Picture this: St. Albert Botanic Park’s long stretch of carpeted grass, the wafting fragrance of garden roses, and the soft splashes of a waterfall bubbling in the distance. Just as you arrive at the park, a musical duo begins serenading a relaxed crowd stretched out on the grass.
Although music halls have reopened, people are jumping at the chance to spend time outdoors and enjoy nature’s serenity. Every year, the botanic park hosts Garden Day, a free event that attracts a good-sized gathering of multiple generations.
This year, Garden Day takes place Sunday, July 24. It is a chance to meet the volunteers who donate time and expertise to make the park’s bold showcase of blooms one of the Edmonton Region’s premiere horticultural wonders.
The St. Albert Chamber Music Society has partnered with the botanic park to accompany the festivities with a one-hour outdoor concert at the east-end gazebo which doubles as a raised stage. The concert features cellist Ronda Metszies and violinist Neda Yamach, two top-tier classically-trained musicians.
Both women have deep connections to St. Albert and are associated with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra (ESO). Metszies lives in St. Albert and is a long-standing cellist with the ESO, ALberta Baroque Ensemble, and the jazzier Obsessions Octet. Yamach grew up in St. Albert and played violin for the ESO and Obsessions Octet before shifting to a career in health. When time permits, she performs with the Valkyrie String Quartet as an arm of Edmonton’s Candlelight Concerts.
“I’ve always been fascinated with medicine and human biology, but I never left music. I knew when I left the symphony, a significant part of my life changed. I had been playing since I was a kid. During COVID, concerts were few and far between. In the last few months, concerts and gigs have increased. I feel fortunate I have a day job and can squeeze in concerts during my free time,” Yamach said.
Yamach played at the botanic park in previous years where laid-back crowds enjoyed a variety of inspiring music — light classics, possibly a tango or two, or even a show tune if an arrangement for duos is available.
“When you’re playing outdoors, the atmosphere and scenery is always inspiring and calming. Being outdoors can be too windy and you have to protect your instrument, but if the conditions are just right, playing outside is a treat,” Yamach said.
Metszies agrees adding nature’s enchantment allows musicians to make even more magic.
“There’s just the two of us and the challenge is making sure it sounds full enough,” Metszies said.
The duo will provide context to each individual instrumental piece they select.
“If you listen without the lyrics, it’s a complete invitation to imagine what applies to you,” Metszies said. "Your reaction to it is not dictated by lyrics. The person sitting beside you may have a different experience depending on what triggers them."
She adds light classical-music concerts have undergone a massive change in the last 30 years.
“They’ve gone from being rigid and formal to being more humane,” Metszies said. "If you’re curious, come on by and hear the gorgeous instruments and pieces we play. It’s a beautiful setting and it’s worth every penny
The free one-hour concert starts at 1 p.m. The park is located at 265 Sturgeon Rd. Visitors are asked to bring their lawn chairs, blankets, sunscreen, and mosquito repellent.