Tonight’s concert was certainly one of the most unusual offered by the OSM in the Maison Symphonique thus far. It is indeed laudable for an orchestra to reach out to newer and younger audiences, and this is one of Kent Nagano’s strengths. Tonight’s presentation of the savage and revolutionary Le Sacre du Printemps alongside a new work for turntables and orchestra attempted to do just that. Certainly this pairing, as well as the presence of a well known DJ, served to fill the hall with new ears, and in this way the evening was a success.

DJ Champion © Peter Morneau
DJ Champion
© Peter Morneau

Nagano’s treatment of The Rite of Spring, as expected, was meticulously accurate, blinding in speed and fiercely articulate. He may not be an emotional conductor, but what he lacks in expression he makes up for in technical perfection. This was a totally distinct performance – Nagano successfully crafted an interpretation which was wholly his. Inner voices were brought out which I have never heard before in performance, and there were many fantastic solos in the orchestra which the maestro accompanied brilliantly.

It took the audience over a minute to settle after the maestro took the podium, and he waited patiently for the sound to die down. When Stéphane Lévesque’s bassoon seamlessly began to sing its famous high C, the audience was, disappointingly, still quite restless. More fantastic playing came from André Moisan’s bass clarinet which shook the walls of the hall, from the contrabassoons which snarled like Harley Davidsons, and from Paul Merkelo’s trumpet which soared to the top of its range with crystal-clear tone. Surprisingly, although they numbered eight in all, the horn section was notably weak this evening.

The real tragedy of the night was the ushers’ unfortunate decision to let the straggling audience members enter between the two sections of the work. This was truly one of the most disruptive audiences I have witnessed in this hall; as a whole they were totally unprepared for a concert situation, and often talked out loud during the performance. As people awkwardly entered after Part 1 of The Rite of Spring, many rows had to rise to their feet and the din didn’t subside for over a minute, completely ruining the beginning of the second part. The late audience members should have been forced to remain in the wings; this was truly regrettable.

Although they were less than aware of concert etiquette, this audience certainly gained something from being exposed to the radical music of Stravinsky, which still sounds modern in the 21st century. Nagano was aware of this, and before the second work on the program, turned to the audience and said “Vous êtes extrêmement courageux.”

As the OSM tuned for the second work, the hall was full of a total cacophony as the audience disregarded all signs that the orchestra was trying to prepare. The musicians cast glances of disgust into the balconies. What then ensued musically was completely stupefying. Maxime Morin, a.k.a. DJ Champion, was positioned behind the orchestra with his turntables to perform the work curiously titled God Knows how to Give, But Doesn’t Know how to Share by Québécois composer Maxime McKinley.

The work opened with a solo trumpet fanfare reminiscent of Beethoven’s Leonore Overture no. 3, and quickly segued into a vague and lumbering sequence of two ever-repeating chords, articulated by jaunty horn pops and schizophrenic flute glissandi. After a few minutes of this, the audience began to subtly regard each other’s expressions. The time for musical development was nigh, but the music kept on its vague and wandering course, forming a rambling stream of consciousness punctuated by half-developed gestures, and then became almost entirely dominated by quotations from the classical repertoire. Extended variations of Stravinsky’s L’histoire du soldat were played, as well as Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance, and for a number of minutes the orchestra vamped on Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet as DJ Champion took a solo. This was actually one of the only redeeming moments in the piece. For over a minute the snare drum simply hammered down a staccato fortissimo note on every downbeat.

Again, it is commendable for an orchestra to broaden its base, but this piece of music was, most certainly, an embarrassment. It was an amateurish waste of the musicians’ time. The members of the OSM have been trained to keep straight faces while playing any kind of music, but the audience had no such restriction. Many of them began to laugh out loud during the performance. This piece was truly one of the most poorly chosen compositions ever to be presented on an OSM season.

Upon leaving the hall we were immediately engulfed in colored lights and fog, a full bar and live music which would go on until 2 am. The ticket came with a free beer, which encouraged people to stay for the afterglow. In the end, the choice of repertoire may have been less than intelligent tonight, but the OSM truly succeeded in exposing a new group of people to their organization and their music.