I Gemelli in Montreal: Simply One of the Year’s Great Concerts

by Frédéric Cardin

It was one of the most beautiful evenings of music I’ve heard this year. If an Opus Prize could be awarded to the best concert in Montreal by a foreign organization, I Gemelli at Salle Bourgie last Wednesday evening (November 22) would be among the few finalists. I Gemelli is an ensemble led by Emiliano Gonzalez Toro, a tenor with a wide range (a barytenor, in fact) and a stage presence that is easy, dynamic and more than likeable. On stage, another tenor, Zachary Wilder, is lighter and brighter, but just as technically and expressively impressive. For this concert of Italian baroque arias (essentially, the programme from their album A Room of Mirrors), they were accompanied by a baroque cello, a viola da gamba, two violins, a harpsichord, a harp, a theorbo or a baroque guitar (the musician changed depending on the piece) and an archlute, the ensemble I Gemelli.

To say it was good is too generic. Call it what you will, the mayo that catches, the current that flows, a home run on almost every ”tune”, in short, it was memorable. Firstly, because the musicians are all good, very good. The two tenors stand out, as they are often in the spotlight in this predominantly vocal repertoire. Like the mirrors in the title of the eponymous album, they are both capable of the most exquisite subtlety in triple pianissimo (in the treble, please (!), but they still surprise in their complementarity, thus avoiding duplication. The instrumentalists are at the pinnacle of an art that is now well mastered, the historical baroque, but they seem to have taken it to a new level in terms of technical perfection and authentic affect. The overall sound of these Gemelli is finely graduated and balanced, demonstrating a remarkably coherent collective listening.

And then there’s the programme. I’ve said a little bit about it, but it’s worth highlighting the audacity of coming to a city for the first time with a line-up that doesn’t have any real ‘selling’ names! No Vivaldi, no Bach, not even Corelli. No, just Falconieri, d’India, Marini, Castellani, and the other greats of their time, now retreating into obscurity. And yet, I don’t think any other meeting with more eminent ‘celebrities’ would have been more satisfying. What we heard was beautifully inspired, with strong melodies and fine compositions that were by turns invigorating or poignant. A feast from start to finish.

But the real soul of this memorable concert came from the musicians themselves. Artists who enjoy playing together and show it clearly – isn’t that, in the final analysis, an excellent sign? Then there was Toro himself (ably assisted by Wilder), who dared to do something that few Europeans still do, especially those of such high calibre as these: address the audience directly, throughout the concert. The communication is fluid, friendly but not overdramatic, and informative but in no way academic. It’s fun but with a clear respect for the audience’s intelligence.

And believe me, the audience really appreciated it. After the concert, the musicians rushed into the lobby of the venue to talk to the public and sell a few albums. There was a big crowd around the table and, if I’m not mistaken, the well-stocked box was emptied in no time. Even the beautiful box set of Monteverdi’s Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria, which was recently released and cost $60, was gone. I got a copy, signed and kindly given to me by Toro himself. The man is happy.

These people know how to make friends, and they’ve given us good reason to invite them back.

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