Vienna-based, Canadian-born Sarah McElravy is an internationally renowned string player. 

Equally adept on violin and viola, she is a career chamber musician, recitalist and pedagogue who has performed as soloist with major orchestras across the globe – the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic, Warsaw Philharmonic, the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, Helsinki Philharmonic and more. 

In her provincial debut, McElravy returns to Canadian turf to close out the Manitoba Chamber Orchestra’s 2023/24 season. 

“I’m very excited to finally make it here,” says McElravy ahead of her MCO debut.  

McElravy grew up in Lindsay, Ontario – a stone’s throw from Peterborough – before her studies took her south of the border to the prestigious Cleveland Institute and then further studies at Yale University.  

She is a founding member of the Linden String Quartet (2008-2014), which took top prize at the Fischoff National Chamber Music Competition in 2009, followed by a win at the Concert Artists Guild Victor Elmaleh Competition the next year. 

All the while, it was a violin under McElravy’s chin.  

Often, violinists turn to viola out of necessity – too many of the former and not enough of the latter in youth orchestra, for example – but that wasn’t the case for the talented player. 

“By the time the quartet ended, I was sort of ready to explore something new,” she says.  

At the age of 30, she decided to start serious study on the viola and has since made the instrument her calling card.  

“I have to say, I think I was always a violist,” says McElravy, who notes about 95 percent of her playing is now done on the instrument. “I think with my sound, my personality, the way I approach an instrument, I kind of really found my home.”   

As solo violist alongside the Manitoba Chamber Orchestra and music director Anne Manson, McElravy performs Shostakovich’s final composition, the Viola Sonata in C Major, op. 147, arranged for viola, celesta and strings by Vladimir Mendelssohn.  

“Shostakovich loved the viola,” says McElravy. “I think that when you listen to this sonata, the viola is the perfect instrument to sort of express these repressed and tragic overtones of his life.”  

Composed in 1975 just a month before his death, the sonata was premiered by its dedicatee, Fedor Druzhinin, in a memorial concert and was quickly taken up by violists as a welcome addition to the repertoire.  

In 1991, the work was arranged for viola, celesta and strings by Vladimir Mendelssohn. 

“Especially with a piece of this importance, when you do arrangements, there’s sometimes some skepticism,” explains McElravy, who performs the version for the first time with the MCO. “But this is done so, so well.”  

See Sarah McElravy and the Manitoba Chamber Orchestra on Wednesday, May 29 at the Crescent Arts Centre in two shows: a 1 p.m. condensed matinee and a full 7:30 p.m. evening performance.  

For tickets and more details, visit:  

Check out the full conversation with Sarah McElravy to hear more about her career, growing up in small town Ontario, the autobiographical nature of the Viola Sonata, and why it was, perhaps, not intended for the instrument at all.