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La Scena Musicale - Vol. 16, No. 9

Prix d’Europe 2011: a Breath of Fresh Air for its Centennial

by Renée Banville / June 1, 2011

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One of the jewels of Quebec’s cultural heritage, the prestigious Prix d’Europe competition, celebrates its 100th anniversary this year. Among the accomplished Quebec musicians who have won the award—and, as a result, furthered their studies in Europe—are Wilfrid Pelletier, Jacques Hétu, Colette Boky and Chantal Juillet. The venerable Académie de musique du Québec has recently revamped the event in order to keep the competition relevant to the 21st century, and to ensure that the winners get more exposure on the world stage.

Restructuring from top to bottom
Founded by a Royal Decree issued in 1870 by Queen Victoria, the Académie de musique du Québec’s original mission was to standardize musical studies in Quebec. Thus in 1911 the Government entrusted it with the administration of the Prix d’Europe. As the number of participants steadily rose, it became apparent that the rules initially established by the Académie needed to be reviewed and adjusted to the demands of the time.

Two years ago pianist Lise Boucher—1958 Prix d’Europe winner, president of the Académie and manager of the competition—decided to tackle the restructuring of the institution. She called on the impresario Michael Buruiana, a passionate lover of the arts, to assist her in this daunting task. With broad business experience in the cultural field, he is currently the president of the Académie’s honorary advisory committee and a special advisor to its board of directors.

An evolving competition
It is not easy for a jury to compare instrumentalists and singers. Under the competition’s new rules, a three-member jury auditions candidates in the preliminary round via a 25- to 30-minute CD recording. In the semi-finals, candidates give a recital of 50 to 55 minutes before the jury and public. In the finals, a stage introduced this year, four candidates will each give a performance of 30 to 40 minutes. During the semi-final and final rounds before the public, a total of 34 candidates will perform in the following categories: piano, violin, cello, guitar, saxophone, clarinet, trombone, trumpet, oboe, percussion and vocals.

More Prizes
This year’s winners will share nearly $65,000, almost twice the amount of last year’s purse. Each finalist will receive a $5,000 prize. The recipient of the Prix d’Europe will enjoy $30,000 while the John Newmark award winner will take home $9,000. Other prizes include the Hedwidge Buruiana prize ($1,000), the Monik Grenier prize ($1,000) and the Fernand-Lindsay composer’s prize 2011. The last, a $10,000 scholarship, is awarded by the Père Lindsay Foundation every two years. In addition, two music journalism awards are to be created, one of them honouring pioneer Frederick Pelletier. This prize will be awarded to the reporter whose story best catches the eye of the jury. Next year, to meet the strong request from conservatories and universities, a prize in the new discipline of classic jazz will be established.

Burnishing the image of the Prix d’Europe
A major effort is being made to recover the lustre and fame previously enjoyed by the Académie de musique du Québec and the Prix d’Europe. The organizers have brainstormed how to bring surprise and glamour to the centennial celebration. They have invited leading figures from various milieux—all of whom believe in the importance of the Prix d’Europe—to form an honorary advisory committee. Among them are some important names from the arts and other liberal professions, as well as two great ambassadors: conductor Yannick Nézet-Séguin and Pierre-Henri Deleau, a renowned figure in the world of cinema.

A gallery of 70 pictures of previous winners will be exhibited throughout the competition at the Chapelle historique du Bon-Pasteur. During the year clarinettist and chronicler Jean Laurendeau will publish a documentary volume about the Académie. Organizers even hope to witness the founding of a Museum of Music, a hall of fame to trace the evolution of music in Quebec. “It will offer a fabulous educational experience to our youth,” enthuses Michel Buruiana.

Prestige for the winners
Winner of the 1986 Prix d’Europe, pianist Jean Saulnier, was a member of the jury in 2005. “Even today the Prix d’Europe embodies a prestigious tradition—demonstrating the importance of music in Quebec and encouraging young people to follow along this inspiring path. The Prix d’Europe was very useful to me, as it is to all winners at the beginning of their career, and it allowed me to further my education under the mentorship of the best professors. The doors that the award opened for me continue to shape my activities as a professor and a performer,” says Saulnier.

Solo violinist at the MSO since 2008 and winner of 1997 Prix d’Europe, Olivier Thouin concurs: “The award was the starting point of my career, bringing me exposure, so that my name became well known.” And soprano Marie-Danielle Parent: “The award brought me, as a musician and an artist, recognition from my peers. I won the award in 1980 in a competition in which all the other participants were instrumentalists. I think I am the last singer who won.” Indeed, since then no Prix d’Europe has been awarded to a vocalist.

An international jury
The honorary presidency of the 100th edition was entrusted to harpsichordist and organist Kenneth Gilbert, winner of the Prix d’Europe for organ in 1953. Other members of the jury include Jean-Marie Poupelin, professor of oboe at the Paris Conservatory; Yuriko Naganuma, solo violinist of the Octuor de France; Christophe Guiot, violinist at the Théâtre national de l'Opéra de Paris; Nicole Lorange, soprano, a principal singer at the Metropolitan Opera for several seasons; Rachel Martel, rehearsal pianist at the Faculty of Music of the Université Laval; and Gabriel Thibaudeau, composer and pianist. Composers Denis Gougeon, John Rea and Ana Sokolovic are members of the jury in the composition category.

The organizers have spared no effort to ensure the continued existence of a crucial competition, one that is designed to expand the horizons of young musicians. The Centennial Gala will take place in the Claude-Champagne auditorium on June 12th. The evening is certain to be filled with good music. Noted performers Marin Naturisca, Michel Donato and a jazz band will play during the second half of the Gala. Let the party spirit come alive, kindled by this glittering jewel of our cultural life!

June 5-10, Chapelle historique du Bon-Pasteur. www.prixdeurope.ca

[Translation: Valentina Catana]

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