Festival Classica: Giving Classical Music an Urban Twist!

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By Christine Lee
By 5 p.m.  many people had already gathered to sit and listen to the music at Saint-Lambert’s Festival Classica, the town’s first classical music festival. 
The festivities really began at around 9 p.m. with the Orchestre Symphonique de Longueuil, directed by Marc David. As they began to play the first notes of a waltz, dancers in magnificent dresses and tuxes appeared and began their choreography, astounding spectators. As the night progressed, the parking lot turned into a dance hall; the music of the Bee Gees and ABBA compelled people of all ages to dance. A quick headcount showed well over 1,500 people. As the orchestra finished the encore, a crowd member protested: “But the dancing has just begun!”
This first concert set the tone for the rest of the festival.

On Saturday, Saint-Lambert’s churches hosted various concerts: Annabelle Follows the Sound of Her Own Voice, a family-friendly show featuring soprano Christina Tannous  and pianist Dominic Boulianne, Brahms’s Liebeslieder Walzer (Love Song Waltzes op. 52 and op. 65) and Tango Boréal. Outside, opera was broadcasted on a giant screen and the St. Lambert Choral Society took to the outdoor stage, showcasing a wide variety of Broadway music, from Les Misérables to The Phantom of the Opera; several soloists donned costumes.
Another noteworthy concert featured Daniel Taylor, the internationally-known countertenor who took everyone’s breath away at the Église Saint-Barnabas with his beautiful, versatile voice, capable of commanding and delivering many emotions. The crowd gave a standing ovation as soon as the last note was sung and demanded an encore, which Taylor gladly delivered. The singer drew chuckles from the audience when he tried to converse and even joke in French during the concert.
Marie-Josée Lord made a (surprise) special appearance at the Espace Musique 100.7 FM tent, where her performance was met with applause and hand shakes. Her show the next day was sold-out, so many craned their necks for the chance to see her in person.
Serhiy Salov, originally from Ukraine, now lives in beautiful Montreal. So what’s his connection to Saint-Lambert? His piano teacher lives there! From the very first note of Salov’s performance, the audience was captivated, stunned by how his hands effortlessly glided over the piano as he played Ravel and Stravinsky. Even the most difficult and virtuosic passages were conquered by his nimble, slender fingers. There was perhaps even a sigh of regret from the spectators as Salov lifted his hands from the last chord. A standing ovation and cries of “Bravo” echoed through the church hall. The pianist returned for an encore, playing a medley of orchestral works arranged for piano. When I found him after the concert, he exclaimed: “The crowd was so wonderful and welcoming! I wanted to play more pieces.”

Carmina Burana
Back at the outdoor stage, two pianists, three soloists, four percussionists and a choir of 200 led by Michel Brousseau touched the hearts of the audience (almost 3,000 people) with their rendition of Carmina Burana by Carl Orff. The man behind the Festival, baritone Marc Boucher, was seen on stage (at last!) as a soloist and melted the audience’s hearts with his rich and deep voice. When the last chord was struck and sung, the crowd left their folding chairs to applaud, cheer and ask for an encore. A brilliant performance! 

Marie Josée Lord, SOLD OUT 
Beatles Baroque
The Beatles Baroque concert attracted a large audience. The spectators were invited to sing along with the music, but many were too shy; however, as time passed, they gradually began to hum along. These sing-alongs, combined with dance-alongs (shows with programmes focusing on dance music: waltzes, tangos, marches, polkas, folk dance, etc.) and paint-alongs (painting inspired by the music), definitely set Festival Classica apart from your usual classical music fest. The wide range of interactive activities allowed the public to come close to the performers and attracted many people. Crossing over different media, Festival Classica brought together paintings, concerts, drum workshops, a masked ball, and even opera and Broadway karaoke (with a spotlight and video camera)! 
Wonny Song and Alexandre Da Costa
Violinist Alexandre Da Costa and pianist Wonny Song took to the stage at the Saint-Lambert Church. Both he and Song charmed the Saint-Lambert audience with their sensitive playing. Song later revealed that it always makes him slightly nervous to play before a home crowd. “It comes with a little stress but it’s definitely a rewarding experience,” he said. “[It’s] stressful and exciting at the same time.” Even so, the crowd loved the two musicians and the thundering applause was almost deafening. Song commented, “It was a pleasure playing here [at this festival]. The atmosphere is very charming, intimate, and magical: an audience that all musicians would enjoy playing for.” It really showed through the performance how deeply they both enjoyed playing this concert.
As for the festival itself, Da Costa believed it to be a “superb idea.” He explained: “these days, the trend is long festivals, so to have one that lasts three intensive days is a bit like the [Montreal] Jazz Festival [or]the Just for Laughs festival … [Festival Classica] is very interactive and the spectators can choose from a multitude of activities.” Da Costa added, “I’ve known the director Marc Boucher for a long time, so we were really happy to be part of this first edition. We definitely will negotiate to try to come back here because it’s really a festival that we enjoy and love.”
Indeed, with such a wide variety of concerts, quality performances, high-profile guests and activities for everyone, Festival Classica is bound to be successful and is well on its way to its second edition. 
Concerto Della Donna
Anne-Marie Lozier of the all-female choir Concerto Della Donna also shared her thoughts on Festival Classica. “It’s a great idea because it allows people to test out [classical music], especially [at]the free concerts [since]there is no cost, no investment in it,” she said. “They can come and if they don’t like it, they leave; if they like it, they stay and attend even more concerts… I feel really honoured that they asked us to take part in this first edition.” She also pointed out that the location of the festival differentiated it from others. “[Saint-Lambert is] a lovely town! I hope the festival doesn’t [move downtown]. I think it’s nice to have it outside. First of all, there is less street traffic and, second, it allows people like me who have never been to this area to come out and attend.”

All in all, Festival Classica was a great success and many are holding their breaths, hoping that there is a second edition in the making. By the looks of it, there are high chances we’ll be hearing more from Marc-André Lechasseur and his superb team that put this event together.



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