Le Festival de Lanaudière: Interview With Artistic Director Gregory Charles

Festival de Lanaudiere

We’ve been fortunate here at Great Dark Wonder to preview some terrific folk/roots festivals happening in Canada this summer; now, it’s classical music’s turn to share the spotlight as we focus on the Festival de Lanaudière, taking place in and around the Joliette, Québec, region this July and August.  Featuring a range of classical and pops music in a variety of venues, this festival will bring artists such as Rachel Barton Pine, Bosun Mo, the Gryphon Trio, Stephen Layton, Stéphane Tétrault, and Yannick Nézet-Séguin to its stages for a series of concerts focused on the theme “In love as in war.”

Now in its 41st season, the Festival de Lanaudière has grown into the largest classical music festival in Québec, ranking with the finest festivals of its kind in Europe and the United States. The Festival is now an essential destination for classical music lovers, and one of the main stops for the world’s most illustrious artists and ensembles. It has welcomed, among others, Cecilia Bartoli, Ben Heppner, Itzhak Perlman, Mitsuko Uchida, Angèle Dubeau, Sir Neville Marriner, the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields, and Les Violons de Roy to its stages.  You can listen to some highlights from previous seasons below:

We are delighted that artistic director Gregory Charles was able to take the time to talk with us about this year’s festival.

This is your first year as artistic director for the festival – what inspired you to want to direct this festival specifically?

Love for classical music, desire to serve and something about my parents passing away , leaving me with the gift of music. They had always said that with music, i’d never be unhappy.

You’ve chosen a theme of “love and war,” contrasting concepts of light and dark. What drew you to this, and how do you feel it resonates in this particular day and age?

Pop music is about love and loss. Classical music is as well but on a grandiose level. There are issues of nationality, of national pride, of injustice and revenge. And classical music is also often inspired by plain carnal desire. As in the Symphonie fantastique by Berlioz, part of our opening night.

One of the many highlights of the program (to me, anyway) is the Canadian premiere of Penderecki’s St. Luke Passion. This work was composed in 1966 – why do you think it’s taken so long for it to be performed live in Canada?

Because it’s scary big, scary intense and scary demanding, huge chorus, huge orchestra. Concept music that inspired the guys who left classical music to create progressive rock in the late 60’s and 70’s. But the climax (actually there are many) is worth the effort. And by effort, I mean effort for the performers and the listeners. Those who will attend are going to feel like the sky is opening up and Jesus is really ascending. It’s that awesome.

The festival, of course, isn’t just a feast of classical music; the weekend after the Penderecki premiere brings a tribute to Celine Dion and a jazz concert exploring music from the World War II era. How challenging is it to program a festival that will appeal to a wide variety of listeners and still keep to the overarching concept?

It’s not a challenge for the listeners. It’s not a challenge for me either. But it does rub some classical music lovers the wrong way. I don’t know why exactly. I love music. All music. Really. All music. To me, what we call classical music as always existed with folklore, popular melodies and tangent music explorations. I’m convinced that in 250 years, which is the time that has gone since Haydn and Mozart, people will feel that jazz music was a form of classical music. They will feel that Bach and Bill Evans could have understood each other. They will note that Mahler, Bruckner, Liszt, Brahms and a bunch of other guys got most of their melodies from folk themes, Jewish songs and Magyar themes. They’ll think that musicals are 20th century operas. They’ll see the relation between Moscheles, Thalberg, Chopin, and Art Tatum and Thelonious Monk. They won’t say one was classical and the other one not. They’ll think that the symphony orchestra was a wonderful invention, a collective instrument, that will have served Beethoven, Wagner, Stravinsky, and John Williams. In 1773, Mozart was writing some incredible music. And John Newton was also singing “Amazing Grace” and in a few years, the French people were going to pick a popular song as an anthem for revolution. It’s all music.

Gregory Charles

In addition to the primary festival events, there are also a number of performances at regional churches. Could you spotlight a few highlights that attendees should especially consider? 

Arod quartet. They are young and they are good. Very good. And the path of miracles by Joby Talbot. That is the most amazing contemporary piece of choral music right now. It’s divine.

The festival will conclude with what seems to me to be the most intriguing programming – the pairing of one night of Bernstein’s music, notably the Chichester Psalms, with Shostakovich’s Seventh Symphony the next day. Can you talk about this pair of concerts and what drew you to program these works specifically?  (And since most of our audience is perhaps unfamiliar with the works in question, perhaps a brief description of them?)

I wanted Yannick and the OM to explore war but not through it’s noisy heroic perspective but rather through the pain of war. The pain and misery of the shoah. The courage required to endure through persecution. That is what Bernstein is doing. The adonaï part in the Chichester, often sung by a boy, is amazing. It is purity in front of horror. Same can be said about the horrible Russian experience of war and of a very long and authoritarian revolution. Many died and many suffered. That is what Leningrad (the 7th) is all about. The beauty of all of this is that persecuted people offer fantastic music in exchange for their suffering. It’s ironic. Actually, it’s beautiful. Hit me, burn me, kill me, my response in return will be a music that is deeper and higher than anything that has come before.

A number of renowned musicians – including Kent Nagano, Yannick Nézet-Séguin, Rachel Barton Pine, and Stephen Layton – are participating in the festival this year. Are there some artists in the lineup who perhaps are on the cusp of recognition, that festivalgoers should watch out for?

Roderick cox. Just won the solti prize. He is the next conductor to watch. I would love to see him in Montreal. Who knows. Everyone was asking: who is this guy you’ve programmed? We don’t know him. And I kept saying: wait and you’ll see. He is going to be amazing. As a child of mixed heritage, i wanted to do my part in programming a variety of artists. Suzanna Maalki is opening things with l’OSM. Roderick and Goodyear are going black for Friday the 13th. There is a blend of young and old in my programming. I wanted to touch everyone. We’ll see if that works.

Have you already started thinking about the next few years of festivals? Any hints about what might be coming?

I’ve got a bunch of ideas. But I don’t know. Still feel like an impostor. We’ll see what people think of this edition of the festival.

~ L

Visit the Festival de Lanaudière website.


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