Orchestral quarantine: SMCQ – Consolidate the mission

by Marie-Pierre Brasset

Cancellation, postponement, de-quarantining, a possible second wave… What will autumn look like? How to reconcile concerts and social distancing? In our new dossier series, we’ve asked the artistic directors of Quebec classical ensembles and orchestras a few questions, to get a sense of what’s in the works. Third topic in our series: Walter Boudreau, conductor and artistic director of the Société de musique contemporaine du Québec.

Walter Boudreau, conductor and artistic director of the indispensable Société de musique contemporaine du Québec (SMCQ), says that the COVID-19 crisis arrived as a general surprise: “It’s a real catastrophe, and it’s unusual what’s happening to us. An invisible death lurks around us.”

The first thing to do, of course, was to adapt, postpone, and cancel the SMCQ’s many planned activities, including all those related to the year-long tribute to composer Katia Makdissi-Warren.

As with all organizations, their calendar was completely revised. But when will it be possible to present a concert before an audience? No one knows, because every week, new directives come along and shake up the plans. “What is worrisome is the MNM festival scheduled for February 2021. Whether or not it will take place cannot be confirmed.”

One of the main fears of the chief and artistic director is for the audiences. “Where will the fun be? It shouldn’t be difficult for the audience. If you have to avoid human contact, hugging, talking over a drink after the concert, that won’t be possible.”

For Boudreau, the music concert is a fundamentally collective activity, an act of fraternity and sharing. He adds, “you can’t replace live music with virtual music. The virtual is a beautiful crutch, a very beautiful crutch, but it’s not that. The solution is to defeat the pandemic. In the meantime, they are band-aids, temporary ways to keep your head above water.”

Photo: DNV Photographie

Boudreau points out that the SMCQ has the particularity of producing concerts based on works and projects. The organization doesn’t have to support a group of salaried musicians, as is the case with conventional orchestras. “The SMCQ is fortunate to be able to adapt financially and artistically to the current context, which will result in a few promising projects to affirm the organization’s mission of promoting and supporting contemporary Quebec music.”

For example, a special online ordering program will be created to support composers.

In addition, the pandemic has allowed the organization to move forward more quickly on a major project. The SMCQ is currently digitizing all of its sound documents: the organization’s mission is to make this priceless heritage accessible to the public, and a thousand recordings of works have been digitized to date.

Boudreau emphasizes the importance of the SMCQ for the history of Quebec culture. A true living museum, for 54 years it’s been collecting  a multitude of artifacts, there to remind us of where we come from.

And the director puts it this way: “a people without history is a people that does not exist.”

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