A former Airdrie resident and trained classical pianist has partnered with a longtime friend and fellow classical musician to bring their collective passion for classical music to Airdrie, with a series of concerts and interactive workshops scheduled throughout the city from Oct. 4 to 8.
Tong Wang, who grew up in Airdrie, trained as a classical pianist before travelling and eventually settling in Montreal, where she currently resides. Wang has performed at various concerts and festivals in Europe, the U.S., and Canada.
She said she always had an idea that she would like to start a community-based classic music festival in her favourite place in the world – her hometown of Airdrie, Alberta.
“I’ve always thought there was something very intimate and warm about the Airdrie community, so I've had this little seed of a dream for a while now to have a classical music festival started in Airdrie,” Wang said of her inspiration.
The classical pianist said she recently reconnected with her long-time friend and fellow musician Maitreyi Muralidharan. The two have since begun work piloting Airdrie’s first Windwood Festival.
Muralidharan, who originally hails from the U.S., also has an classical music background. The two musicians first met at the Brevard Music Festival in North Carolina in 2012, where they were assigned as bunk-mates, according to Muralidharan.
“After our time there, we lost touch for a while. We were both starting college degrees and were very busy in different areas of the country,” Muralidharan said. “Then I came to McGill [University] last year to do an artist diploma in violin, and we got back in touch.”
Thereafter, the musicians began playing in a piano trio together. They said playing alongside each other again felt like second nature. They discovered common ground after the many years apart.
“We both have been craving this space where we can share our vision on classical music in the world as it is currently,” Muralidharan said. “[We want to] explore it with other communities and other people who may not have the same rigorous classical background that we do.”
The violinist said the more the two talked about Wang’s upbringing in Airdrie, the more it reminded her of her own experience growing up in the southern U.S.
Airdrie seemed to them both the ideal location for a festival.
“There was some kinship there, but it just felt like the right place to start something, to start a movement in which classical music can really foster these connections that we were craving and searching for,” Muralidharan added.
Wang said she was looking for ways to engage the community and began seeking out Airdronian arts advocates. She happened upon Coun. Heather Spearman’s Facebook page, where the City councillor often champions and promotes local artist initiatives.
“I saw the City recently started a lot of arts initiatives and I was really excited about it,” Wang said. “Heather, who is leading that committee, is such an enthusiastic spokeswoman for the arts and so I pitched this classical music initiative.”
According to Wang, Spearman was receptive to their pitch and has since been working alongside them to hammer out the festival details. She added the musicians are learning on the job as they do not possess any previous administrative experience.
“It was wonderful how receptive and patient and kind the City of Airdrie has been assisting and guiding us to make this happen logistically, connecting us to partners, so that’s been a really heartwarming experience to work and try to connect with the community that way,” she said.
Muralidharan added the point of the festival is to bring classical music outside of a concert hall setting and to a wider and more diverse audience.
“There’s something about a concert hall that if done correctly can be extremely inviting and a really wonderful escape, but there’s something more exciting about classical music existing in spaces that people already inhabit,” they said.
The Windwood Festival is slated to include a series of performances (featuring both Wang and Muralidharan along with other artists) from Oct. 4 to 8.
The event organizers said they are working on a partnership with various restaurants and food providers to offer take out for guests who are looking to enjoy a meal at the concert.
“We’re [trying to] cultivate a relationship with all of these incredible local restaurants,” Muralidharan said, adding the first performances will be held outdoors at the Nose Creek Regional Park ampitheatre on Oct. 4 at 5 p.m.. “We’re really encouraging people to get takeout and come and enjoy eating with us while we play in a fairly informal setting.”
On Wednesday, Oct. 5 at 5 p.m., the duo will be hosting a classical performance at the Airdrie Farmers’ Market at Jensen Park, where they are hoping to have a stall set up to enable them to meet members of the community.
Thursday, Oct. 6 will include a string quartet concert, featuring musicians from the WMF Creative Project Residency, who will be performing at the north dock of East Lake Regional Park at 5 p.m. The viewing area will be near the tennis courts.
“They are absolutely phenomenal musicians,” Muralidharan said. “We’ve been pinching ourselves just to make sure this is really real.”
Wang said for all outdoor concerts, attendees are encouraged to bring their own lawn chairs and blankets and set up where they want. Food and drinks, and pets are more than welcome, they added.
Friday, Oct. 7 will see a “Schubert in the Park” concert in Nose Creek Regional Park at 5 p.m, featuring all types of musicians including pianists and string residents.
“It’ll be a really incredible concert with Mozart, Schubert, and Beethoven,” Muralidharan said.
The violinist added though it sounds very classical, there is a lot of fun to be had performing and listening to these classical greats.
“We put them on this pedestal of being these untouchable gods of classical music, when in fact they were incredibly flawed and wacky humans,” Muralidharan said. “Mozart loved to party, Beethoven had a huge temper, so they’re very much human.
“And that’s what we’re trying to celebrate with these concerts. Friday night doesn’t seem like the greatest time to party with Mozart, but believe me, party prepping with Mozart is where it’s at.”
The festival will conclude on Saturday, Oct. 8, with two concerts beginning with a community barbecue at Nose Creek Regional Park at 2 p.m.
“We want everyone to bring grills, family, friends, pets, food, and come out and eat with us,” Muralidharan said.
“We’re in the process of sending out open calls to invite people who are self-proclaimed grill masters to come and help us put together this community barbecue, which should be really fun.”
Thereafter, at 8 p.m. the duo will be hosting a smaller salon-style concert at Wang’s home in Windsong to commemorate the end of the festival, which will be a ticketed event due to limited space. The intimate gathering will include wine and cheese, and so will be open to those of legal drinking age only.
According to Wang, many people hold the misconception that classical music is elitist and inaccessible to the average person.
“We believe in the power of music to bring people together,” she said. “No matter what style, what genre, which part of the world the music comes from, it’s truly a universal language. We share a very deep sort of nostalgic connection to music we might have never even heard.
“If we just offer a space that’s very accessible, inclusive, non-judgmental, that’s what we’re aiming to do. The more we bring it out there, the more we humanize classical music.”
The duo is also working on partnering with local organizations to host a series of classical music workshops, with more information to come.
According to Muralidharan, classic music can be daunting for some people, but even if you are slightly curious about it, they encourage you to come check out one of the concerts.
“It’s very different than listening to any of the recordings or attending any of the concerts,” they said.
“Classical music is humanity at its best, at its worst, at its highest and its lowest – and we can all relate to that.”