Fernand Lindsay - Bringing Live Classical Greats to Thousandsby Anaïk Bernèche
/ July 1, 2002
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
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
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.
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."
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.
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