From new beginnings to old world charm, here are 3 weekend picks

A pianist-turned-conductor, a financial analyst-turned-artist, and two sumptuously shot foreign films are among this weekend's arts-and-culture highlights.

Local art, sweet string music, and a pair of cinematic history lessons

Joanna Kulig and Tomasz Kot star as tempestuous lovers in turbulent times in the movie Cold War, playing this weekend at the ByTowne Cinema. (Curzon Artifical Eye)

This weekend in Ottawa features a pianist-turned-conductor, a financial analyst-turned-artist, and two sumptuously shot foreign films.

A new joy

After four decades as a celebrated solo pianist and music teacher, Jean Desmarais has found new joy as a conductor.

Desmarais picked up a baton just a few months ago, when he stepped in as guest conductor for the Strings of St. John's, an ensemble of dedicated amateur string players. 

As soon as he started waving the baton in front of the musicians, he had a revelation.

Pianist Jean Desmarais is stepping into a new role as guest conductor for the Strings of St. John's, an ensemble of dedicated amateur string players. (Michel Baron)

"When I go to the piano for 40 years, if I say 'Hello', the piano says nothing [back]," said Desmarais, who's known for his infectious warmth and enthusiasm.

"But the with orchestra, you deal with people, so have to communicate and make sure the message is clear. You have to be considerate. You collaborate." 

Desmarais makes his debut as the new musical director of the Strings of St. John's on Sunday, with a repertoire of German and Scandinavian music from composers such as Bach, Mozart, Sibelius and Neilson. 

"To be honest we can't be the best orchestra in the world," said Desmarais. "But maybe we can be the most human one."

  • Where: St. John's Evangelist Church, 154 Somerset St. W. (at the corner of Lisgar and Somerset).
  • When: Sunday at 2 p.m.
  • Cost: Pay what you can.
Artist Laurence Finet in front of one of her paintings at Studio Sixty Six art gallery. (Sandra Abma/CBC)

Finding her artistic footing

Laurence Finet  was on maternity leave from her job as a financial analyst when she had her own revelation.

She'd always loved making art, but during her leave she decided it was time to throw herself into it entirely.

The young mother enrolled herself at the Ottawa School of Art and found child-like joy in gaining the skills to express her ideas and establish herself as a serious artist.

"I think it has changed my brain," said Finet.

"I used to work in a very analytical mode and with numbers — and now numbers are completely foreign to me. And it's more emotions [now] and what you feel." 

Finet joins artists Natalie Bruvels and Andrew Beck for INTERPLAYS , an exhibition of contemporary painting at Studio Sixty Six in the Glebe.   

The show features a range of different styles and perspectives, from abstract works to eerily realistic depictions — as well as Finet's layered exploration into the impact of digital technology on personal behaviour. 

  • Where: Studio Sixty Six, 858 Bank St., Unit 101.
  • When: Wednesday to Sunday, 12-6 p.m. The exhibition runs until April 21.
  • Cost: Free

A cinematic trip through history

Haunting images, sumptuous cinematography and star-crossed lovers caught in the sweep of history.

It's all there in a pair of award-winning foreign films now showing at the ByTowne Cinema — films that travel back to post-war Europe, where artists are threatened by repressive communist regimes and no love story is guaranteed a happy ending.

Cold War (Poland) and Never Look Away (Germany) were both nominated for best foreign language film and best cinematography at this year's Oscars.  Paweł Pawlikowski was also nominated in the best director category for Cold War.

Pawlikoski based his film on the story of his own parents' tumultuous relationship, which began in Poland and eventually led to the bright lights and smoky bars of Paris in the 1960s.

Never Look Away, meanwhile, is a fictionalized account of the early years of famed German painter Gerhard Richter and how he fled the confines of East Germany to become the artist he wanted to be. 

It's directed by Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, who took home the Oscar for his movie The Lives of Others in 2007.

  • Where: ByTowne Cinema, 325 Rideau St.
  • When:  Cold War plays Saturday at 9:30 p.m. and Sunday at 1:15 p.m.  Never Look Away plays  Friday at 8:40 p.m., Saturday 5:35 p.m. and Sunday at 7:15 p.m.
  • Cost:  $12 general admission, $8 for ByTowne members.


Sandra Abma


Sandra Abma is a veteran CBC arts journalist. If you have an event or idea you want to share, please do at


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