“The nicest reward you can get for the things you do is seeing them known, seeing them given a clap that honors you. “
For those who doubt the sustainability of Molière’s genius, the chance of life meant that the last notes to resonate before long (oh sorry, before 28 days …) in front of an audience at the Maison symphonique were those of the stage music of Richard Strauss for The bourgeois gentleman, source of this quote. This happy neoclassical work by Strauss brought a form of smile to the brink of an abyss. Performing in front of an empty room will be an unnatural act for a model, paid webcasting, which has not had time to take hold and has by no means proven itself.
A courageous quarantine
The Finnish conductor Susanna Mälkki, whose concerts in March had been canceled by the sudden confinement, had given enough faith in the stature and constancy of Quebec and our very scrupulous sanitary measures, to agree to impose a quarantine of 14 days in order to meet these days the Orchester symphonique de Montréal (OSM) and its audience. After the government sledgehammer struck Monday night in the performing arts, she conducted Wednesday night the only one of her three concerts in front of an audience.
After The planetsThis Thursday, webcast next week, Friday’s concert, live on television on Mezzo Live HD will show the whole Earth, through the grim spectacle of a desperately empty hall, that here we are fixing our problems of contagion in the private spheres by cutting through one of the most efficient, most exporting and most secure sectors of our economy in terms of health.
The bourgeois gentleman therefore marks the evacuation of two values that are so capital in times of adversity: mutual listening and sharing in community. “It is a pleasure to work for people who are able to feel the delicacies of an art”, wrote Molière. There was no delicacy when the Prime Minister invoked the hypothetical danger of meeting for 1.5 hours in a large hall on Tuesday. This curious idea of adding discredit to proven and scientifically documented measures fortunately did not have the effect one might fear. Far from being seized by fear and canceling their presence at the concert, the public, on the contrary, led the OSM to register an increase in requests for tickets.
In his score of Bourgeois Gentleman, Strauss decided to set scenes rather than words to music. We therefore have an “Entrance and dance of the tailors”, a “Dinner” or a “Minuet by M. Jourdain” and not melodies specifically illustrating famous tirades: “Your beautiful eyes make me die of love”; “In all the fine arts it is a rather unfortunate torture to perform on fools” or “He itches where he itches”.
As it became emblematically the last, one could regret that, of the three conducted by Susanna Mälkki, this concert was the least spectacular or the least “symphonic”. This type of program could very well have been assumed by I Musici enlarged. But the conductor addressed the audience in excellent French to underline the “great luxury of being able to play” and to explain that the three concerts would deal with the place of the human being in the universe. This program was the prelude to the “gaze to the sky” and to the “gaze inwardly”.
Susanna Mälkki, clearly motivated by the succession of Kent Nagano, had been the first “candidate” (even if there are no officially any candidates) tested, during a program in Lanaudière in 2018. The result was so insignificant that we thought the page turned. Certainly not. Conducting a concerto with a first chair of the orchestra, who is also a member of the selection committee, is certainly not trivial, nor is the presence of Lucien Bouchard and Madeleine Careau.
Susanna Mälkki never failed to “thank and congratulate the organization” or to show her enthusiasm for the musicians. It is true that Andrew Wan was illustrated in the episode of the tailors of the Bourgeois Gentleman. In this work, the interpretive standard meter is the recording of Fritz Reiner. Among the recent versions, that of Paavo Järvi in Bremen at PentaTone is very delicate and successful.
Wednesday’s concert didn’t change our minds in any way about Susanna Mälkki, whose direction is sober, clear and elegant, but who seems to unfold musical scenes instead of enlivening scenes. The passivity of the support, certainly professional, of the Concerto for clarinet by Mozart contrasted strongly with the accompanying work of Bernard Labadie, his omnipresence to bring to life and animate the sentences, here simply unrolled. Perhaps this is why a deeply moving circumstance (a heartbreaking separation, no doubt for a long time) did not dispense any emotion.
Mozart’s Concerto (which experienced a flute hitch in the 2e movement) was very elegantly played by Todd Cope. It is now almost strange to hear this work on the modern clarinet. We got used to the basset horn, not to mention that Lorenzo Coppola came to play it twice in Montreal with a basset clarinet, the instrument reconstructed from engravings. These variants of clarinets, for which Mozart really composed his work, have deeper bass, which was lacking on Wednesday.
It will now take a lot of courage for musicians to give their best in a desert. “The great response that must be given to outrages is moderation and patience,” Molière teaches us in the Bourgeois Gentleman. It’ll be hard.