Festival Classica: Shining light on the Dark Side with Simon Fournier

Interview by Varun Swarup
Genres and styles : classique / Modern Classical / Orchestral Pop / Pop

Additional Information

This year’s Festival Classica comes with a grand spectacle to celebrate fifty years of Pink Floyd’s seminal release, The Dark Side of the Moon. Under the direction of Simon Fournier, the Orchestre symphonique du Grand Montréal with the Chœur de l’Opéra Bouffe du Québec will present the album in its entirety, with visual accompaniment from VJ BunBun. I sat with Mr. Fournier to discuss what will surely be an epic performance. 

PAN M 360: Hi Simon, thank you for being here. Sounds like this is going to be a really really exciting show! Can you tell me a little bit more about how exactly Dark Side is going to be presented? 

Simon: Sure, the show is really a symphonic-rock concert, and the word rock is important there. Sometimes you see pop music that is orchestrated and rewritten for strictly a symphonic ensemble, an orchestra that is, and therefore some of the colours of the music are different. In our case, we have a band, a rock band plus the orchestra. 

In effect, we could keep the musicians of the orchestra completely silent, and you would still have the song there, you know, the guitarist, the keyboards, they’re playing exactly the parts that Pink Floyd played except now we have the possibility to have all sorts of extra textures and timbres from the orchestra. We are building layers on top of the songs. 

PAN M 360: What was the process of the orchestration like? 

Simon: Well the first time I did something like this was with Classica in 2017, with some Beatles repertoire. Back then it was then the fifty years of Magical Mystery Tour and Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Marc Boucher, who is the director of the festival, when he contacted me, he said ‘Simon, what I need from you is to think as if George Martin had an orchestra available to him whenever he wanted’. So that’s what I did, I tried to get into his head and understand how he works, and how he works with the orchestra especially. That’s what we’re doing with Pink Floyd here. This obviously demands that before writing any extra notes, you must listen to a lot of Pink Floyd and start to live in the world they inhabit. It can take many weeks before I write one note. So I really approach it as if I’m in the studio with them in 1973. That’s what I did. That’s what Peter Brennan, who also does most of the orchestrations, did.

PAN M 360: And so can we expect any surprises?

Simon: The surprise might be mostly coming from the choir, because the choir is singing most of the melodies.There’s some counterpoint in those parts, I don’t want to be too technical, but we take, let’s say, a piece of a melody from the song and we develop it within the choir. So you can kind of hear these fragments of melodies in the different voices that really create some very seductive colours. The choir gives a nocturnal quality to these songs, it feels almost like we are all by a fire at night. We’re in a very ethereal world and close to the world of dreams, you know, that’s what Pink Floyd is all about. 

Of course we have Lulu Hughes as our soloist and it’s no surprise that she’ll be singing ‘The Great Gig in the Sky’. She does it marvellously, she’s perfect for that, and she’s a big fan of Pink Floyd. Where it’s mostly Lulu doing the solos, the choir will change its role to be a bit more like a conventional choir or back-up singers. Sometimes I ask them to sound really like they are in a cathedral, almost like a sacred music choir, and sometimes I ask them, hey, use your real pop voice, your rock and roll voice, depending on the song. 

When the whole choir is adding just some ‘ahs’ in the background, it’s really opens up the sound and and we did a similar thing once before for a Queen show not so long ago and I remember being with the sound man when he was turning up the choir a bit in the mix and I was getting goosebumps. I had a good conversation with the sound man, Guillaume, yesterday on the phone, about how we want to spread out the choir and yeah, he’s an expert of Pink Floyd.

PAN M 360: I would love to know about your relationship with this repertoire?

Simon: Even though I’m doing a lot of classical and contemporary music, my career is all around classical music, my first amour, my first love, was with rock. So for me it’s still a repertoire that I know and connect with all these years later. I remember Dark Side of the Moon when I was a child. I listened to it maybe four years after, when I was 13 years old. My older sister listened to it. My friends, their older brothers and their friends listened to it. I remember putting the vinyl on and listening to it a lot. But then it was natural. We were in the era of prog music. I listened to a lot of Pink Floyd, Genesis and Gentle Giant. I was a big fan of Led Zeppelin too. So, you know, it’s been around all my life.

Lulu Hughes told me she was a huge Pink Floyd fan and that she especially loves The Wall, that she knows all the songs, all the words by heart. In this concert we perform some songs from The Wall as well, and we chose songs that Lulu was especially comfortable to interpret and sing. But we’re also aware that this is a show for everyone and not only for big Pink Floyd fans, but for everyone gathering outside with us, you know in the big park where people will picnic, so we want to make something for everyone to enjoy. 

PAN M 360: I’m sure everyone will. I think the fact that Classica puts on such concerts is really great. It exposes a wider audience both to classical music and to great rock music from the past.

Simon: Exactly. That was one of the reasons that Marc Boucher puts on this show, to stop creating cases for different genres, you know, to make something we can all appreciate. One day, I work on Pink Floyd and the next week I work on an operetta from Jacques Offenbach. To me there’s only good and bad music and I like to do good music, which includes so many genres. I think we’re seeing that sort of thing more and more, musicians being more open to different styles and cultures of music. 

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