Prix d’Europe 2011: a Breath of Fresh Air for its Centennial by Renée Banville
/ June 1, 2011
Flash version here
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
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
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.
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,”
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.
[Translation: Valentina Catana]