Home Arts & Culture Montour prepares for North American premiere 

Montour prepares for North American premiere 

Tara-Louise Montour performing at the Orchestre Classique de Montreal's 'Contes et Mélodies' concert in 2022. Credit Brent Calis

Phœnix, a violin concerto, was commissioned by French violinist Marie Cantagrill and the Orchestre de chambre d’Ariège, who premiered it in a chapel in Foix, France, to an intimate audience in 2015. 

That was the only time the work, a creation of Montreal composer Louis Babin, was ever performed, and no recordings of it exist. 

Now, nearly a decade later, Phœnix will be performed in Montreal for its North American premiere, and Kahnawake’s Tara-Louise Montour was selected by the Orchestre Classique de Montreal (OCM) to be the soloist. 

The concert will take place on February 27 at Salle Pierre-Mercure, and the work will finally be recorded the following day. 

Montour has been a full-time member with the OCM for several years now and has been invited as a soloist on several occasions to perform solo violin works. 

But this one presents a unique challenge. 

Because there is no performance of the work to draw from as reference, Montour sees this as an opening to channel her own interpretation of the story. 

“When I’m working on a brand new piece, this is a blank canvas,” she said. “It’s also an opportunity for me to be an explorer, to discover these new passages, these opportunities to communicate my own feelings through this music that nobody has heard before. So it’s really fun.

“I have to discover it,” she said. “It is both a challenge and a gift, really.”

Babin also sees this premiere as a chance to breathe new life into his work and is thrilled to share it with a new audience. 

“When you compose a piece, it’s like children that you have and out it goes in the world, and you have no control over it,” he said.  

“When I do music, it is really to touch people. That’s my way of communicating,” Babin added.

The work tells the story of a phœnix, an immortal bird, whose lifecycle is a rebirth from its own ashes. 

“It’s a creature that has eternal life and yet it has a finite lifespan all at the same time and then has to come back. I just find that whole idea really appealing,” said Montour. “I absolutely can hear the story. I can hear the different stages of the bird’s life.”

One passage will have the orchestra transform into a flock of birds gathering to support and usher the phœnix on its way back home.

“It’s not something that you can really write note by note on the chart, it’s going to be a big surprise,” said Babin. 

For the two days ahead of the show, the orchestra will rehearse the work all together for the first time ever. As professional musicians, working with tight timelines is part of the job, Montour said.

Phœnix was inspired by Cantagrill’s battle with cancer, and she was in remission at the time the piece was written. 

But the meaning behind it goes beyond her particular story – it represents change and adaptability, Babin said, and the ability to overcome life’s challenges. 

“Everybody has a cycle in their lives, where they change, where they transform themselves,” he said. 

Babin’s work is one of four in the program for the evening, alongside Nacht by Arnold Schoenberg, “Ronde villageoise” from the ballet L’Oiseau Phénix by Clermont Pépin, and Suite for String Orchestra by Leoš Janáček.

For Babin, having his work performed alongside Pépin’s, his late teacher at the conservatory, whom he remembers fondly, pulls on the heartstrings.

“I just had chills just thinking about it,” Babin said. “He was such a fine teacher and I’m glad to be on the same bill as him. It’s really nice.”

And having it played in Montreal is even more special for Babin – “because it is home,” he said. He added that as a composer, the opportunity to have your works performed in front of those close to you doesn’t come around often. 

For now, the musicians are all individually preparing for the rehearsal, only less than 10 days away, with the concert following soon after.

“I’m very happy to be able to give this premiere. I’m pretty excited about this piece,” Montour said.

nanor.fr@gmail.com

This article was originally published in print on February 16 in issue 33.07 of The Eastern Door.

Nanor is a reporter and copy editor with The Eastern Door. She was previously the managing editor and creative director at The Link.

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Nanor is a reporter and copy editor with The Eastern Door. She was previously the managing editor and creative director at The Link.