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La Scena Musicale - Vol. 20, No. 4

2014: An Eventful Musical Year In Review

by Caroline Rodgers / December 1, 2014

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A Great Year For The Organ

One of the major musical events in 2014 was the inauguration of the grand Pierre-Béique organ of the Montréal Symphony Orchestra (MSO) at the Maison symphonique in May. This Casavant organ with 6489 pipes and 83 games was acquired at a cost of five million dollars, thanks to a generous donation from Mrs. Jacqueline Desmarais, who knew Pierre Béique, one of the founders of the MSO. For this inaugural concert, organist emeritus Olivier Latry played the famous Toccata and Fugue in D minor and Symphony No. 3 by Saint-Saëns with the MSO.

In November, the Canadian International Organ Competition, which is held every three years, was back with a program of 40 events. In all, 15 candidates from eight countries competed for $ 70,000 in prizes and the grand prize went to David Baskeyfield, from the UK. This year, the CIOC partnered with pop singer Martha Wainwright who gave a concert at St. James United Church with organists Christian Lane and Jean-Willy Kunz, winners of the CIOC in 2011.

Threats to the Conservatories

The Conservatoire de musique et d’art dramatique du Québec was in turmoil as serious threats of closure of its outlying schools hung in the air in the fall. In September, there were rumours of a financial recovery plan recommending closing the Trois-Rivières, Saguenay, Rimouski, Gatineau and Val-d’Or conservatories because of a total deficit of $14 million. Questioned in the National Assembly, the Minister of Culture, Hélène David, declined for a few weeks to make a decision about the closures, saying she was waiting for a report from the Conservatoire’s board of administration before making a decision.

While the politicians were discussing, the musicians were mobilizing. Several important personalities from the music world, such as Yannick Nézet-Séguin, Jacques Lacombe, Alain Trudel and Karina Gauvin, among others, spoke in the media to defend the Conservatories, to emphasize their importance and to denounce the prospect of closures. In turn, students from conservatories and music schools organized demonstrations. On September 30, students of the Montreal Music Conservatory and of Université de Montréal’s music faculty went on strike and held an outside concert, near Place des Arts, under the direction of Jean -François Rivest. They also demanded the resignation of the head of conservatories, Nicolas Desjardins. Finally, after reading the long-awaited report, which did in fact recommend closures, Minister David sharply disagreed with its findings. Within a week, both general director Nicolas Desjardins and board president Jean-Pierre Bastien resigned.

OSM at the Olympic Park

Carmina Burana

One of the year’s notable events for the masses was undoubtedly the performance of Orff’s Carmina Burana, on the Esplanade of the Olympic Park, by the MSO and 1500 choristers from across Québec to a crowd estimated at 40,000. The evening was hosted by Charles Lafortune, the popular host of the show The Voice, and tenor Marc Hervieux, himself a native of the Hochelaga-Maisonneuve neighbourhood. The soloists were tenor Antonio Figueroa, baritone Trevor Scheunemann and soprano Aline Kutan.

Mix of genres: on the rise

Concerts combining classical and pop music were more numerous and more popular than ever in 2014. The quality of these collaborations has clearly been improving over the years. For example, the pairing of the “garage band” Les Trois Accords with the MSO under Simon Leclerc, a concert that had many fearing the worst, got nothing but positive reviews. The next day, the Metropolitan Orchestra and the electro-jazz group Misteur Valaire, with Yannick Nézet-Séguin on the podium, attracted a large crowd at St-Jean-Baptiste church. There was also the MSO and their Symphonie rapaillée during the FrancoFolies and I Musici de Montréal with Ingrid St-Pierre, among others. Even hip-hop artist Koriass decided to enhance his music by partnering with a small string orchestra assembled for his concert at Club Soda.

International Controversies

Among the controversial headlines that fueled discussions in the music world this year, three names stand out: Gustavo Dudamel, John Adams and Martin Jarvis.

In February, the young, internationally renowned Venezuelan conductor Gustavo Dudamel, artistic director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, made the headlines. As his country of origin was in major political turmoil and protests had been violently repressed by the police for weeks, Dudamel led a concert of the Simon Bolivar Symphony Orchestra on the same day that six protesters were killed. In an open letter, pianist Gabriela Montero, also a native of that country, asked him to justify his decision and to take a stand against repression and the current regime in Venezuela.

The maestro answered via the newspapers, with a brief message in which he denounced all forms of violence, stressed the importance of the country’s music education and youth orchestras network known as El Sistema. He concluded by saying that he had not wanted to cancel and send the youth members of his orchestra back out into the streets of Caracas amidst the violent demonstrations.

The Death of Klinghoffer

Having narrowly escaped a lockout after months of heated negotiations between senior management and the various unions representing its staff, the Metropolitan Opera in New York found itself again in hot water with the controversial opera The Death of Klinghoffer by John Adams, with a libretto by Alice Goodman.

The opera recounts the story of the passengers onboard the ship Achille Lauro in 1985 hijacked by PLO terrorists. During the attack, the terrorists murdered the passenger Leon Klinghoffer, a Jewish US citizen, with a bullet to the head, before pushing him overboard with his wheelchair. Klinghoffer’s daughters have always opposed the staging of this opera, saying it is anti-Semitic and glorifies terrorism. The Met agreed to cancel the opera’s broadcast in cinemas around the world as part of its Live in HD series, and on the radio. However, Met director Peter Gelb upheld his decision to have it performed on stage, which resulted in numerous protests in front of the prestigious opera house, and a host of articles for and against the opera in US newspapers and elsewhere. In the middle of the first of seven performances, a spectator shouted, “The death of Klinghoffer will never be forgiven”.

Bach’s Cello Suites

Bach did not himself compose his famous Cello Suites, according to professor Martin Jarvis, of Charles Darwin University, Australia. Instead, they would be the work of his second wife, Anna Magdalena. He even made a documentary film to support his thesis, entitled Written by Mrs. Bach, after publishing a book under the same title in 2011. His arguments are that one of the two main manuscripts bears the words “Written by Mrs Bachen, his wife”, and that close analysis of the manuscripts reveals that the person who wrote them was not copying from another source, but composing. It goes without saying that Jarvis’s statements earned him the ire of many musicologists and Bach specialists, and has been written about extensively.

The passing of several conductors

Every year some prominent conductors pass away, but 2014 will probably set a grim record: Claudio Abbado, Lorin Maazel, Frans Brüggen, Christopher Hogwood, Franz Paul Decker and Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos.

Translation: Eric Légault

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