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La Scena Musicale - Vol. 16, No. 9 June 2011

Jimmy Brière: Serving Music

by Lucie Renaud / June 1, 2011

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Winner of the Hong Kong International Piano Competition in 1997, laureate of the Porto International Piano Competition in 1996 and the CBC National Radio Competition for Young Performers in 2001, Jimmy Brière performs both within and outside Quebec, whether at the Toledo Festival or in Bulgaria, with the Orchestra Classica do Porto or the Orchestre symphonique de Montréal. Soloist, recitalist, chamber musician, and pedagog, he is never choosy, aware of the fact that a varied repertoire is a strength and that specialization can create a feeling of stagnation. Hence, it’s not surprising to discover while going through his resumé that this native of Ascot Corner (Eastern Townships) has multiplied his viewpoints, as much in Montreal as in Bloomington, Indiana and Toronto, with Marc Durand, mentor-turned-friend, Leon Fleisher, Menahem Pressler and André Laplante.

Despite being aware that the classical performer market has become saturated, he refuses to surrender to a certain ambient fatalism. “When we make music, it’s because it has become a sine qua none condition of our life,” he explains during an interview. “We live in a period in which we are witnessing many changes in the way music is consumed, but we can’t jump ship. Classical music will never die. Will we still be going to concerts in 50 years? I don’t know. Will the genre become marginalized? I don’t believe so.”

He has been transmitting this conviction and this fervour to his students at the Université de Montréal since 2004. He especially hopes that they will acquire a certain rigour, notably when it comes to rhythm, and that they will learn to develop tools that will allow them to better decrypt the subtleties of a score. He started playing the piano at seven years old, like many others, and consciously chose to embrace the profession at 17: “I felt that, one way or another, I would gain something from it and evolve as a result.” He maintains that music studies will never turn out to be “wasted”, even if the performer decides to eventually change direction. “Playing piano passionately is one of the hardest things to do, there’s nothing ordinary involved. Practicing an instrument can be extremely demanding, but allows the musician to evolve in many facets of life.”

Liszt is one of Brière’s favourite composers, but is not alone in his personal pantheon. “It’s important to interpret a musical style that suits one’s physique and the way the performer is affected by things. I hold Brahms and Beethoven in very high esteem, I consider Mozart to be a superior being and Bach is a god. He is the perfect blend of controlled writing and emotional density of content. Even if I don’t play him often in concert, I play him for myself: the St. Matthew Passion, the concertos... There is such variety in the Well Tempered Clavier that it alone would be enough to summarize occidental musical art.”

When at all possible, he likes to thematically orient his programs, but strives above all else for a balance between the familiar and the unknown. Hence, in the fall, he would add Nino Rota’s Preludes and Erich Korngold’s Sonata No. 1 to Liszt’s Funérailles and Bénédiction de Dieu dans la solitude. These first two works are featured on a debut solo recording, released in September, which also includes John Corigliano’s Etude Fantasy.

With a Quebec tour centred on this very program for 2012, it will be possible to hear the pianist in between now and then at the Ottawa International Chamber Music Festival and at the Rendez-vous musical de Latterière playing Khatchatourian and Bartók, as well as at the Palais Montcalm in Quebec with the Orchestra de la francophonie. He will perform Rachmaninoff’s mystical Concerto No. 3, an “enormous pianistic and musical challenge”, often altered in international competitions, the grandeur and depth of which he hopes to bring out.

Throughout a most prolific career, Jean Françaix approched concertos for multiple instruments, ballets, operas and chamber music with equal ease. Short, sparkling movements, outstanding writing, delicate phrasing and melodic innovation: tools that he would use to express and reinvent himself, while maintaining a remarkably strong musical personality. “Ever since my youth, I have had the composition bug,” he says. “To turn a blank page into something is pure ecstasy! To escape my personal prison is a privilege!” The works presented on the CD Découverte showcase the stylistic uniqueness in a seemingly disparate production. “It has been said of my works that they were easy. Surely, those who see them this way have never played them: unless they are Arthur Rubinstein, they won’t make it to the end of the third bar.”

Jimmy Brière is joined by two accomplices of the Trio di colore: clarinettist Guy Yehuda and violist Yuval Gotlibovich, with whom he feels a “very strong musical chemistry” and won the gold medal at the Fischoff Chamber Music Competition in 2004. He admits devoting deep affection to this intimate repertoire: “It is a pleasure and a treat to play with instruments that support my sound and given me the impression of being just like them. This musical experience is irreplaceable and the repertoire, fantastic.”

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