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La Scena Musicale - Vol. 5, No. 4

Agnes Grossmann to conduct Montreal Symphony Orchestra

by Dominique Olivier / December 1, 1999

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Agnès Grossmann will mount the MSO's podium December 14 and 15 to conduct the annual performance of Handel's Messiah in Notre Dame basilica in Old Montreal. Ten days earlier, on December 5, she will conduct the MSO in Mozart's Requiem, also at Notre Dame, in memory of the victims of the École Polytechnique massacre in Montreal. These two events mark Grossman's first invitations to conduct the MSO as well as a new phase in her very active career.

Agnes GrossmanGrossman, who is both a choral and orchestral conductor, considers Montreal her adopted city, although she was born in Austria. After conducting Montreal's Metropolitan Orchestra, there was a brief hiatus when she returned to Vienna in 1996 to be the first woman conductor of the Vienna Boys' Choir in its 500-year history. While there, she also conducted a series of concerts in Vienna, Canada, and the U.S. celebrating the choir's 500th birthday. She left the choir after differences with management, mainly over self-financing and reforms that Grossman wanted carried out. "It was a very difficult decision," she told us recently after returning to Montreal. "I had some very touching letters from the children. But what's happening now is also very stimulating."

Luckily for us, Grossman has returned to her adopted country with lots of projects in mind, ready to breathe new energy into the Quebec and Canadian music scenes. She immediately accepted an offer to resume her former position as artistic director of the Orford Arts Centre, left vacant with the departure of Yuli Turovsky. "I hadn't planned it, but with the new, bigger budgets it was an interesting opening," she said. Grossman, an advocate of music-without-borders, wants to increase the Centre's international vocation.

Another project close to her heart is the development, with husband Raffi Armenian, of a post-graduate school affiliated with the Montreal Conservatoire de Musique. "Such a school would give musicians a chance to continue studying after winning an initial prize," she told us. "Its aim is to avoid losing local talent by having master-classes given by great musicians. Our young people could be taught by them without having to go abroad. The talent we have here is incredible! We'd like to be associated with the other great schools world-wide that have the same mandate. I think it's truly important for our musical future, and I hope it comes to pass!"

Grossman is a passionate enthusiast, seemingly immune to pessimism or depression. She was originally a pianist set for a brilliant career. In 1972 she won the Mozart interpretation prize in Vienna and toured under Columbia Artists management. An injury to her right hand in 1973 forced her to cancel all bookings and review her priorities. She began her studies at the Vienna Hochschule für Musik with Karl Österreicher and Günther Theuring. Her new career started in 1979 with an appointment as assistant conductor of the Jeunesses musicales choir in Vienna. Grossman went from strength to strength as artistic director of the Vienna Singakademie, the Toronto Chamber Players, the Montreal Metropolitan Orchestra, the Orford Arts Centre, and the Vienna Boys' Choir. At the same time she pursued a career as guest conductor that took her many places, but especially to Japan.

Speaking of her upcoming concerts with the MSO, Grossman noted that she had conducted several memorial concerts for the Polytechnique massacre with the Metropolitan Orchestra. "The mother of one of the victims was in the choir. December 5 is a special day in other ways," she added, "because it's the anniversary of Mozart's death, as well as of my father's death. I conducted the Requiem for him in Vienna on this date."

Soprano Kathleen Brett, mezzo soprano Lynn Comtois, tenor Benjamin Butterfield, and bass Gary Relyea will be featured in the Requiem. Singing in the Messiah concert are soprano Henriette Schellenberg, mezzo Sonia Racine, tenor Richard Clément, and bass Gary Relyea.

[Translation: Jane Brierley]

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