OTTAWA—Cellist Julian Armour’s mission is to introduce classical music to as many people as possible by presenting it either alone or with other art forms such as dance, the written word, or hair-raising acrobatics.
These are just a few of the pairings he has devised over the years as the artistic and executive director of Music and Beyond, a two-week festival that brings classical musicians from across Canada and around the world to Ottawa each year. This year’s event kicks off on July 4.
Armour feels it’s important to keep classical music—which some consider the pinnacle of human musical achievement—in the public eye. He wants people to share the joy of the melodies and harmonies that have been appreciated for centuries as well as those of modern composers.
He is more than up to the task of promoting classical music. As well as director of Music and Beyond, Armour is the artistic director of the Chamber Players of Canada and a playing cellist who has performed throughout Canada, Europe, and the U.S. both as a soloist and in ensembles. He has recorded 30 music CDs and has the world’s largest collection of cello music.
He originated both of Ottawa’s internationally renowned classical music festivals: Chamber Music Festival in 1994 and Music and Beyond in 2010, after moving on from Chamberfest in 2007.
Armour says some people think of classical music as elitist or are intimidated because they’ve never experienced a live performance. He wants to turn that around. To that end, Music and Beyond is mandated to help people connect to the music by breaking down barriers and notions through a varied program that sometimes couples the music with other arts.
“We’re just trying to give people a taste of interesting things,” he says.
“We have a core idea that I think is really strong and every year people like it more and more. Last year the people who said they were highly satisfied was 98 percent. I figure people really like it that way.”
However, he recognizes that keeping classical music alive and thriving is an uphill battle. He decries the fact that schools no longer provide choral or music classes and governments (provincial and federal) don’t give as many grants to classical music as they used to.
“So the schools have abandoned the real mission of music education. It’s a shame because we know that with music education children have better math skills, are better at science, have better verbal skills, they’re more creative, and they have better social skills.”
He also feels the CBC has marginalized classical music and isn’t supporting it in the way that a public radio station should.
“Classical music only exists when it’s heard,” he says. “Because people don’t hear it that often on the radio you see live audiences dwindling, and it’s a result of what has happened at CBC. Presenters everywhere are seeing audiences diminish. I’m trying to reverse that a little bit.”
However, he notes that universities are doing their bit. “You see university music programs growing like crazy,” he says.
“The problem is we’re producing all these graduates for whom there’s no place to play now because we’re cutting back on the whole presentation side of it.”
Armour—who grew up in a musical family and began learning to play various instruments as a child—believes more people would grow to like classical music if only they were exposed to it.
“If you went and interviewed 10,000 people on the street you might get 5 percent who would self-identify as liking classical music. Yet I believe that almost everybody would like it if they would just hear it,” he says.
One of the highlights of this year’s Music and Beyond program includes Christopher Plummer, Canada’s renowned Shakespearean actor, reading Shakespeare scenes, sonnets, and speeches that are interspersed with some of the music inspired by the author’s works.
For more information and tickets to Music and Beyond, visit: www.musicandbeyond.ca