By Kimberley Hartwig
The Crimson String Quartet is bringing classical music to the Prairies — with a contemporary twist. The quartet will treat listeners to a mix of classical pieces by big-time composers like Mozart and Prokofiev and, for those who are more pop-music inclined, a song by the Bee Gees. The concert will take place at the Glascock Building on Friday night and will officially kick off Crimson String Quartet’s Saskatchewan and Alberta tour as well as Taste of Maple Creek.
The quartet, composed of Audrey Sproule and Étienne Pemberton on violins, a viola manned by Alvin Tran, and cellist Alyssa Ramsay, are celebrating their five-year anniversary this summer after forming in 2010 at the Schulich School of Music at McGill University. Now based out of Saskatchewan, this is Crimson String Quartet’s fourth time touring rural Saskatchewan and third time in Maple Creek.
“We’re really excited to come back. It’s a great community,” said Sproule, who is from Lafleche.
The quartet originally began practising and playing in small communities because of Sproule’s rural roots. They embarked on their first tour in 2012, and the overwhelmingly positive response they received has brought them back to the Prairies year after year.
“It’s been so heartwarming and surprising,” Sproule said. “We were so taken aback by how open minded and open armed the rural communities were. I think it comes from a sense of very strong community spirit that very easily welcomes in classical music performance because these string quartets were initially heard in small communities, small environments, intimate environments.”
The Glascock Building is a fitting venue for the quartet, who is no stranger to playing music in unexpected places. After getting their start on cruise ships, they have played in schools, nursing homes, community centres and in the streets of Montreal for a classical music flash mob. Playing in a laid-back setting allows the group to make classical music more accessible and inviting by removing it from the formal and often divisive setting of a concert hall.
Combining classic and contemporary makes the quartet’s concerts feel more inviting, allowing the group to bring music to the masses while also defying the image that classical music is reserved for the cultural elite.
“I think that this music is much more accessible to the rural community member than one might initially think,” said Sproule. “We’ve dressed classical music up in tuxedos but we’re definitely more of a jeans and a T-shirt kind of crowd and we’d love to see anyone and everyone there.”
The middle of the wide open prairies is not a place you might expect to find a string quartet, but that’s part of the appeal. The group is able to reach a different, often ignored audience and just maybe turn them into classical music enthusiasts in the process — no tuxedo necessary.
“Our thinking is that everybody has a pair of ears, everybody has the ability to love and enjoy music,” Sproule said. “From the more cultured to somebody who’s trying it for the first time, I welcome anybody who wants to try and discover classical music to attend.”