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La Scena Musicale - Vol. 7, No. 10

Fernand Lindsay - Bringing Live Classical Greats to Thousands

by Anaïk Bernèche / July 1, 2002

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The Lanaudière International Music Festival, Canada's major concert event, is celebrating its 25th season. The world-renowned festival was the brainchild of Father Fernand Lindsay, a lifelong promoter of making music accessible to all. La Scena Musicale spoke to him about his life in music.

Fernand Lindsay was born in 1928 in Trois-Pistoles, a small village on the Lower St. Lawrence. Music was very present in the Lindsay family. His grandfather played the piano and his Uncle Georges taught music in Joliette and was an organist at Montreal's Sainte-Marie-Reine-du-Monde Cathedral for more than 25 years. Whenever Uncle Georges came to Trois-Pistoles, the family listened to concerts broadcast live from New York on WQXR. It made a deep impression on the young Lindsay. "That's where I discovered Beethoven's Seventh Symphony," he says today. "It was the first important work I ever heard."

At the age of five Fernand began piano lessons, followed by clarinet and organ. He enrolled at the seminary in Rimouski and, at the age of 15, asked to be transferred to the Joliette Seminary, well-known for the two things he loved most: music and teaching. Once there, he realised that the orchestra already had several very talented clarinet players. He asked the conductor if there was an instrument that no one wanted to play. As he tells it, "I would have given anything to be in that orchestra and it so happened they needed a bassoon player."

At twenty, Lindsay was ordained. A few years later he obtained a degree in medieval studies from the Université de Montréal. Music was never far from his thoughts, however, and before long his involvement in the music community was recognized. In 1957 he was named director of the Joliette chapter of the Jeunesses Musicales. Four years later he founded a combined festival/competition (which still exists) to stimulate students' interest in music. In 1963 he went to study philosophy at the Sorbonne and the Catholic Institute in Paris but left a few weeks early to attend the summer concerts at such major music festivals as Salzburg, Munich, Aix-en-Provence, and Bayreuth--a head-turning 30 concerts in 25 days!

An idea is born

Lindsay's eyes still light up when he recalls the great artists he heard: Karajan, Fischer-Dieskau, Leontyne Price, Schwartzkopf, and the young Christa Ludwig, among others. An idea was born. Salzburg and Munich were small cities, unlike Vienna. Neither of them had a comparable cultural life or orchestra, yet people didn't seem to mind travelling to a small town to attend an outdoor concert. Could this concept be transposed to Joliette, a city of 30,000?

Back in Quebec in 1964, he began his teaching career, giving classes in French, Latin, history and philosophy. Not long after, he founded the Chanteurs de la Place Bourget, a choir he has conducted ever since. At the same time he began teaching a musical literature option.

The need to make it easy for people to become involved in music was always uppermost in Lindsay's mind. He founded a competition designed specifically for younger students, as well as the Lanaudière Music Camp in St-Côme. "Music has always been so tremendously important in my personal life," he says. "My only wish has been to transmit it to those who are most important to me: my students."

In 1977 Charles Dutoit came to the Joliette Cathedral with the Montreal Symphony Orchestra. Its enthusiastic reception prompted Lindsay to offer a series of eight concerts the following year, featuring works by Schubert, his favourite composer. As these, too, were a success. Lindsay, along with Marcel Masse, René Charette, and a few others, decided the time was ripe to launch a European-style music festival in Joliette, and the Lanaudière International Festival was born.

Until 1988 concerts took place in the Joliette Cathedral, in various churches in the Joliette region, or in the college's concert hall. Lindsay, however, had a different idea: he wanted an outdoor amphitheatre like those he had seen in Europe. A location was selected, mainly because of its natural slope. Architect Michel Galliène was called in to transform it into the now famous amphitheatre, the only one of its kind in Canada, which can seat 2000 concert-goers and, with the great lawn, can accommodate up to 8000.

Over the years Lindsay has had the opportunity to hear and discover an astounding amount of music but is disinclined to pick favourites. "When you choose one, you start thinking of another!" he says. Nevertheless, when pressed he admits to a predilection for Mozart's quintets and operas ("for the constant invention"), Strauss's Salome and Rosenkavalier, Wagner's Tristan, Beethoven's Seventh Symphony and his quartets, all of Brahms's chamber music, Schönberg's Gurrelieder--and those "priceless gems," lieder by Schubert, Strauss, and Mahler. He also favours little-known works such as Albeniz's Spanish opera Merlin: "When I listen to music for my pleasure, I try to listen to music I don't know."

Despite Joliette's small size, the Lanaudière Festival has become Canada's number one classical music festival, attracting close to fifty thousand visitors every year. Thanks to Lindsay's vision, famous musicians have come to Joliette , including Sir Neville Marriner and the Academy of St-Martin-in-the-Fields, Itzhak Perlman, Mstislav Rostropovich, Marc-André Hamelin, Alicia de Larrocha, Anton Kuerti, Marilyn Horne, Frederica von Stade, Cecilia Bartoli, Deborah Voight, and Ben Heppner. There have also been one-of-a-kind events like a performance of Gustav Holst's Planets with astronaut Marc Garneau reciting the text, or a concert version of Gounod's Faust featuring Lindsay at the organ during the church scene.

Happiness, says Lindsay, is "something to be shared with friends or, better, to know that the people I care about are happy. It is also when I see these people after the concert, heading for the exit, smiling and pleased with their evening."

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