Baroque Montreal: A Scene to Reckon with

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In a little less than 50 years, Montreal’s Baroque music scene has produced a steady flow of activities. It has delighted itself by mining the past and taking cues from many a fine role model. Initiatives are so numerous that the scene is now bursting at the seams while consolidating its reputation as one of the best of its kind on the continent. I have come to this conclusion in my travels as violin solo of the Cleveland-based Apollo’s Fire Baroque Orchestra. While Montreal may be far removed from the European soil that gave rise to this age-old music tradition, that does not diminish the input of our scene as an active and essential contributor to the search for musical performances that are historically informed and coherent in aesthetic and emotional terms.

Public funding is a valued asset here, as it gives us the chance to dig deeper into the repertoire and unearth long forgotten works, all to the delight of audiences yearning for new discoveries. The city has been successful in attracting students of early music from near and far. With its well-developed program, McGill University ensures continuity in the scene by steadily feeding it with an influx of bright talent.

I first responded to the call of ancient music at age 17. In 1989, this was an unusual path to follow. It was my reading of Nikolaus Harnoncourt’s book popularizing the notion of historical research as a means to enhance the expressivity and eloquence of Baroque music that lead me to my own personal research on the subject. Next I sought out practitioners of the art, who gave me my first professional engagements, tours abroad and recording sessions as solo violinist of the Orchestre Baroque de Montréal, directed by Joël Thiffault.

Then I had the opportunity of meeting the leading figures of this music passing through the province at the invitation of the ensemble Arion. The Argentinian virtuoso Manfredo Kraemer gave me my first technical overview of the Baroque violin, leading me then to more in-depth studies with Jean-François Rivest, a teacher and musical thinker of the first order. Those studies brought me to specialize in French music for the purpose of promoting a style that is both part of our heritage and in need of better exposure.

My ensemble, Sonate 1704, champions that music. To date, we have over 100 performed works in our archives, a third of which are rediscovered works dating back to the 1800s. As much as my Montreal experience and expertise allow me to give masterclasses at renown schools like the Royal Conservatory of Brussels and the Conservatoire national supérieur de danse de Paris, it is still at home, here in Quebec, that I enjoy sharing my enthusiasm for music the most.

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Olivier Brault’s international career spans three decades. He teaches Baroque violin at McGill University and divides his time as leader of the ensembles Sonate 1704 in Quebec and Les Goûts réunis in Luxembourg. He has served as violin solo for the Four Nations Ensemble in New York, Les Boréades in Montreal and Cleveland’s Apollo Fire, the latter between 2011 and 2018. He holds a doctorate in music at the Université de Montréal, the subject of which was a study of French music for violin and basso continuo. He is frequently solicited for workshops and masterclasses by prestigious educational institutions. He was awarded a medal for distinguished service by Quebec’s National Assembly in 2011. He was shorted listed by Radio-Canada as one of 10 violinists deserving wider national recognition.

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Olivier Brault mène une carrière internationale depuis près de trente ans. Professeur de violon baroque à l’Université McGill, il est directeur de l’ensemble Sonate 1704 (Québec) et de l’ensemble Les Goûts réunis (Luxembourg), violon principal avec le Four Nations Ensemble (New York) et Les Boréades de Montréal et il a été violon solo de l’orchestre Apollo’s Fire (Cleveland) de 2011 à 2018. Il possède un doctorat de l’Université de Montréal portant sur la musique française pour violon et basse continue. On l’invite régulièrement à donner des cours de maître dans de prestigieuses institutions. En 2011, il est médaillé de l’Assemblée nationale du Québec. En 2016, un article de la Société Radio-Canada le classe parmi les dix violonistes canadiens qu’il faut connaître.

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