Last Friday saw the release of “Ovation,” recorded at the Palais Montcalm (Québec City) performance during La Pietà’s 2017 “One Last Time” tour. After twenty years of traveling the world, the ensemble and their founder and leader, Angèle Dubeau, will be reducing their touring schedule – this album, then, is a memento to be savored, especially for those of us not fortunate enough to catch La Pietà on tour.
Angèle Dubeau has been one of Canada’s most gifted (and tireless!) performers and musical ambassadors. She founded La Pietà, an all-woman string ensemble, in 1997, and has released a bevy of superb albums with them, exploring not only classical repertoire but also pushing the boundaries of the traditional musical canon, all with a goal of expanding classical music’s reach. Among her many honors, she was appointed an Officer of the Order of Canada in 2012 (she has been a member since 1996), a Knight of l’Ordre national du Québec in 2004, and most recently received the Ordre des arts et lettres du Québec earlier this year.
What, though, of this album in particular? Two thoughts came to mind initially after my first listen: first, that I regret missing the opportunity to hear La Pietà (although hopefully I’ll still have a chance!), and secondly, that although my love for classical music is already cemented, exuberant performances like these cannot fail to win new ears for the genre. Are the pieces here what might be considered part of the traditional repertoire? No – but that is, I think, the point… expanding the repertoire hopefully grows the audience.
Not being much of a filmgoer or television viewer, I confess to a lack of familiarity with the pieces on the album, but that allowed me to enjoy them without any preconceptions of what they should sound like. In particular, the compositions from Max Richter (whose work the ensemble highlighted in a previous album) have inspired me to seek out more of his work. Ennio Morricone’s score for “The Mission” is one I’ve heard before (the best part by far of that film) so I’m delighted one of his pieces appears here.
This album has wakened my appetite for more music from Angèle Dubeau and La Pietà, so you can be sure I’ll be diving into their back catalogue. Even if you think you don’t care for classical music, I encourage you to open your mind and ears, and give this album a listen; you’ll gain an hour of beautiful music and gorgeous playing, and you might just discover a new musical passion.
We were privileged to have the chance to interview Madame Dubeau about the album, and are grateful for her time in answering our questions.
This album captures some of the landmark pieces from La Pietà’s last twenty years, performed live. Are there any particular memories that stand out to you from the tour last year, when this was recorded?
I chose pieces that really impacted my musical journey, all for different reasons. First of, if I think of the composers, I had the privilege of creating a lot of repertoire throughout the years. When I play “Joe Hisaïshi,” I can’t help but think of all the concerts I played alongside him in Japan. The mythical concert halls in which I had the pleasure of playing those musical pieces (Southbank Center in London, Tokyo’s Opera, Bellas Artes in Mexico) also some to mind. Many memories of foreign trips as well with, for example, the Romanian Rhapsody No.1 by Enescu that brings me back to 1981-1984 when I worked with Stefan Gheorghiu in Romania. Each piece also brings back memories of great characters for whom I had the chance to play; Nelson Mendela, Queen Elizabeth II, the president of China and so on.
Two pieces from Max Richter feature on this album, and in fact you just received an ADISQ nomination for your “Max Richter: Portrait” recording. Are there other composers working today whose music you’d like to explore, perhaps in future projects?
15 years ago, I started a series of portrait albums based on contemporary composers who have a distinct and unique signature. Philip Glass, Arvo Pärt, John Adams, Ludovico Einaudi and post-minimalist Max Richter. These new musics call to me and nourish me, intellectually and emotionally. I am currently developing my 44th album and I think I will keep going with this movement.
Music from film and television features prominently on the album (and, indeed, in your discography). Sometimes it seems like film music doesn’t get the credit it deserves, not only as an integral part of the film experience but also on its own merit. How has it come to be such an important component of La Pietà’s repertoire?
Contemporary composers create for movies, TV series and the video game industry; that’s a good thing. It makes it possible for them to make a living off of their art and helps them get known. Program music already existed a long time ago, we can think of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons for example.
As a follow-on question from that, it seems that expanding classical music’s listener base – and in particular, how to do that without alienating more traditional-minded fans – is an ongoing topic of conversation. As the founder of an ensemble and the director of a music festival, and someone who has worked to expand classical music’s audience, what are some of your thoughts on how to keep the genre alive and vibrant?
I have been in the industry for over 40 years and I can say that music has never been listen to as mush as today. Its accessibility makes it so easy to share with everyone and anyone. For example, I have reached 60 million streams all over the world, a tangible proof of the place music takes in our lives. To think that my own accompanies people in their everyday life fills me with joy. It really is the ultimate gift I could receive as a musician.
One of the things that strikes me in hearing the album is the big sound you achieve with a relatively small ensemble. You alluded to this in the liner notes from “Silence, on joue!” when you said, “… I have opted for long, generous phrases, in which the grain of the bow is perceptible and the chords vibrate with such osmosis that the number of musicians is multiplied rather than added.” How does this guide your choice of repertoire?
I like to pick out my repertoire from different eras, from different styles. I like envisioning it without any limit of choice. The music I choose dictates the numbers of players. La Pietà is a flexible ensemble with variable players, though its core is of nine musicians. When I invite a musician in La Pietà, apart from their virtuosity and musicality, I am always looking for this extra sparkle, that fire I call energy. When playing an extra degree of energy, everything becomes exponential. Nine players will sound like 20! It becomes a synergy and truly more than the sum of its individual parts!
What is next for you and for La Pietà? I think you’re trimming back the schedule of performances… but are more recordings in your future, perhaps?
After 40 years of constantly touring and always being on the road, I decided to change my lifestyle et reduce the number of concerts I perform. I remain a violinist. I will keep making albums and I still have a head full of potential projects. I am currently working on my next album which will be recorded in March 2019. As for live performances, I will, of course, continue to meet my audience for various concerts.