Saturday evening, James Campbell and Alexander Tselyakov returned with another Brahms composition written toward the end of his life. It began on a contemplative note but ended sparking with energy – clearly signalling that the composer had not lost his passion for music or life. Continuing with the fireworks, violinist Joan Blackman and pianist Tselyakov pulled out all the stops in their electrifying performance of Ravel’s Sonata No’s 2 in G Major. Centennials, a quirky piece by Michael Oesterle, and Trio, an eloquent composition by Rebecca Clarke, completed the program.

Too soon, it was Sunday’s final concert of the Festival. Old Photographs, distilled from Constantinople, a larger piece written by Christos Hatzis for the Gryphon Trio, captured the audience immediately. They followed with a stirring Beethoven piano trio before James Campbell offered a heart-wrenching interpretation of a folk dance that was used to recruit young men to their deaths in the Hungarian army. Finally, the audience was treated to a stunning performance of a little-heard Bartok piano quintet. Violinist Jason Ho and cellist Brian Yoon joined Joan Blackman, Maria Larionoff, and Alexander Tselyakov for this lengthy composition that left both musicians and the audience breathless.

Don’t miss the Midwinter Chamber Festival Weekend featuring celebrated musicians Terence Tam, Yariv Aloni, Pamela Highbaugh, & Lorraine Min. January 27 and 28, 2018 – tickets available online on this website.


Variety and quality at Chamber Music Festival

Jan DeGrass/Arts and Entertainment Writer
Coast Reporter – August 24, 2017

The Saturday afternoon concert at the 13th annual Pender Harbour Chamber Music Festival was one of the best. That should be no surprise, since under the artistic direction of Alexander Tselyakov, the Festival has achieved greater variety and quality of musicianship over the years.

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Chamber music for a Madeira Park winter

Jan DeGrass/Arts and Entertainment Writer
Coast Reporter – January 28, 2016

The first day, Jan. 23, of the Pender Harbour Music Society’s winter chamber music weekend drew superlatives from the audience at the music school in Madeira Park. The programme of sonatas from Johannes Brahms and Robert and Clara Schumann was given life under the violin of Gary Levinson and the piano of Baya Kakouberi.

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Sweet strings of summer

Jan DeGrass/Arts and Entertainment Writer
Coast Reporter – August 25, 2016

Those who enjoy classical music have been known to drive from Vancouver or the Fraser Valley all the way to Madeira Park to hear the 12th annual Pender Harbour Chamber Music Festival that took place Aug. 19 to 21. They come every year; they go away vowing to attend next year. Yes, it’s that good.

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Chamber Music Delights

Rosemary Bonderud
August 2015

There are some wonderful traditions on the Coast, one of which is the annual Pender Harbour Chamber Music Festival. August 13 – 16, the 11th Festival welcomed back a number of renowned artists who had graced its stage in previous years. Originally, they came as guests, but now they returned as friends. These included the Gryphon Trio, James Campbell, clarinet; Yariv Aloni, viola; Pamela Highbaugh Aloni, cello; Dylan Palmer, double bass, and Alexander Tselyakov, pianist and founding Artistic Director. They were joined by Terence Tam, violin and Allene Hackleman, horn enjoying their first visit to the Harbour.

For the ambitious four-day program, Alexander Tselyakov created a series of concerts that presented an artistic challenge for the musicians while touching both the hearts and minds of the audience. From the tender beauty of a Schubert piano trio to the searing intensity of Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time, the intimate setting of the Pender Harbour Music School encouraged a personal connection with the music and the performers.

Also on the program was a new concert, Rising Tide, which was hosted by the Festival to showcase three emerging musical talents – Halfmoon Bay’s Simon Gidora, violin, Pender Harbour’s own Rose-Ellen Nichols, mezzo soprano, and Jenny Dou, piano. Their concert drew the largest audience in Festival history – one that raised the rafters and rattled the windows in its appreciation of the young performers.

Festival organizers take every opportunity to acknowledge the generous support of individuals, families, and corporate interests, collectively known as Friends of the Festival. Their donations support a significant portion of the operating budget and are key to the Festival’s impressive success.

Information about the 2016 Festival will be available on this website next Spring. Please check for program details and ticket information.


Gentle Welcome and Rising Tide

Jan DeGrass/Arts and Entertainment Writer
Coast Reporter – August 20, 2015

The 11th annual Pender Harbour Chamber Music Festival opened on Aug. 13 with a gentle Beethoven piece, Violin Romance No.2 in F major, Op.50, that included a piano performance from artistic director Alexander Tselyakov and the exquisite violin of Terence Tam. As concertmaster with the Victoria Symphony Orchestra, Tam is a multi-contest winner noted for his playing and recording. For the next piece, a Brahms horn trio, he and Tselyakov were joined on stage by Allene Hackleman who is principal horn of the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra.

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Chamber Music Fresh & Entertaining

Jan DeGrass/Arts and Entertainment Writer
Coast Reporter – August 23, 2013

The first piece performed at the opening concert of the ninth annual Pender Harbour Chamber Music Festival did not live up to its title. It was called Asleep by Argentine composer Astor Piazzolla, but the full house audience was clearly awake and remained so for the duration of a supremely entertaining two-hour concert of lesser known composers…

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Chamber Music Entertains

Jan DeGrass/Arts and Entertainment Writer
Coast Reporter – August 24, 2012

The patio to the Pender Harbour Music School and Performance Centre was enclosed giving the small concert venue more sheltered space. The audience for the opening night of the eighth annual Pender Harbour Chamber Music Festival, Aug. 16, was already in their seats, arriving early in anticipation.

On stage, two grand pianos crowded the small area, one of them on loan, courtesy of the Sunshine Coast Arts Council.

The festival’s artistic director, Alexander Tselyakov, sat behind one while pianist Catherine Ordronneau, acclaimed for her artistic integrity, sat at the other piano, and together the two musicians performed Fantasy on Gershwin’s Opera Porgy and Bess composed by Percy Grainger. The familiar strains of the famous musical were woven into the piece by a composer who obviously loved Gershwin.

The evening’s theme was Classics Meet Jazz and Gershwin shone again on Three Preludes this time with Guy Few on trumpet.

The sartorially splendid trumpeter comes to the festival from Ontario’s Wilfrid Laurier University where he teaches trumpet and chamber music.

This year’s festival fielded a great ensemble of musicians drawn together by Tselyakov to offer a diverse program.

One of the joys of this event is that, though all of the musicians are highly accomplished in their fields, they don’t take themselves so seriously that they cannot bend in favour of entertaining the public with a few humorous and engaging pieces. In this case they drew in Sunshine Coast narrator Alec Tebbutt to recite Ogden Nash’s comic ditties to the music of Anthony Plog.

The Jet Song from West Side Story saw the players on stage in black leather — and with bongos, man — to recreate the famous gang scene. This lighter side of chamber music was reprised the following day in the traditional free concert, Chamber Music Doesn’t Bite that drew a full house with a few music newbies in the audience.

Marg Penney of the Friends of the Festival explained that the audience is surveyed every year and asked if they want more innovation or a wider range of instruments and players, and the answer has always been “Go for it.” Thus, the festival introduced percussion this year from renowned musician Salvador Ferreras and his colleague Nicholas Jacques.

“We have an artistic director who thinks very broadly,” Penney said of Tselyakov. “He likes to break down barriers between the public and chamber music.”

Some highlights of the weekend’s concerts for Penney included observing the great respect shown to clarinettist James Campbell by the other musicians, in his role as an elder statesman of the Canadian music scene.

A magic moment came in Saturday’s programme with a little known piece of music by Paul Jeanjean, Capriccioso, originally songs that had been transcribed for trumpet and piano. Guy Few, with his musical theatre background, read the lyrics with feeling and raised tears in many eyes.

The Overture on Hebrew Themes by Sergei Prokofiev at Sunday’s final performance brought the audience to its feet, and ready to sign up for next year’s festival, Aug. 15 to 18.

The Friends of the Festival fundraising raffle offered a basket of books and the prize was won by a long time supporter, Bill Padgham. Music continues at the Madeira Park centre when the Pender Harbour Music Society hosts their fall concert series starting Oct. 21.


Glorious Chamber Music Lights Up the Harbour

By Rosemary Bonderud and Theresa Kishkan
Harbour Spiel – September 2012

Now in its eighth year, the Pender Harbour Chamber Music Festival and festival director Alexander Tselyakov once again delivered a highly memorable musical weekend that challenged and delighted its eager audience.

In response to past requests for more, the festival grew from five to six concerts this year. Opening night’s piano extravaganza ranged from favourites by Gershwin and Bernstein to exciting works by contemporary composers Ewazen, Gilliland, and Plog (which included Coast resident Alec Tebbutt’s charming reading of Animal Ditties).

Sal Ferreras, a prodigious percussion talent from Vancouver, was joined by fellow musicians who donned jeans, black leather motorcycle jackets and shades for a rousing performance of the Jet Song from West Side Story.

In what has become a wonderful tradition, Friday afternoon’s Chamber Music Doesn’t Bite concert was provided free of charge as a gift from the musicians to those who might want to take chamber music out for a test drive.

That evening, Barcelona-based husband and wife duo Kai Gleusteen (violin) and Catherine Ordronneau (piano) opened with a dazzling performance of Beethoven’s Kreutzer sonata.

Next, pianist Alexander Tselyakov paired with trumpeter extraordinaire Guy Few in powerfully evocative works by Rachmaninoff and Glazunov, followed by a splendid Brahms trio played by James Campbell (clarinet), Julian Armour (cello), and Alexander Tselyakov. Campbell, considered to be Canada’s foremost wind musician, was making his debut at the festival and received a warm welcome from the knowledgeable audience.

Saturday afternoon’s program celebrated the 150th anniversary of Claude Debussy’s birth with exquisite dual piano performances by Catherine Ordronneau and Alexander Tselyakov. Continuing the Gallic flavour, Ordronneau, Tselyakov and Guy Few played works by Poulenc, Fauré, and Duparc, then Kai Gleusteen, James Campbell, and Alexander Tselyakov presented a lush trio by Darius Milhaud.

On Saturday evening, Guy Few, Kai Gleusteen, Dale Barltrop (violin), Guylaine Lemaire (viola), Julian Armour, and Dylan Palmer (double bass) brought their considerable talents to an effervescent performance of Fasch’s Concerto for Trumpet and Strings. Next, James Campbell, Kai Gleusteen, Dale Barltrop, Guylaine Lemaire, and Julian Armour soared in the renowned Mozart Clarinet Quintet. Their clarity and elegance as individual musicians, combined with their superb communication as a quintet, made this performance an audience favourite.

The evening concluded with a Chopin piano concerto played with such passion and musicality that audience members could be heard humming as they walked to their cars. The festival concluded with a local music truly grand finale. First was a virtuoso clarinet quintet by Weber, followed by Romanian Folk Dances by Bartók, the Overture on Hebrew Themes by Prokofiev, and, finally, the Septet for Trumpet, Piano and String Quartet by Saint-Saëns. The septet provided another welcome opportunity for trumpeter and raconteur Guy Few to “strut his stuff.”

Concerts sold out very quickly again this year and many in the audience thought it was the best festival yet. Tickets for 2013 Pender Harbour Chamber Music Festival will go on sale next June — please check the website for further details.



Popular Festival Elicits Emotion

Jan DeGrass/Arts & Entertainment
Coast Reporter – August 26, 2011

The popularity of the seventh annual Pender Harbour Chamber Music Festival was easy to gauge in May when tickets for the August event went on sale. They sold out immediately. The venue, the music school in Madeira Park, is small, and even with added patio seating, it can hold only 120 people. But its ticket success is surely to do with the quality of musicians that artistic director Alexander Tselyakov brings to the occasion.

Last weekend during the festival, accomplished violinist James Ehnes was the dynamic attraction. Festival director Rosemary Bonderud was delighted that Ehnes was congenial and made himself accessible to the audience after his performances to answer questions.

For this reviewer, cellist Emmanuelle Beaulieu Bergeron was another joy for the senses, especially when she performed with Ehnes and Tselyakov on Saturday evening. Daniel Bolshoy on guitar also brought his exceptional technique to add a new layer to performance; his collaboration with the Borealis String Quartet, a Vancouver-based group that weaves together musical traditions from east and west, was inspiring.

The audience was startled by an unexpected addition on Friday evening when a fiery flamenco dancer, Karen Pitkethly, danced into the performance of composer Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s Guitar Quintet with her castanets blazing. It’s these surprises that keep the audience returning for more.

Tselyakov strives for a program that offers interest – there’s a progression during each concert and a balance between pieces. In this way it is possible to submerge in the depths of the music’s emotion, as in Saturday’s concert, for example.

The performance opened with a modern composition by Clark Winslow Ross, I Sleep and My Soul Awakens. One thinks of chamber music as having centuries-old roots, but this piece owes some of its inspiration to Beatle George Harrison’s Indian-inspired Within You, Without You. However, the piece was like seeing an abstract painting for the first time – it was difficult to be in the same creative place as the artist.

The Mendelssohn String Quartet No. 6 in F minor drew a standing ovation with the Borealis Quartet teasing out the emotion of the composer. The piece was said to have been written following the death of Mendelssohn’s sister, and his subsequent anger at her passing could be felt in the speed of the allegro and in its final reconciliation.

Ehnes, Tselyakov and Bergeron formed a trio to play Haydn that balanced the pathos of Mendelssohn nicely, and this was followed by a Piano Trio No. 2 in E minor from Shostakovich. Written in 1944 by the Russian composer who had lived through the horrors of the besieged city of Leningrad, it is also an emotional piece that confronts death. The largo movement is sad enough to bring a listener to tears, and this is followed by themes that suggest a Jewish connection.

The Sunday performance of Ernest Chausson’s Concerto for Violin, String Quartet and Piano was the concert that caused the audience to jump to their feet in appreciation.

“Everyone floated out of the hall,” said Bonderud. Will the festival grow to accommodate its increasing fans? “Every year we study the audience feedback surveys,” she said. “Although they want a bigger venue, they love the intimacy of the music school.”

The eighth annual Chamber Music Festival takes place Aug. 17 to 19, 2012. Tickets go on sale in early May. Keep in touch with the website at

(Rosemary Bonderud is a member of the Pender Harbour Chamber Music Festival Public Relations Committee)


Strings the focus of P. H. Chamber Music Festival’s seventh year

By Rosemary Bonderud
Harbour Spiel – September 2011, Issue 249

On Aug. 19 the sold-out seventh annual Pender Harbour Chamber Music Festival opened with Beethoven’s bold and dramatic “Serioso” quartet played masterfully by the UBC-based Borealis String Quartet. Guitarist Daniel Bolshoy and the quartet then swept the audience away with a sparkling 1950 quintet by Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco. They were joined by a surprise guest, dancer Karen Pitkethly, who sent sparks flying with a sensuous fandango.

James Ehnes, proud Canadian and internationally recognized violin superstar, received a warm welcome as he began the first of his festival performances with a breathtaking sonata by Eugene Ysaye.

The evening finished with a masterwork by Sergei Prokofi ev that clearly demonstrated the elegant communication between Ehnes and pianist Alexander Tselyakov.

Saturdays at the Chamber Music Festival always provide a surfeit of riches: two concerts in one day. The afternoon program reunited Ehnes and Tselyakov playing contrasting works by Edvard Grieg and Alfred Schnittke. Grieg’s stirring sonata for violin and piano No. 3 in C minor highlighted the composer’s much-loved melodic references to Norwegian folk traditions while Schnittke’s Suite in the Old Style was more playful.

After the intermission, the Borealis String Quartet and rising star cellist Emmanuelle Bergeron brought strength and grace to the emotionally towering music of the iconic String Quintet in C major by Schubert.

From its inception, the Pender Harbour Chamber Music Festival made a commitment to offer the work of contemporary composers. Saturday evening’s program began with “I sleep and my soul awakens,” a composition by Clark Winslow Ross played by Daniel Bolshoy and the Borealis String Quartet. The quartet then moved to an intensely felt string quartet by Mendelssohn which was written following the death of his beloved sister.

Next, the obvious joyfulness which Ehnes, Bergeron, and Tselyakov brought to the famous Gypsy Trio by Haydn was a most effective balance to the pathos of the earlier Mendelssohn piece. Returning for the final offering of the evening, Ehnes, Bergeron and Tselyakov soared through a demanding piano trio by Dmitry Shostakovich.

On Sunday afternoon Bergeron and Bolshoy brought their intense musicality to an unusual work by Franz Schubert. Originally written for a now archaic instrument called the arpeggionne and usually played by cello and piano, the audience was delighted by the sound of the guitar in place of the piano. Next, Bolshoy and Ehnes were breathtaking in their presentation of a technically challenging work of Nicolo Paganini, followed by sparks and fre from the Borealis String Quartet in their offering of Ashes by contemporary Canadian composer Kelly-Marie Murphy.

Finally, Ehnes, the Borealis String Quartet and Tselyakov gift-wrapped a stunning concerto by Chausson as their parting offering to a highly appreciative audience. The applause seemed to go on and on.



Emotion and technique at Chamber Music Festival

Jan DeGrass/Arts & Entertainment
Coast Reporter – August 27, 2010

A weekend of music once again rippled across Pender Harbour as the sixth annual Chamber Music Festival opened last Friday (Aug. 20) under the artistic direction of Alexander Tselyakov.

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