Tonight’s concert by L’Orchestre Métropolitain was a celebration of youth which featured a great number of young musicians, including guest conductor Jean-Michaël Lavoie, 21-year-old pianist Marika Bournaki, 13-year-old violinist Kerson Leong, a children’s choir, and even a few child composers.

Orchestre Métropolitain © Philippe Jasmin
Orchestre Métropolitain
© Philippe Jasmin

The JFP Children’s Choir was first to be highlighted, in a five-minute world première by composer in residence Éric Champagne. Lux, for choir and orchestra, on an original text by Christiane Duchesne, was an illustration of the emergence out of darkness into light. It began with hazy fog and a whispering choir. The texture was at all times rising and lightening, and becoming ever brighter. The young choir was tremendously well-prepared despite many difficult intervals. Champagne’s score, like much of his work, was rich in imagination, fluent in diverse contemporary styles and techniques, yet wholly digestible for the public.

Pour un coup de triangle is the culmination of a rather interesting and impressive project. Local high-school students took part in a large-scale composition exercise, guided by their teacher, in which each student contributed to a final musical product. I expected a complete lack of cohesion, a kind of patchwork, but with the guidance of Nicolas Gilbert, this work came together with a nice linear direction. It was another imaginative score, also hazy, though with consonance instead of dissonance, with cinematic trumpet solos and pentatonic or tonal shading.

Schumann’s oft-performed Piano Concerto was next and, due to my front row-center tickets, I was quite literally sitting under the bulk of the piano. Consequently, the sound had no time to breathe before it reached my ears – a sensation akin to drinking wine from inside the barrel. Young pianist Marika Bournaki was a solid player, with a fine technical capacity. She played the concerto almost as if it were a virtuoso showpiece – that is, with very intelligent balance, technical control and voicing, though the musical ideas and dramatic narrative were a little less developed. Furthermore, Lavoie’s accompaniment had a tendency to drag behind the soloist, despite her quite clear and rhythmic playing. The concerto is an unrelenting triathlon for the fingers, and Bournaki kept pace without any sign of fatigue.

After a pause, the youngest of the musicians entered the stage: Kerson Leong, who would perform Waxman’s Carmen Fantasy for violin and orchestra. Right from the beginning, Leong proved that he had more than the average young virtuoso – that is, he had a complete command of style and character. It would perhaps be difficult to explain the more lascivious details of Carmen one so young as he, but Leong seemed to innately understand, in some way, the appropriate style. His vibrato was voluptuous, his double stops immaculate and the sound which came from his small violin was rich, despite standing just a head above the other seated musicians. This is a young man to watch.

Finally the Orchestre Métropolitain had its chance to play alone, with Dvořák’s Symphony no. 8, and likewise Jean-Michaël Lavoie was able to show his mettle in the symphonic realm.

This is a work which is in many ways a melange of styles. We have quite clearly the Germanic tradition of form and thematic transformation, and the kind of exoticism that Sibelius drew out of Finland with dense and deep orchestration, and finally the pure folk idiom of Eastern Europe.

One had a sense almost immediately that the OM wasn’t paying much attention to Lavoie. It wasn’t particularly suggestive conducting, especially compared to the micro-expressive Yannick Nézet-Séguin who usually stands at the helm. There was much fine playing, particularly from the principal trumpet, the brass and principal flute, but under Lavoie’s leadership the transitions were almost carelessly paced, and the phrasing as well, while all the little details and nuances of Dvořák’s melodic and accompanying lines were glossed over. Movements such as the second are gargantuan in scope, like a symphonic poem, containing a vast array of characters and settings, yet the end result edged perilously close to stagnancy.

This is an orchestra which can become inflamed with impassioned energy, as I saw recently with Verdi’s Requiem, although tonight’s concert did not reach these heights. It was, however, a tremendous opportunity for many young musicians to play with professional-level mentors.