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La Scena Musicale - Vol. 5, No. 9

THE MILLENNIUM SYMPHONY A Work for the Beginning of Time -- Part 2 : The Organizational Challenge

by Marc Chénard / June 1, 2000

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As this issue of the magazine hits the stands, the preparations in view for the Millennium Symphony are reaching feverish proportions. For this free outdoor performance, which will be held on Saturday June 3rd, four full days (and nights) will be needed just to set up the grounds of St. Joseph's Oratory. In an area covering one square kilometre there will be 12 covered stages, an elaborate sound system, equipment for a simultaneous radio broadcast, lighting flooding the whole site and, in the middle of it all, an area large enough to accommodate a crowd of 25,000 spectators. But that is only the tip of the iceberg.

As reported last month, this seven-movement work spread over 90 minutes was a musical tour de force, but it also felt like a logistical obstacle course. The brainchild of composer and SMCQ director Walter Boudreau was first conceived on a peaceful Sunday morning in the Spring of 1964. As he recollects, the sound of church bells ringing everywhere over an otherwise dormant city gave him the idea of creating a musical work which would unite them all. However, the potential Giant lay dormant for years, to be awakened only in 1997, when the Conseil québécois de la musique (CQM) started sounding out the musical community at large for special projects marking the new millennium.

1- Studio de musique ancienne de
montréal et idées heureuse
2- Codes d'accès
3- I Musici
4- Nouvel ensemble de Montréal
5- Ensemble contemporain de Montréal
6- Orchestre symphonique de Montréal
7- Musica Camerata de Montréal
8- Arsenal à Musique
9- Productions SuperMémé-SuperMusique
10- Quatuor Molinari
11- Chants libres
12- Société de musique contemporaine du Québec
13- Petits chanteurs du Mont - Royal
14- Orgue de l'Oratoire
15- Musique de 22e Régiment
16- Carrillon de l'Oratoire
17- 2000 carillonneurs
18- Camions de pompiers
19- Grand public
+ Postes de la Croix rouge

In the three years since its actual beginning, the event has taken on different forms, the first of which was to be a parade stretching from downtown to the Olympic Stadium or, alternatively, up to the mountain itself. But those plans were discarded in favour of a fixed site; Lafontaine Park and Place des Arts were contenders, but were rejected because of their unsuitable layouts.

Enter the grounds of St.Joseph's Oratory: as a fixed site, it is far more spacious and it is on the slopes of the very mountain where the then 17-year-old Boudreau first had his dream. But more than location, it offered a number of added perks, most notably, its great organ, and an in-house choir, les Petits chanteurs du Mont-Royal. In addition to the bellfry's 56 pitched bells, 2000 bell ringers on hand, and a few more bells clanging away from two antique fire trucks specially brought from the museum for the occasion. A number of church bells will also chime in, all of these pre-recorded by the participant composers at churches in their own neighbourhoods.

Despite meticulous preparations and the overcoming of innumerable logistical headaches, one question cannot be answered before the show: what will all of this sound like? Throughout May, each ensemble has conducted its own separate rehearsals, and a couple of collective ones have just taken place indoors, but all of this will ultimately take shape at an outdoor dress rehearsal on June 2, the eve of the event. "There will be surprises for everyone, even for us," admits one of the participating composers, Vincent Collard. "Given the area, it will take time for sound to travel, so it's hard to know how effective the results will be." But this crucial problem has been addressed, as another participant composer, Louis Dufort, explains. Given his work in the electro-acoustic field, he also acted as technical advisor on this matter. "The loud-speaker system has been set up to provide delays in the transmission of sound from any given spot, so that sounds from distant points can catch up to it and enable everything to stay in sync." All the ensembles will have their assigned conductor, all of whom will be in radio contact with the project coordinator Denys Bouliane, who, as master conductor of the work, will be in the building housing the main sound board and cuing everyone in from the mammoth 400-page master score.

The stage is now set for a once-in-a-lifetime occurrence, a make or break proposition borne out of one man's great artistic folly. And so it will be on Saturday, June 3rd, at 8:30 PM sharp, that Walter Boudreau will finally know for whom the bells toll.

Note : Contrary to what was reported in the first instalment of this article, there will be NO raincheck on Sunday, June 4. Cancellation of the event will occur in case of very heavy downpours. Bring an umbrella or rain suit, if needed, and don't forget to bring a chair, too. Info : (514) 843-9305 / www.smcq.qc.ca

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