Fall arts preview: Cellist Marina Hasselberg enjoys a challenge

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      If Marina Hasselberg had listened to her friends, she wouldn’t be here today.

      Oh, she’d be somewhere, possibly Montreal or Toronto, playing the cello and carving out a career for herself. But she wouldn’t be here, in Vancouver, playing the cello and quickly becoming a spark plug in two very different musical worlds.

      “When I finished my master’s degree [at the University of Western Ontario], I started telling my friends that I was moving to Vancouver,” she explains, on the line from her home in Kitsilano. “And everyone said, ‘Don’t go! You’re crazy. You’ll never be able to survive as a musician in Vancouver.’ But I was looking for a place where I would really enjoy living, and I’m very stubborn. If you are willing to do hard work and put some nice projects together and find a way of delivering what an audience is looking for, then you can make it work.”

      Which is exactly what the 29-year-old native of Portugal has managed to do since arriving in B.C. four years ago. Teaching and freelance gigs pay the bills—she recently shared a stage with Rod Stewart—but what Hasselberg finds most exciting is that she’s been accepted by both Vancouver’s baroque- and contemporary-music communities. That’s ironic, given that her early training was almost entirely in the classical canon. “Basically, 19th-century music,” she says, “with a little bit of the 18th century and a little bit of the 20th century. You get a little bit tired of it.”

      Hasselberg sees no contradiction in playing baroque music with Early Music Vancouver or her own as-yet-unnamed ensemble while premiering new works with the Redshift Music Society and others. “I actually find them to be, in many ways, similar,” she says. “These two areas actually offer the performer the opportunity to do more—to improvise a little bit, to change things a little bit. New music has lots of free sections, right? And baroque music, okay, the Bach suites are all written down, but with many other pieces you have to add cadences, you have to add ornaments. You have space to play with it.”

      This season, Hasselberg will do most of her baroque playing out of town—she’s about to head to Amsterdam for a month-long study intensive. On the new-music side, however, the cellist’s reconstituted NOVO Ensemble has exciting plans.

      “The group is now me, basically, and I’ll invite all the other people,” she says, noting that she’s readying a program that will be performed twice: first at Pyatt Hall, on November 15, and then at St. Philip’s Anglican Church on November 23. Flutist Mark McGregor and bassist Mark Haney will be onboard to help Hasselberg premiere works from James Maxwell, Michael Oesterle, Rita Uyeda, and Jordan Nobles—a rather impressive list, especially as NOVO has yet to receive Canada Council commissioning money.

      How has Hasselberg managed to recruit such gifted accomplices?

      “I think I’m lucky—and I think they like me,” she says. But who wouldn’t like a cellist who’s willing to work so hard?