Looking for something different in the music scene?
The Magisterra Soloists are a young string ensemble that’s becoming a staple of the chamber music scene in London and beyond. Led by artistic director Annette-Barbara Vogel, an acclaimed violinist and professor at Western University, the group has toured both internationally and in Canada, sharing their broad repertoire with audiences around the world.
Annette-Barbara along with Outreach Coordinator and ensemble violinist Jordan Clayton talked about what the ensemble has been up to, what they are doing right now (including their upcoming August 3rd concert at Museum London), and the future of Magisterra Soloists.
How did Magisterra Soloists begin? What have you been up to until this point?
ANNETTE-BARBARA: Magisterra Soloists started about two summers ago. I had come back from two long trips in South Africa and Brazil. Leading up to and during the trips, some colleagues made comments that triggered me to do something that had been lingering in my mind for ten years. Basically, the idea was to create a repertoire that’s flexible in size string instrument group. Our roster changes depending on the project. Typically, we have programs that include three to twelve players. We also include guests in programs on occasion.
While it’s a Canadian group, it also has many international musicians that have chosen to make London their home base, including myself. In times like now it’s important to be present locally, but at the same time embrace diversity. Also, while we want to be part of the artistic community in town, we make a point of traveling. Last August, we had our first international tour to Brazil. We played in six different cities including Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. Our first Canadian tour was in May, and we had concerts up through Northern Ontario to Montreal and Quebec City. We will be doing the same tour more expanded next year.
What are the core activities of Magisterra Soloists?
It was a big thing for me to create a launching pad for young musicians on a highly professional level, where young musicians interact with seasoned musicians. To that end, we have the Magisterra Fellows program, where on occasion we will have student musicians, sometimes even in the undergraduate program, join us in concerts. We have three of those fellows participating in the August 3rd concert. Additionally, we have a program called Magisterra in Schools. We have worked on projects targeting underprivileged schools that help enhance the Ontario curriculum. To have a cultural life here in the city, you have to expose young kids to music as soon as possible.
Tell me about your chamber music concert series at Museum London, Magisterra at the Museum.
JORDAN: The Magisterra at the Museum project is a particularly interesting one. The programs all feature works that aren’t very well known, even by classical music connoisseurs. If you had a picture of this year’s six programs, they’re all in some way embracing a form of diversity. We’re trying to shine a light on something interesting and new, you know?
ANNETTE-BARBARA: For the upcoming concert on August 3rd, I wanted to present something that’s different, so it’s a program of contemporary works only. In music of our time, there are so many different ways of writing. I was very keen on finding repertoire that reflects that.
I also made a point to include Canadian but also local composers. Jeff Smallman will be one of the featured local composers. He has written a very charming and accessible piece called “Serenade.” We have David Myska, a professor of composition at Western with a piece that he wrote for me and a colleague of mine a number of years ago for violin and viola. Additionally, we have Kevin Morse who is not technically local anymore, but he got his PhD in composition at Western so he was pretty local for at least five years. The concert showcases various repertoire associated with musicians here in town.
What are some of your hopes for the future of Magisterra Soloists?
JORDAN: Seeing what we’ve accomplished in two years, we have a real capacity to be a powerful musical force in London and within Canada. London is our home, and we’re happy to continue to innovate in the art scene here as well as make high-level chamber music within Canada.
ANNETTE-BARBARA: We have a violist in the group involved in the Toronto music scene, and he has said this kind of ensemble doesn’t exist in Canada. We’ve also had that feedback from other audience members and musicians across the country now that we’ve been touring. An ensemble with the kind of governance and type of outlets that we offer doesn’t exist. Because of that, Magisterra fills a niche that is exciting and necessary.
For the future of Magisterra, I wish that London as a city acknowledges us as an important staple to the cultural scene. We want to keep getting local support to be ambassadors of London outside of the city, with London as the base to do our work here in the region.
Back to the idea of introducing children to music when they are young. Why is that important?
ANNETTE-BARBARA: Through music, you learn many skills you can apply to pretty much everything in life. It starts with discipline and patience. It starts with interaction and communication. It’s the active physical dexterity and coordination that young kids need to learn. These things are part of what we do as musicians, and I guess once you have a population that understands that being a human being is not equating everything in dollar signs, then you’re much more likely not to go under.
Featured image by Viara Mileva Photography