Save the Conservatories
October 1, 2014
In support of the Conservatoires du Québec, La Scena Musicale presents a letter from conductor Jacques Lacombe, followed by excerpts from letters by conductors Yannick Nézet-Séguin and Alain Trudel
Mr. Premier, Madame Minister of Culture,
It was in the middle of a rehearsal of the opera Carmen, which I am presently conducting in Vancouver, that I first became aware of the rumours of the closing of Quebec’s regional music conservatories. To be honest, I nearly dropped my baton!
As a conductor with a degree from a conservatory, the education that I received there allowed me to pursue an amazing career on the world’s biggest stages and to become the first Quebecker to lead an American orchestra (that of New Jersey), all the while maintaining my roots and my connection to my hometown as artistic director of the Orchestre Symphonique de Trois-Rivières. In this role, I join my voice to the recent concert of protests and I unreservedly support the safeguarding of this unique institution, which brings pride and cultural enrichment to our distinct society.
Thanks to the network of conservatories in Quebec, young, talented musician,s from the youngest children to university-level students, benefit from an exceptional relationship with their professors and a continuous curriculum that goes well beyond learning an instrument, and which neither the private nor the public sector can offer. The Conservatoires constitute a veritable human heritage of inestimable value. The idea that an administrative decision can, in an instant, destroy such an institution of knowledge, one that we spent decades building, makes me shudder.
I understand that your government faces numerous challenges. However, I think of those, more dramatic in a different way, which faced the European leaders following the Second World War. Vienna, which was severely touched by the torments of war, prioritized the reconstruction of the National Opera before even Parliament and City Hall. The leaders of the era understood that a population defines itself first and foremost by its culture, and that it’s precisely during these difficult times that people most need art and culture.
If Quebec’s financial situation has come to such a difficult pass, this history lesson should, perhaps, serve as inspiration. The decision to close an institution because of a budgetary deficit could easily be made by simple accounting software. However, the decision to give a student the means to blossom at an institution as important as the Conservatoire could only come from a great head of state. Do you want to see your government enter the history books as the gravediggers of culture, of our distinct society and its institutions? Or would you prefer to be known as true leaders, visionary and inspired builders? Your decisions will doubtlessly answer this question.
- Jacques Lacombe, C.M., C.Q.
Yannick Nézet-Séguin (excerpt)
You know as well as I do that this network, which extends from Val-d’Or to Quebec City and from Rimouski to Gatineau and includes Saguenay, Trois-Rivières, and Montreal, has given and continues to give Quebec an exceptional brilliance, even at an international level, thanks to artists such as Karina Gauvin, Marie-Nicole Lemieux, Marie-Josée Lord, David Jalbert, Marc Hervieux, Angèle Dubeau, Jacques Lacombe, and Alain Trudel, to name just a few.
Regardless of the places where these great artists perform, they are the standard-bearers of this great institution which, let’s remember, assures continuous professional training from elementary to university level. It’s also important to recognize that Quebec’s musical milieu is largely composed of artists who had the privilege of attending one Conservatoire or another; many now teach there and thus contribute to the replenishment of the professional musicians of tomorrow.
It is necessary not only to preserve and ensure the survival of this great institution, but also to allow it to develop, to blossom, and to finally allow its artists to concentrate on something other than mere survival. They could thus rally their energy to focus on that which is essential: teaching students.
Culture is our greatest treasure. It’s our future that remembers its past. The quality of life of our whole society is at stake.
Alain Trudel (excerpt)
Personally, I could never have continued my studies had it not been for the Conservatoire. I’m far from being a unique case – a child with a certain talent, coming from a very modest single-parent environment. So far, our collective values mean that young people like me (and believe me, there are more than ever today), can believe that, with talent and hard work, it’s not necessary to be born into privilege to have a chance at success.
The power of the Conservatoires lies not only in the exceptional quality of the knowledge passed down through the generations, but also in the importance of the number of institutions in this network.
Don’t shut the doors to the great artists of tomorrow.
Translation: Rebecca Anne Clark