Tuesday 14 September 2010

Celebrating Baroque

Some people say that certain things never go out of fashion. If that saying is a reference to Baroque music, it's entirely accurate in the eyes of many people, proof of which can be seen with the Lamèque International Baroque Music Festival.

Established and incorporated in 1976, the festival has been bringing the world of Baroque and Classical music to the tiny northern community of Lamèque. The festival's 35th edition takes place tomorrow through Sunday.

For enthusiasts and academics, the history of music is filled with labels and classifications based on style and when any piece of music was written. Many of them overlap each other.

As an example, musically speaking, we are currently in the Contemporary period, which began in 1975, and the 21st Century period.

Based on its definition, Baroque covers all music (but mostly pieces originating in Europe) written between 1600 and 1760. The Classical music period began in 1730 and ended in 1820. Since both periods existed at the same time for 31 years, the Lamèque festival also includes classical and, to a lesser degree, the Romantic period (1815-1910) which had a similar but smaller co-existing situation with Classical.

According to Montreal resident Mathieu Lussier, a bassoon player and the festival's artistic director, such strict parameters inspire creativity in modern players, composers, and the festival in general.

"No one will write new Baroque stuff but we can write in the style of Baroque music," he says. To stay true to the Baroque period, all musicians performing at the festival will play either original instruments used during that period or modern reproductions.

"In Lamèque, as with many other Baroque festivals around the world, we play that music with the instruments that they were using at the time," Mathieu says, "using original instruments or copies. For instance, my bassoon, instead of the big modern shiny metal bassoon with like 28 silver keys, is made out of soft wood with only five keys!

"The violins (used at the festival), instead of big loud with metal strings that can play huge halls, have gut strings made of animal guts. So, it's a totally different sound. It's more demanding in a way because the instruments (then) were are not as refined with their sound as they are now but we're recreating the sounds of the orchestra of the time. That's the exciting thing about the festival!"

Mathieu has been heavily involved with the music scene since he was 16 when a high school instructor helped him land his first gig as a performer. He considers the early-1990s as the period when he became a professional. Since that time, he has performed on approximately 50 albums.

His experience as a performer eventually led him to the Lamèque festival in 2000. He continued to perform there each year. Eventually, he became its artistic director.

Ever since his first performance, he has been blown away by the atmosphere and lack of separation between the performers and the audience. It encourages fans to communicate and meet with the artists between performances.

"It's extremely open and that's what musicians like about Lamèque - the human experience," Mathieu says. "It's so different than the usual festivals. (Usually,) you're invited somewhere. You arrive at the airport, there's a driver that brings you to a hotel. Then, you go to a concert hall, play a concert and maybe sign a few CDs, then go back to the hotel and then leave!

"The artists are going to stay for a full week in Lamèque in a bed and breakfast or staying at someone's house. They're going to meet people. It's a unique culture and landscape. We all share the meals. There's a group of women who will be cooking the meals for all of the artists. It's so much more fulfilling (than the usual performances). It's not a gig. It's something special."

Among the artists performing at the festival this year, there will be two performers who have been creating a buzz in recent years: Croatian mezzo-soprano Renata Pokupic and French organist Benjamin Alard. Mathieu encourages anyone to attend the performances.

"You don't need any type of background to enjoy Baroque music!"

All performances at the Lamèque International Baroque Music Festival will occur at Sainte-Cécile Church in Petite-Rivière-de-l'île, near Lamèque.

* Bernard C. Cormier is, among other things, a freelance writer and broadcaster. www.myspace.com/bernardccormier. www.twitter.com/bernardccormier. E-mail: Bernardccormier-gncb@hotmail.com © Bernard C. Cormier 2010