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La Scena Musicale - Vol. 21, No. 1

Allegra: 35 Years of Chamber Music

by Kristine Berey / September 17, 2015

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Allegra Chamber Musicians 

In the November 1984 Gazette, the headline of music critic Eric McLean’s review read, “Allegra series provides music of a high order.” McLean noted that Benjamin Britten’s Temporal Variations, presented by “six musicians in different combinations,” was a new experience for him. He also praised pianist Dorothy Fieldman Fraiberg’s performance of an early Beethoven quartet. “It was an intelligent and nicely balanced presentation of a work that is generally passed over in favour of Beethoven’s more mature compositions,” wrote McLean.

Now in its 35th year, Allegra’s raison d’être — offering high quality chamber music including rarely-heard works to everyone — has remained unchanged. “I was passionate about starting this,” recalls Fraiberg, Allegra’s founder and artistic director. When the ensemble started, save for Musica Camerata, there was little chamber music in Montreal. “I wanted to make it accessible for all,” she says, explaining that all concerts are free, supported by welcomed donations.

Allegra, Italian for “joy”, brings together some of Montreal’s finest musicians, recruited from the ranks of the Orchestre Métropolitain and the Montreal Symphony. Over 45 well-known musicians have played with the ensemble, which currently includes Simon Aldrich, solo clarinetist of the Orchestre Métropolitain and violinist Elvira Misbakhova, associate principal of OM’s viola section.

The greatest difficulty over the years has not been performing, but fundraising. Raised from a combination of individual donors and corporate sponsors, funds go towards paying musicians, hall rental, printing costs, advertising, scores, and more. “Much of the work in keeping a concert series alive takes place offstage,” Fraiberg says. “We collaborate on the upcoming program, discussing what is interesting, what is new out there and we listen to different works. Our priority is always whether they are well written.”

Choosing the program can be very time-consuming, Fraiberg explains, “Forget rehearsing and learning the material. Just reading them through from beginning to end takes hours. Then you need at least four or five rehearsals and sometimes more.” In rehearsal, the ensemble can spend two hours on just one movement.

But Fraiberg says she feels fortunate to be able to live a life in music, “I love chamber music, it’s what I always wanted to do. I love the interaction with my colleagues and it’s a great privilege to make music with such great musicians.”

What distinguishes chamber music from other forms is its intimate nature, Fraiberg adds. It’s also exciting. “Chamber music is a collaboration. We develop the close intimacy of a shared musical experience,” she explains. “We all discuss issues of interpretation in rehearsal; but often, in mid-performance, players do things spontaneously, requiring the other players to respond in real time.”

Audiences become part of the music as well, Fraiberg says, noting that over the years, Allegra has acquired a loyal following, as “chamber music allows the audience to share in the intimacy of the performance.”

Bach Before Bedtime

For the last eight years Allegra has reached out to new audiences through its Bach Before Bedtime concert series, designed to introduce young children to classical music. Taking place on Tuesdays at Tanna Schulich Hall, the 45-minute concerts are timed, artfully integrating three minutes of music with 40 seconds of talking. “I really wanted very young children to feel comfortable in the concert hall,” Fraiberg explains. “We usually open with one of Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos and then we tell a story in French and English, interspersed with classical music excerpts. During the concerts the kids have a chance to conduct and we always have a song they can sing. At the end we have a rock song and we hand out percussion instruments.”

After the closing Brandenburg excerpt, the children are invited onstage to “meet the instruments,” getting up close and personal with the musicians, who welcome them with a smile. They even get juice and cookies before they leave.

“I believe that the exposure to instruments, the closeness to the musicians and the comfort in the hall help the children focus their attention for a sustained period, creating empathy for others while whetting their appetites to learn an instrument,” Fraiberg says. The excerpts have included music from diverse composers such as Donizetti, Arnold, Ibert, Vivaldi and, of course, Bach. It is hoped that someday the children, along with the parents and grandparents who bring them, will become the classical music audiences of the future. With two aunts who were pianists, one classical, the other jazz, Fraiberg knows the value of early musical experience, since she “grew up surrounded by music.”

This year, the BBB concerts are launching a new initiative, Ensemble: Every Child needs BBB. “It’s an outreach program targeting children’s organizations to make sure this great program is accessible to all,” says Fraiberg. In addition to the regular BBB Tuesday concerts, a second concert will be added for various groups of children from the community.

When asked what she is most proud of, Fraiberg answers without hesitating: “That it’s lasted all these years.”

Allegra’s 35th Gala Fundraiser, September 30
Between the opening silent auction and “cocktail dînatoire,” and the closing wine and dessert, the Gala concert, hosted by Dennis Trudeau, will honour former board member Rosalind Goodman, who died last August. Special guest soprano Suzie Leblanc is featured in Schubert’s The Shepherd or the Rock, and Mahler’s Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen (I am lost to the world from Rückert Lieder) specially arranged for soprano, clarinet and strings by Simon Aldrich. www.allegrachambermusic.com


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