Whether it’s a wedding, house warming or any other party, human beings are wired to gather together to celebrate with people they care about. And just as memorable as the events themselves are the emotions leading up to each one; who else we may see, who we may meet and the sense of anticipation of not knowing exactly how the celebration may unfold.

In speaking to Steve McKay about Cinquefoil, a chamber music series entering its third season on September 20, I quickly got the sense that their concerts are akin to those celebrations; and part of what makes these concerts unique are those that gather to listen.

The series began in 2017, when the Church of Saint John the Evangelist at Charlton and Locke (also known as the Rock on Locke) was establishing itself as a live music venue. It had installed a new stage, had professional concert lighting capabilities, and was being booked and praised by musicians- but didn’t have a steady audience. Realizing the challenge, McKay connected with local musicians and music-supporters Kirk Starkey, Tom Fleming, Adam Melnick and Kristin Archer to curate a concert series that focused on themes, rather than specific artists.

The concept was a success from the start. “We hit a home run,” McKay recalled. “Concerts are on Friday night; there’s beer and wine and everyone is curious to see how the night will unfold- it’s like a party.”

Their casual approach to the concert series is what creates this party-like atmosphere. Cinquefoil opens its doors at 8:00pm on concert evenings and audience members arrive over the next thirty minutes to enjoy each other’s company and a drink (with a bar hosted by local brewery Fairweather Brewing) before the concert officially begins at 8:30pm. During the first half of the concert, three different performers are featured; in the second half, only two. Between the two halves is a lengthy intermission where audience members mingle and discuss the theme and performances. At the end of the concert, audience members are encouraged to stay and continue the discussion- sometimes, well into the evening. “Although the concert is only fifty minutes long (before intermission), I’ve been there until 11:30.” Says McKay. “People don’t want to leave- and we want them to stay and enjoy the community.”

The sense of community is also established by the seating arrangement. Audience members sit on either side of the performers in the choral chancel, rather than the church pews. This provides a unique viewing and listening experience. While this specific area provides incredible acoustics for the performer and audience, McKay and the Cinquefoil team maintain that utilizing a smaller space improve the sense of community at performances. This seating arrangement also means that a limited number of tickets are available at each performance; with only sixty tickets per concert, Cinquefoil is known to sell out on occasion.

Given their success from day one, it’s not a surprise that there have been few changes between their first season and their third, which starts on September 20. Instead of ten shows each season, they now do five. Their first two seasons also included a podcast; however, Cinquefoil will be foregoing the podcast this season in exchange for video clips and audio clips that can be more easily shared on social media instead.

Otherwise, Cinquefoil has continued to focus on local talent and diverse performers. Music is not always classical chamber music; singer-songwriters will frequently perform their own original work, while others may perform traditional music from their country or culture. The music in an evening is all connected by a theme, chosen by a different guest curator at each concert. As a result, personal tastes and personal flavours come through making for a very different concert experience at each event.

Their first concert of the 19-20 season has been curated by McKay himself, who chose the theme “Junk Food vs. Soul Food.” He’s excited to see what pianist Alexei Gulenco, singer-songwriter Scott Orr, guitarist Emma Rush, Instrument for Every Child Jambassador Lucas Antoniou and the Cinquefoil Cingers will present. 

The remaining concerts this season will be held every other month, on the third Friday of the month; November 15, January 17, March 20 and May 22. Although curators for each evening have been determined, precise themes will be announced much closer to each concert date. Until then, audience members are encouraged to engage with Cinquefoil via social media to learn more about their upcoming concerts.

Feature photo courtesy of Cinquefoil.

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