EIFF Review: Chamber


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During the summer of 2020 director Colin Waugh started a short clip about how local classical musicians were coping with the then-recent pandemic, facing a lack of regular performance “chambers” and audiences. Somewhere along the way it turned into an insightful hour-long documentary about the unique demands and rewards of chamber music, a must-see film for classical fans that integrates brief featured performances.

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Most of the musicians captured are members of the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra who usually play the summer C’MON festival (Chamber Music Old & New). So bassist Max Cardilli speaks with authority when he compares the experience of playing symphonic to chamber, as the difference between driving a cruise ship and a hot sports car.

His excerpts from J.S. Bach’s solo cello suites bring home the special sonic textures that seep through much of this spare material and the emotional associations of “sunshine that comes into the clouds.” Indeed, less is more in this intimate side of the classical spectrum.

While several interview-performances are filmed in the Winspear Centre or a church the rest enjoy the airy backdrop of Edmonton’s river valley. It’s surreal watching trombonist Kathryn Macintosh and tuba player Scott Whetham play his original film noir-ish work Strange Fugitive on that big hill at the south end of the Walterdale Bridge with downtown behind them, especially once the filmmakers bleach them to black and white.

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From the Baroque to the contemporary, Bach, Jean-Marie LeClair and Dinuk Wijeratne figure among the composers. Tim Borton’s marimba even takes a trip with part of a Bach lute suite transcribed for his instrument, while husband-wife Matthew Howatt (bassoon) and Aiyana Anderson (violin) plumb the humour aspect.

Featured guest, singer-songwriter-actress Andrea House steals the hilarious finale, singing to The Blue Danube, down by the North Saskatchewan, with Jeremy Spurgeon at the piano leading all the players caught from multiple remote locations.

Marvellous stuff.



4 stars out of 5

Director Colin Waugh

Landmark Cinemas 9 City Centre on Oct. 3 at 12:30 p.m.

Online from Oct. 4-31 at edmontonfilmfest.com