Orchestral quarantine: Festival Classica – World Premiere of the complete melodies of Jules Massenet

par Alex Labonté

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. Eighth subject in our series: the world premiere of the complete melodies of Jules Massenet, an ambitious project by the Festival Classica team.

319 melodies, 12 discs, and three boxes

The complete melodies of the French composer Jules Massenet (1842-1912) comprise a very large scale project. This lyrical project, the largest ever carried out in Canada, will include 319 melodies, including duets, trios, and quartets, as well as nearly 20 previously unpublished works (most of them in the original keys). It will also include premieres such as the Expressions lyriques and the set of contralto melodies dedicated to Lucy Arbell. All this will be spread over no less than 12 discs in three box sets.

Baritone Marc Boucher, himself a performer, will assume the artistic direction of the project, and the piano part will be provided by Olivier Godin. Completing the project will be cellist Stéphane Tétreault, violinist Antoine Bareil, guitarist David Jacques, and harpist Valérie Milot. It will also bring together some of Quebec’s most beautiful voices: Marie-Nicole Lemieux, Karina Gauvin, Michèle Losier, Julie Boulianne, Magali Simard-Galdès, Anna-Sophie Neher, Florence Bourget, Frédéric Antoun, Étienne Dupuis, Philippe Sly, Antonio Figueroa, and Joé Lampron-Dandonneau. In addition, Johanne Goyette will be at the helm of the recording.

“It’s a dream taking shape,” says Marc Boucher in the press release. “The overall budget for this project will be close to $275,000. We’ve been working on it for three years now. In this case, the pandemic represents an opportunity in that all of these artists, usually on tour around the world, will be in Quebec for the first recordings, lasting 18 days, which will take place in the fall of 2020. More than a third of the melodies will be recorded, and the first box set is scheduled for release in the spring of 2021.”

Photo: Pierre-Étienne Bergeron

The Érard piano – an exceptional instrument 

What’s more, the entire project will be performed on an 1854 Érard concert grand piano tuned to 435 Hz (the pitch of the composer’s era). This instrument of choice will showcase enviable aesthetics, mechanics, and sound. Boucher explains, “In 2018, we were looking for a beautiful 19th-century piano for the recording of Massenet’s complete melodies. Marie-Christine Tremblay and Jacques Marchand found this rare pearl! The piano was acquired in Paris from Pianos Nebout & Hamm. Its director, Jacques Nebout, has completely restored it, preserving, according to the high standards that guide him in his work, the period pieces dating from 1854, such as its soundboard, its ivory keyboard, and its original hammers. The strings and felts have been replaced by materials that reproduce the wide range of sounds of the period.”

(Photo credit: Festival Classica)

The first box set will be released in the spring of 2021. In the meantime, from 11 to 20 December 2020, the Festival Classica will offer an “encore” edition of 15 concerts under the theme From Beethoven to Bowie (which could not take place because of the pandemic). They will be the first available on the innovative digital platform leconcertbleu.com, which will allow music lovers to enjoy an exceptional acoustic and organic experience by presenting virtual concerts in real venues. The platform is designed to be immersive: backstage access, a discussion room, concert segments, and an interactive room to explore in 360° will be among its options. 

(Photo credit: Festival Classica)
Inscrivez-vous à l'infolettre