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Soirée Russe

Also published in The Rover.

I went to a weird place recently. There were a couple of hundred others there, all with healthy annuity incomes, and we were inappropriately dressed in tailcoats and spats and things. The row ahead of me passed a pair of army field binoculars around. I heard the most serious-looking one, their leader I think, mutter after Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet Overture that “the red bastards think they can wait us out?” Then he fell asleep and I took his wallet.

None of this business prevented Yannick Nézet-Séguin from conducting a lively Orchestre Metropolitain in the spectacularly inappropriate Centre Pierre-Charbonneau, a gymnasium whose association for a “Soirée Russe” would have to be a 1950s immigrant-processing centre, hastily set up.

Part of Orgue et Couleurs’ 47th annual Concerts Populaires (an astonishing and commendable duration), the evening featured Tchaikovsky’s Second Symphony in addition to his Overture, and Rachmaninov’s Rhapsody on a Theme by Paganini. Pianist Jean-Philippe Sylvestre, whose relaxed manner combined eagerly with the conductor’s energy and enthusiasm, joined Nézet-Séguin for the latter; the effect was of two friends effortlessly solving a Russian musical puzzle, perhaps after a game of basketball.

The Tchaikovskys were the background, two daydreamy works of intermittent drama that were treated well by an excited Nézet-Séguin and the OM, who seem nimbler than the Orchestre Symphonique de Montreal. Though this tends to be the Conductor Factor, I wonder if it is also a question of the musicians’ age?

The concert repeats outdoors this Sunday for free at the Théâtre de Verdure in Parc LaFontaine. Nézet-Séguin and Sylvestre are both internationally in demand so I’d go before they move somewhere with nicer gyms.