A classic take on a rock festival

From the outset, Triple Forte felt like outcasts at the Dawson City Music festival. They were three classical music professors in a sea of folkies and indie rockers. "We were the most, how you say? .

From the outset, Triple Forte felt like outcasts at the Dawson City Music festival.

They were three classical music professors in a sea of folkies and indie rockers.

“We were the most, how you say? … ‘different’ group,” said cellist Yegor Dyachkov.

Counting the concert hall as their natural habitat, Dawson was the trio’s first rock festival.

For Dawson, the feeling was mutual: Triple Forte was the festival’s first classical act in 31 years of existence.

“We didn’t really know what we were getting into,” said violinist Jasper Wood.

Nationally renowned Canadian soloists, Triple Forte nevertheless felt intimidated by the festival’s schedule of jam workshops.

After all, the world of improvisation was brand new to the members of Triple Forte.

“I’ve never really improvised before,” said Dyachkov.

“I’m used to not touching a piano unless I’m playing something that’s been written by a genius, and I very much don’t feel like a genius,”

said pianist David Jalpert.

Triple Forte, after all, is a cover band.

“Not a single note of what we play has been written by us; we’re interpreters,” said Dyachkov.

“Throughout the entire festival we were nervous about the workshops,” said Wood.

“You sort of feel this expectation that you can do everything when you have those qualifications—which is not necessarily the case,” he said.

Saturday afternoon, Wood sat in on a 45-minute workshop of traditional Eastern European folk music.

Mostly, Wood hid in the background.

“I didn’t want to get in the way; these guys, they jam together all the time,” said Wood.

But with four minutes to go, Wood, triumph burning in his eyes, burst out of his shell and delivered a show-stopping rendition of Sarasate’s Gypsy Airs.

While rockers like The Acorn and Mother Mother wowed audiences with newly penned songs off their latest albums, Triple Forte was taking the stage with songs composed when Dawson was still a fish camp.

The comfort of performing new stuff appealed to the classical trio.

“There’s this added pressure in classical music that you’re playing something that was written by someone else, who, presumably, you have tremendous respect for,” said Jalbert.

Everything Triple Forte plays, their audiences have usually heard before—as have generations of audiences before them.

For rock bands, it would be near-sacrilege to cover something as renowned as Queen’s untouchable Bohemian Rhapsody.

Yet, performance after performance, classical performers must tackle timeless fragments of musical genius.

“You’re always being judged on how well you treat the music,” said Jalbert.

One minor slipup, and Mozart might well be spinning in his grave.

As classical musicians, Triple Forte must also constantly expand their repertoire.

No Bon Jovi performance would be complete without a performance of Livin’ on a Prayer.

And, almost 50 years after the release of Louie, Louie, the one-hit-wonder Kingsmen continue to play tour dates across the United States.

Classical audiences aren’t nearly as forgiving.

“For us, we constantly have to learn new and difficult music,” said Jalbert.

“It’s not like I learn my set of 12 songs and just coast on that for a couple of years,” he said.

Week to week, Jalbert can be called upon to play as much as four hours of new music.

As a result, while rock musicians sleep into the late afternoon in king-sized beds filled with groupies, Jalbert, Wood and Dyachkov are holed up in a practice room.

“We have to have, I think, more discipline,” said Jalbert.

As the festival’s only classical ambassadors, Wood hoped to rebel against the snobbish, tweed-wearing classical musician stereotype.

“We’re not pretentious people,” said Dyachkov.

Regardless, Triple Forte was usually ended the first band in bed.

But it’s just because they have kids, not because they’re a bunch of killjoy academics, said Wood.

“If you were talking to me 10 years earlier, I was one of those classical musicians that would go out and party just as hard as the rock musicians,” said Wood.

“These days, not the case at all, I just chill out and have a cup of tea,” he said.

Bands took in ample doses of liquid courage before facing the Dawson crowds, as evidenced by an ever-growing backstage forest of empty beer bottles.

Classical, however, demands stringent sobriety.

“Rock bands almost need it … but for us, a single drink will throw off our co-ordination,” said Jalbert.

“I was just plain old jealous—I’d see them having a beer or two, sitting back, chilling out, smoking a couple of cigarettes, I was just like, ‘Aw man, I would love to do that before I walked out on stage,’” said Wood.

Dawson audiences were markedly different than your typical classical junkies.

“In classical concerts you don’t really clap between movements—it’s sort of a taboo,” said Dyachkov.

But Dawson audiences hooted, hollered and applauded their way through the entire Triple Forte set.

“There might be more hooting, but that’s just awesome,” said Wood.

“That kind of response; it makes you play better,” said Jalbert.

Dyachkov typically plays on a 270-year-old cello.

But schlepping a three-century-old cello up to Dawson was out of the question.

Cellos aren’t usually welcomed as carry-on luggage.

And, “I don’t let anybody touch my instrument except me,” said Dyachkov.

Instead, organizers hooked him up with a student cello in Whitehorse.

Jalbert usually performs on a black, gleaming concert grand piano.

But at an afternoon concert at Dawson’s St. Paul Church, Jalpert was matched with a dottery upright piano.

Old and slightly out-of-tune, the piano had a distinctively “honky-tonk” sound.

Great for ragtime, but largely unheard-of in classical concert halls.

“Once you’re past the initial surprise, you start liking it,” said Jalpert.

When Jalbert is armed with a well-oiled concert grand piano, he finds himself having to hold back so as not to overshadow his quieter bandmates.

“Now it was the complete opposite; I had to go ‘apeshit,’ essentially,” said Jalpert.

By concert’s end, Jalbert’s key-pounding had done damage to the humble Dawson piano.

“It’s not like the piano’s ruined; it’ll just need a tune-up,” said Wood.

The trio’s rustic set-up, although unfamiliar, ultimately jived with the unpaved charm of Dawson.

“If we were going to be playing Carnegie Hall and they gave us that set-up we’d be upset, but there, it worked,” said Wood.

No groupies, no after-parties, and no dreadlocks, but what classical musicians do have, is staying power, said Jalbert.

The members of Triple Forte, at the end of the day, pay their bills as university professors.

For rockers, the settled-down comfort of academia lies just out of reach.

At festival’s end, the rest of the Dawson lineup packed their bags and moved to their next tour date.

Jalbert, Wood and Dyachkov went home.

Contact Tristin Hopper at