The hottest ticket last February was the triumphant return of maestro Charles Dutoit to conduct the Montreal Symphony Orchestra (MSO) for the first time since 2002, when he abruptly resigned amid accusations of workplace harassment. When the concert was announced by the Festival Montréal en Lumière a year before, it sold out within days. The musicians of the MSO also anticipated the return; only 6 out of the 66 remaining musicians of the time opted out of the reunion.
A lot of time had passed, and judging by the thrilling music making, the interactions on stage and the overwhelming standing ovation, all was forgiven. One couldn’t help recognize the Wagnerian irony: Dutoit had left 6 months shy of his 25th anniversary of leading the orchestra, and the on-going concert hall project he had championed over 20 years had finally borne fruit. I wondered how he felt up on the podium as he conducted for the first time at Maison symphonique. Did the acoustics meet with his expectations?
From the audience, the orchestra seemed to leap out in a way seldom heard in the hall. Although there was a bit of a rough patch in the Beethoven concerto, still played passionately by Martha Argerich, Stravinsky’s Petrouchka, Ravel’s La valse, and the encore of a slim version of Ravel’s Bolero mesmerized.
Dutoit and me
In the 1980s, the Dutoit/MSO/Decca award-winning recording of Berlioz’s Symphonie fantastique saw me through CÉGEP and university; I took a student subscription and was introduced to heaps of Mahler and Bruckner. In the 1990s, I recognized his genius during a Mozart Plus concert at Notre-Dame Basilica, when he directed the Symphonique fantastique even slower and more romantically, appropriate for the sticky summer night. When I joined the MSO Chorus, I discovered part of his secret: Dutoit’s unconventional downbeat (which was at the upbeat) kept the musicians on their toes. I was honoured to be part of the Grammy winning recording of Les Troyens, and my fondest memory from the stage was Jeanne d’Arc au Bûcher. When I started La Scena, I spoke to the maestro through his pre-concert pressers and during a drive to Lanaudiere when I interviewed him for the September 2000 cover story in which he told me, “It takes a long time to build a great orchestra, but no time to destroy it.” Judging from the February performance, it’s safe to say that his training has not been forgotten.
In the last few years, Dutoit has been a La Scena Ambassador, lending his support and donating to the organization. He even gave a baton from his 2013 performances at Saratoga (with Lang Lang and Yo-Yo Ma), which we will be auctioning as a fundraiser on May 15th (visit www.lascena.ca). In an interview last week in Cambridge News, Dutoit said his favourite composer was Bach. Who would have expected that answer from such a proponent of French and classical repertoire?
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The April/May issue also features a conductor, Dina Gilbert of the MSO, while our La SCENA arts cover features author Yann Martel. With 72 pages, this issue is full of music and arts profiles, interviews, our Spring Festival Guide, plus the beginning of a new feature “Creative Living.”
Have a musical and artistic spring.