Don’t roll over just yet, Beethoven

Bruno sisters kick off MCO’s 50th season

The Bruno sisters will open the Manitoba Chamber Orchestra’s 50th season on Sept. 28. (Supplied photo)

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Manitoba Chamber Orchestra (MCO), and they’re partying like it’s 1799.

The MCO will offer free fiddler concerts this September and welcome Canadian classical-music act of violinist Yolanda Bruno and cellist Carmen Bruno to launch the 2022-23 season on Sept. 28.

Joining the esteemed company of sibling talents like the Williams sisters and the Wright brothers, the Bruno sisters had auspicious origins growing up in a supremely musical household in Ottawa.

“My mum is a violin teacher, and I was hearing music as a child right from the beginning. I think (at) around three or four, I asked Mum if I could play. I wanted to learn to play the violin. At age five, I was given my first instrument,” Yolanda says in an email.

“I was never interested in the violin, probably because every musician I’d ever met was a violinist, but wanted to play the cello from the start,” Carmen writes to The Uniter. I don’t remember how I even knew about the cello, but I had already made up my mind that it was the superior instrument.”

“My parents used to see her sitting on the couch, and she would put the violin between her legs like a cello,” Yolanda adds.

On. Sept. 28, the pair will perform music from classical composers such as Bach and Stravinsky, as well as more modern compositions from Charles Cozens and Julian Grant. Most notably, the Bruno sisters will perform a concerto for violin and cello by Antonio Vivaldi, whose music has a special connection for the sisters, who have Italian heritage through their father.

“One of my earliest memories of a big piece that I learned as a kid was Vivaldi’s ‘Four Seasons,’” Yolanda says. “I play on a Venetian violin made in 1737 by Domenico Montagnana. It’s very possible that Vivaldi played my instrument, because all the luthiers who made instruments in Venice, their shops were located literally across the street from one another.”

“It’s nice for me to romanticize about,” she says. “Did Vivaldi ever hear my violin? Did he ever play it? Did his colleague play it?”

While studying in London, Yolanda played for Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace, with Nobel Peace Prize laureate Malala Yousafzai in attendance.

While Carmen has yet to perform for a monarch, she’s played for Canadian author Margaret Atwood, who she believes is a “kind of royal in her own right.”

In early 2021, Yolanda began a volunteer performance series called Music for Your Blues that was conducted via Zoom. It included live musical performances and a multidisciplinary approach to art appreciation, blending storytelling with live music and poetry readings.

“I did it after the (January 2021) insurrection in the United States at the Capitol. I just felt so traumatized by that,” Yolanda says. “We were in complete lockdown in Toronto, and it was incredibly depressing, and then you’re just watching this traumatic thing happen.”

Feelings of alienation encouraged Yolanda to reach out to her community and forge connections with others.

“I love teaching and meeting people. I feel a responsibility to maintain music education,” Yolanda says. “I feel a responsibility to share that great art, and the rewards are just infinite.”

The Bruno sisters perform in collaboration with the MCO on Sept. 28 at Westminster United Church. In-person and online-only tickets are available for the 1 p.m. and 7 p.m. shows.

Published in Volume 77, Number 03 of The Uniter (September 22, 2022)

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