Hundreds flocked to Verdun’s magnificent Notre-Dame-des-Sept-Douleurs Church for the Orchestre Métropolitain's latest concert. This orchestra performs some 50 concerts a year in a dozen of Montreal’s boroughs, in addition to a series of performances at the city’s premiere downtown concert hall. The OM recently gained international distinction on a European tour. Next season, the ensemble, along with Music Director Yannick Nézet-Séguin, will head across the border for a tour that will include stops in Chicago, Philadelphia and New York.

Nicolas Ellis and Orchestre Métropolitain
© François Goupil

The OM was here conducted by its youthful Artistic Partner Nicolas Ellis, who is the Artistic Director and Founder of the Orchestre Symphonique de l’Agora in Montreal, an orchestra whose mission is to organize benefit concerts for humanitarian organizations. He has evidently earned the respect of the Métropolitain, as they were impressively responsive to his gestures. Particularly expressive playing ensued when he focused less on showing when to play and more on how to play the music. As the relationship between him and the musicians matures, Ellis will no doubt learn to be more confident that these fine players are able to assume responsibility for playing together as a cohesive unit.

The evening began with Beethoven’s Leonore Overture no. 3 (Leonore being the original title of Beethoven’s only opera, Fidelio). Mahler instituted the practice of playing this between two scenes in the second act of the opera. This evening’s concert was labeled as Resounding Beethoven, and it certainly was that. In the acoustic of this large church, which has a domed ceiling, the tuttis at forte or more were overpowering. There were many positive aspects of the performance. The technically challenging passages were cleanly handled by the resonant string section. Kudos to principal flutist Marie-Andrée Benny and off-stage trumpeter Antoine Mailloux for their stellar playing of passages.

Next, the audience was treated to a commissioned work, Stacey Brown’s Trumpet Concerto, subtitled In and of Itself, featuring Stéphane Beaulac, currently the orchestra's principal trumpet. A particularly effective aspect of this concerto was the innovative resonances that were achieved as various sections of the orchestra joined in on long tones originally introduced by the soloist. In the faster middle section, the orchestra occasionally overpowered the trumpet soloist. Strands of the initial melody were intriguingly reworked in the final section.

Stéphane Beaulac and Nicolas Ellis
© François Goupil

Beaulac surmounted the pyrotechnical demands of this work. This is an astounding feat, as a physical mastery of the trumpet commensurate with that of Allen Vizzutti or Jens Lindemann is required to do justice to this concerto. Particularly impressive were Beaulac’s facility in the upper range, his strong playing when using a Harmon mute, and his remarkable ability to bend notes and glissando between pitches.

After intermission the orchestra played Beethoven’s Fourth Symphony. Although heard less frequently than the composer’s monumental Third and Fifth, it is a gem of the classical repertoire. It was written in 1806, during a rare period of happiness for Beethoven.

The Orchestre Métropolitain sublimely rendered the opening Adagio and Ellis was able to vitalize the ensuing Allegro vivace section. The second movement, which at this concert seemed to be a slightly hurried Adagio, featured some beautiful clarinet work by Simon Aldrich. The rhythms of the Menuet and Trio were pleasingly tight. Ellis took a brisk tempo for the final Allegro ma non troppo. Nonetheless the technical challenges were met by the string section. Bravo for the musicality achieved in the brief slow section that precedes the final few measures of this symphony.