“The cynical and tender spirit, a modern and unique thought, a characteristically Quebecois music, the star of this popular concert of the Orchestre symphonique de Montréal, Robert Charlebois.”
These are the words of Roger Bouchard, television host, in 1971. It happened 46 years ago at Montreal’s Place des Arts. At just 27 years old, the young Robert Charlebois, dressed in an original and colourful shirt – typical of the 1970s – was going to live the experience of the symphony orchestra. Today, he admits that he has never refused the opportunity to play with an orchestra.
Probably one of the most emblematic figures across French-language song, Robert Charlebois will be the spokesman for the 15th edition of the CMIM. This promises to be one of the finest collaborations between folk and classical music. His participation expresses the desire of the CMIM to celebrate the 375th anniversary of Montreal with one of the singer-songwriters who best interprets the beauty and poetry of the city. In a series of three disciplines – piano, voice, and violin – the 2017 edition is devoted to the piano.
This year, the organization registered a record-breaking number of submissions, with over 300 entries, including 22 pianists from Canada. This is a 120% increase from the last piano edition. From this number, only 24 will compete in the final rounds in Montreal from May 2 to 12.
Seven candidates came from South Korea, Italy and France had 3 candidates each, and Canada, Germany, China, Hungary, Japan, Uzbekistan, Poland, the United Kingdom, Russia, and Ukraine all have a single representative. Finally, one candidate has a dual Spanish and Dutch citizenship. The committee is made up of nine judges from around the world and is chaired by Mr. André Bourbeau, co-founder and president of CMIM. The competitors will be judged in the quarter-finals from May 2 to 4, followed by the semi-finals on May 6 and 7, and the finals on May 9 and 10. Two members of the jury are of Canadian origin: pianists Alain Lefèvre and Hélène Mercier. In total, more than $125,000 will be awarded to participants in prizes and scholarships, including a first prize of $30,000 offered by the City of Montreal, in addition to the $50,000 Joseph-Rouleau Career Development Grant from the Azrieli Foundation. After the quarter-finals, the number of competitors will decrease by half – from 24 to 12. After the semi-finals, on May 6 and 7, there will be only six.
The competition also features a gala concert on May 12 at 7:30 PM as a closing event. This will be occasion to highlight the organization’s 15th anniversary, in addition to honouring the first First-Prize winners of each discipline, soprano Measha Bruggergosman, violinist Benjamin Beilman, and pianist Serhiy Salov. In the final round and the gala concert, the pianists will be accompanied by the Orchestre symphonique de Montréal under the direction of German maestro Claus Peter Flor. Both events will be held at the Maison symphonique de Montréal. To celebrate the city’s 375th anniversary, local music will be at the heart of the festival. For the semi-final round, competitors will have to interpret Laurentienne No. 2 by composer André Mathieu as the compulsory Canadian work.
At the invitation of the CMIM, more than a hundred people from all over the world from the World Federation of International Music Competitions (WFIMC) will be in Montreal from May 11 to 14 to attend the competition events.
New Events on the Program
This year, the CMIM will have the inaugural Pianos en liberté, a piano improvisation concert at Salle Bourgie on April 26 at 7:30 PM. Presented as the opening of the festivities, this is a unique event bringing improvisation to the forefront. For the occasion, the organization welcomes French pianists Jean-François Zygel and Bruno Fontaine, two of the most recognized improvisers in the world. Accompanied by the Montreal Chamber Orchestra I Musici, they will participate in the creation of the work Fantaisie pour piano-fantôme et orchestre, a composition by Canadian François Dompierre. In this one, only the part for orchestra is written and so, in turn, the pianists improvise at the piano while directing the orchestra. “Freed from all constraints, the musical improviser is a truly free artist,” says François Dompierre. This event will be presented by the pianist Serhiy Salov, winner of the 2014 Richard Lupien Improvisation Prize, in a first part dedicated to the interpretation of different preludes, all composed by Dompierre. Also, the pianists Zygel and Fontaine will improvise alone and together.
Additionally, the organization has scheduled a free evening at Salle Bourgie on Friday, May 5, where the public can meet members of the jury. The evening includes masterclasses with Idil Biret and Gabriel Tacchino and a 5 à 7 with David Owen Norris. Just before the finals on May 9 and 10, the CMIM has organized a pre-concert talk with Canadian judges Alain Lefèvre and Hélène Mercier, respectively.
One Canadian among the Competitors
Among the quarter-finalists is Canadian pianist Teo Gheorghiu, born in Männedorf, near Zurich, Switzerland, of a Romanian father and a Canadian mother. His parents then went to Toronto before going to Romania. At the age of twelve, he made his debut at the prestigious Tonhalle Zurich in Switzerland, a well-known venue. He accumulated successes quickly, playing in prestigious places like the Queen Elizabeth Hall and the Royal Festival Hall of London and visiting cities such as New York, Paris, Tokyo, and Prague. He will be the star of the movie Vitus in 2006.
In 2009, he released his first album Schumann and Beethoven Piano Concertos under the Deutsche Grammophon label. Two more albums will be released under Sony: one with the Carmina Quartet devoted to Dvořák’s music, and Excursions: Schubert & Liszt, recorded with the Musikkollegium Winterthur under the direction of Douglas Boyd.
For another year, the CMIM offers Montrealers a series of unique events. More than just a contest, CMIM is introducing festivities for the 375th anniversary celebrations in Montreal and 150th in Canada. It allows the greatest emerging artists to make a name for themselves on both the Montreal and world stages.
CMIM 2017. May 2 to 12, 2017, Salle Bourgie and Maison symphonique. www.concoursmontreal.ca