At the 21st Opus prize gala on Feb. 4, the Conseil québécois de la musique (CQM) awarded the Opus Hommage to Lorraine Vaillancourt for her significant contribution to contemporary music.
Moved by this tribute in her honour, Vaillancourt admits that she rarely takes pause to reflect on her past. She lives from day to day, but with an eye to the future. It must be this anchorage in the present that has allowed her to dedicate her professional life to the music of her time.
Originally from Arvida, Saguenay, Vaillancourt chose the path of music at the age of 16. She graduated from the Conservatoire de musique de Québec in 1968 and completed her musician and conducting training in Paris under Yvonne Loriod, Jeanne Loriod and Pierre Dervaux, and later at the University of Montreal’s Faculty of Music under Serge Garant and Bruce Mather.
The interpretation of contemporary music quickly became her driving force. Although Vaillancourt greatly admires the composers who have shared their own rich voices, their interpreters are the main source of her motivation.
Especially in the context of contemporary music, composers and their creations outshine the importance placed on aspects of interpretation. Skilled artists and musicians are tools of music transmission. Nevertheless, many are unaware of the methods and labours that result in quality performance. The artistry of the conductor is often overlooked.
Vaillancourt has worked as a guest conductor of several Canadian and international ensembles and orchestras and has served as artistic director of the Nouvel ensemble moderne (NEM) since 1989. Throughout her career, Vaillancourt’s principal aim has been to produce the best possible version of each piece of music. Appreciating their full artistic value, she clears the hurdles imposed by new forms and stays painstakingly loyal to the score, without taking shortcuts or liberties of convenience. Engaging with such complicated materials requires enormous discipline and, above all, time.
Vaillancourt has no taste for the hurried pace at which the world turns today. Although technology allows musicians to discover new pieces and composers more easily than ever, it entails a certain rush and even laziness in the decipherment of sheet music, often impairing the overall comprehension of a piece.
To promote development and thereby inspire musicians to engage with contemporary music, she founded the Événements du Neuf concert society in Montreal with composers José Evangelista, John Rea and Claude Vivier in 1978. In 1991, she launched the Forum international des jeunes compositeurs, a biennial event. As the head of the NEM, she co-directs with composer Denys Bouliane the Rencontres de musique nouvelle, which was held at Domaine Forget from 1993 to 2013.
A professor at the University of Montreal’s Faculty of Music, Vaillancourt directed the Atelier de musique contemporaine from 1974 to 2016. The instructor’s interest in the transmission of knowledge has been steady throughout her career. The spark she sees in many of her students is both her reward and her hope. Their efforts, modesty, and desire to push themselves and their instruments to their limits are key qualities for interpreting contemporary music.
The progress music has seen in the past 30 years is considerable, in expression as much as in the use of the instruments and the expansion of techniques. Vaillancourt is disappointed, however, that these developments have not been fully integrated in the training of new musicians. She finds it equally surprising that 20th-century works are still not systematically included in suggested exam repertoires.
Honors and Dedication
Her engagement is reflected in her artistic practice, teaching, and contribution to the community. Most notably, she was the president of the CQM and served on the board of directors of the Conseil des arts et des lettres du Québec (CALQ). Vaillancourt is also a member of the Royal Society of Canada, which brings together prominent scholars, researchers, and artists and whose mission is to promote the advancement of knowledge.
The Opus Hommage prize is one of the many honours that highlight Vaillancourt’s devotion to contemporary music. She is a member of the Order of Canada and the Ordre du Bleuet; she received an honorary doctorate from Laval University in 2013; and she was awarded the prestigious Denise-Pelletier prize by the Quebec government in 2016.
What’s on the horizon? Well, Vaillancourt is keeping herself anchored in the present. Concertgoing is alive and well in spite of the digital age. Contemporary music has gone far in its breakaway from the past and in creation in its own right.
A period of reflection has now begun, bringing a little more humanity, communication, and sensibility to new works. Young generations are undeniably open to the world and value the interweaving of cultures, so this will certainly have an impact on the music they compose and interpret. If they invest the necessary time and have the desire to deepen their knowledge, the future will see a new period in the history of music.
Dominic Trudel is the general director of the CQM
Translated by Isabel Garriga