James Ehnes' virtuosic talent feels like a force of nature. Making sounds that are sometimes bombastic and often impressively nuanced, he plays the violin with a confidence and an elegance that are nearly unparalleled.
Now, on the occasion of his 40th birthday—celebrated in January—Ehnes has been hitting the road to play compositions both new and old for crowds in every province and territory in the country. Having played in cities from Kelowna to Iqaluit, he's now heading east and will be performing as a part of the Scotia Festival of Music Saturday night at the Dunn Theatre.
Ehnes is originally from Brandon, Manitoba, a place that describes as "not one of those 'must' destinations for travelling classical musicians" despite having a great deal of culture itself. With this tour, the Grammy winner hopes to bridge some of the geographical gap that can limit access to live classical music.
"In a way, the more one's career progresses, the more limited the places are that you can actually go and get to see. That seems kind of unfair," he says. "The desire for concerts and for music in the smaller places is certainly the same as the bigger places."
In addition to works by Handel and Beethoven and a varying selection of shorter violin showpieces, Ehnes will feature a new work titled "Stream of Limelight" that he asked composer Bramwell Tovey to write for this tour. Though the two have worked together many times during their respective careers—beginning at the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra, what Ehnes calls "the closest thing I had to a hometown orchestra"—this marks Ehnes' first time playing one of Tovey's compositions.
"It's a fantastic piece," says Ehnes of Tovey's work. "It has all the variety that one could possibly hope for, and it has a lot to say for a piece that's only about nine or nine-and-a-half minutes long."
Ehnes also notes that the piece seems particularly well-suited for this geographically ambitious tour. "The thing that's been really fun about it is that it's been equally well-received in places where they have concerts every few days or in places where they might only have a concert a year," he says.
"It's daring enough to be really interesting to people who like music that's a little bit more on the cutting edge, but there's nothing at all contrived about it. It really speaks to everyone." —Brennan McCracken
Scotia Festival of Music Recital 1: James Ehnes, Andrew Armstrong
Saturday, May 28, 7pm
Sir James Dunn Theatre 6101 University Avenue