We don't turn five every day!by Lucie Renaud
/ September 1, 2001
In September 1996, without fanfare, Wah Keung Chan launched La Scena Vocale, a publication “devoted to the enjoyment of vocal music.” The first issue consisted of a single photocopied legal sheet with a run of 300. On the front was a calendar of vocal concerts, lectures, and films. On the back was the “Dead Singers' Column” featuring Ljuba Welitsch. Despite the modest dimensions of La Scena Vocale, its official launching had been preceded by a dry run. In April of that year, the editor practised with a batch of newsletters which he distributed in print, by fax and by email to some thirty acquaintances—a first step that was to lead to greater things.
In the October issue Wah Keung Chan added a new column entitled “WAK's Up,” a sort of practical advice column for readers: how to record an opera broadcast on radio by using your video, how to repair CD cases, and so on. Philip Anson joined as contributor and later became co-editor. The December 1996 issue increased to four pages with a run of 1000 distributed. In the same issue, “WAK's Up” told readers how to cope easily with the internet long before the burgeoning of the Web as we know it today (and the magazine was available on the Web almost from the beginning). It was now featuring various bits of information about music (which became “Notes” in 1997).
March-April 1997 marked a turning point. The eight-page 7000-copy magazine was printed (not photocopied) on regular newsprint, new people joined the Chan-Anson duo, and material now appeared in Canada's two official languages. Dr. Françoise Chagnon began her popular Throat Doctor column. Broadcaster Howard Dyck wrote a moving homage to soprano Lois Marshall, who had died the preceding month. He told how overwhelmed he was by the emotion expressed by his listeners nationwide, and how all of them had mentioned how unique and superb her voice was, but, even more, how passionately she gave herself to each of her performances.
In May 1997, La Scena Vocale became La Scena Musicale & Vocale. Now the calendar took up three out of sixteen pages, and the magazine had a proper cover page with a black and white photograph featuring soprano Lyne Fortin, tenors Peter Schreier and Luciano Pavarotti, and pianist Jon Kimura Parker. The next month brought another innovation: the calendar provided a detailed roundup of summer festivals (21 Canadian and 25 American). By the end of this first year, reviews were still being included (mainly of opera, but this issue also mentioned Evgeni Kissin's Quebec City recital. In-depth articles (on The Ring of the Nibelung and throat singing) as well as more lengthy interviews (with baritone Desmond Byrne and soprano Isabel Bayrakdarian) began to appear. The July-August issue included CD reviews for the first time, among them a critique of the now classic recording of Paganini's Twenty-four Caprices played by violinist James Ehnes.
The first number of volume 3, which appeared in September 1997, moved up to a twenty-four-page format. Fifteen thousand copies were distributed at over a hundred sites in Montreal, Quebec, Ottawa, and Toronto. The cover featured conductor Bernard Labadie who discussed the recent completion of his transcription of the Goldberg Variations. He told La Scena Musicale (which had lost the “vocale” from its title over the summer): “I have always been passionately interested in Bach's music. His ability to transform his music was phenomenal. He used to write two or three versions of each composition, adapting his own music and changing it as modern musicians would never dare to do. It's rather ironic that current practice with regard to early music gives the word authentic a sacrosanct connotation that has nothing to do with the way things were done at the time.”
During this second year the print runs increased to 27,000 and the pull-out central calendar made its appearance. Music lovers encountered rising stars who are now high in the music firmament: Renée Fleming, Gino Quilico, Karina Gauvin, Ben Heppner, Bryn Terfel, Donna Brown, Daniel Taylor, Gerald Finley, Dmitri Hvorostovsky, and Olaf Bär, not to mention conductors Phillipe Herreweghe and Joseph Rescigno, and composer Krzysztof Penderecki.
La Scena Musicale began its third year with thicker numbers averaging thirty-two pages each. The covers featured the La Nef Ensemble, James Ehnes, Stefen Fehr and Susan Pollet, Cecilia Bartoli, Leila Josefowicz, Brett Polegato, Lorraine Vaillancourt celebrating the tenth anniversary of the Nouvel Ensemble Moderne, Bernard Labadie marking the fifteenth anniversary of the Violons du Roy, Denis Brott and Margie Gillis, who had worked together at the Chamber Music Festival of Montreal which was focusing on music and dance that year, and finally Ben Heppner. Critical reviews of concerts, CDs, and books grew in number, and the calendar became even more detailed, to the great delight of music-loving readers who refer to the magazine several times a month.
September 1999 brought a great surprise. In order to celebrate the magazine's fourth year of existence, the cover began to be printed on glossy paper, giving La Scena Musicale greater visibility almost instantly. The cover showed Amanda Forsyth lifting her cello (which someone had just stolen) victoriously for the greater edification of almost 33,000 readers. The magazine had other featured artists, including Suzie LeBlanc, Marc-André Hamelin, Karina Gauvin, Barbara Hendricks, Yannick Nézet-Séguin, Lara St. John, Matthias Goerne, Andrew Manze, and the composers of The Millennium Symphony found themselves on glossy paper. A musicology column covered selected masterpieces of the twentieth century, which was fast drawing to a close. Several special numbers were produced. The September number, for example, looked at the subject of becoming a musician, with articles on the benefits of a musical education, the choice of instrument, and various methods of introducing newcomers to music. The November issue continued in the same vein, suggesting career choices and looking at new programs. The February and March issues were devoted to the piano, with articles on great pianists—Glenn Gould, Richter, Chopin—as well as piano music prior to the twentieth century, piano technique, Canadian pianists, Marek Jablonski, the history of the piano, digital pianos, and how to buy a piano.
During La Scena's fifth year, the average size of the magazine rose to 56 pages. The number of in-depth articles increased, and our readers were given exclusive interviews with the Montreal Symphony's maestro, Charles Dutoit; French musicologist Gilles Cantagrel who has devoted his life to Bach; baritone José van Dam who was about to give a memorable concert for Montrealers; the multi-talented soprano Renée Fleming; Daniel Taylor who demystified the male alto voice for our readers; living legend Alfred Brendel who was celebrating his 70th birthday; the passionate musician Jordi Savall; the dazzling young cellist Yegor Dyachkov; the always newsworthy Quatuor Molinari; Nathalie Paulin who took us through the process of learning the title role in the opera Pelléas et Mélisande; the accomplished James Ehnes who demonstrated that he was far more than a child prodigy; and the sparkling Marie-Nicole Lemieux.
Three issues were given over to vocal music, with articles on Canadian singers, Bach's choral works, the singing regimen of the late and much-missed Louis Quilico, menopause and women vocalists, and voice development.
After five years, La Scena seems to have attained its cruising speed. The content is continually growing in scope, the most celebrated artists readily give us interviews, the website (which has been awarded several prizes) has had no trouble making a name for itself, reader response continues to be positive, admitting that they eagerly await the new issue on the first of the month. An ideal world, you say? Not quite. The nonprofit organization called La Scène Musicale (which publishes the magazine) has no guaranteed funding and continues to depend on (not to say is enslaved by) advertising. As it receives so little outside funding, each issue is a juggling act. Nevertheless the drive to produce it persists, as much in the production team as among the volunteers who support us each month. Classical music may only be heard by a minority of the population, but does it matter? The important thing is that it's always possible to make headway, one person at a time. Thanks to our faithful readers! p [Translated by Jane Brierley]
La Scena Musicale est la revue la plus courue du milieu
musical au Québec: des informations complètes sur toutes les activités des
festivals, des articles en profondeur intéressants et pertinents, un
incontournable pour tous les musiciens professionnels, les mélomanes et les gens
Longue vie à La Scèna Musicale!
Douglas McNabney, Co-Directeur
Le Festival international du Domaine Forget