Orchestra at work | The Press

Nothing is more depressing than a disillusioned orchestral musician: he is a little soft on his chair, offers the expected professional level, but without commitment and, above all, without really looking at his conductor. Does that surprise you? In fact, a fraction of a second out of the corner of his eye is enough for him to remain mechanically anchored to the rest of the orchestra.

Posted at 8:15 a.m.

We have seen orchestras scrape by in worn-out, hurt relationships with their conductor.

On December 8, I had the privilege of witnessing the exact opposite: a love story, still young and full of promise, between an orchestra and its conductor.

” Hello ! We’re going to make some music first. »

The musicians of the Orchester symphonique de Montréal (OSM) welcome Rafael Payare, for this first rehearsal under his direction in weeks, with a smile and rubbing his feet on the ground – a nice way to show his joy, when you hold a instrument in the hands.

The music that day is the first symphony by Finnish composer Jean Sibelius, of which they will begin by playing the entire first movement.

“Impressive and vast”: this is what I say to myself at the end of the movement. High caliber musicians, well prepared, attentive to their conductor, can already render the score convincingly.

The conductor begins by congratulating the clarinetist for the solo that opens the work: a very simple gesture of recognition, a hand placed on the chest, then stretched out towards the musician.

Rafael Payare is a horn player, a delicate instrument to master, often laden with perilous solos: he was a musician in an orchestra and knows how thankless that can be.

Then, he has the clarinettist resume from the beginning, asking him to tighten up a motif very slightly here, to barely modulate the tempo there.

With Payare, the principle is simple: we first recognize what the musician offers, by varying the languages: Beautiful sound! Wunderbar! Fantastic ! Sometimes with a kiss, sent from afar.

This recognition is always followed by a “now”, and this is where the real work begins.

In a passage, he can choose to isolate three or four groups of instruments to clarify their interrelation, specifying how one line should punctuate the other in an acceleration, for example.

The effect is simple and immediate: the musicians involved suddenly hear clearly what they need to consider, and the rest of the orchestra listens to the colleagues. Everyone will be all the more attentive when it comes time to resume the game together.

That’s how, little by little, what was “impressive and vast” becomes a statement, a story. Think of a director filming a crowd scene. The terrain is teeming, but it must make us follow the story: capture the tension in a couple, brush past a group of teenagers who talk happily as they walk, linger on an elderly man who seems lost… then return to the couple moving away.

The conductor must do the same with his score; he cuts the landscape, layer by layer, directing our attention to the elements that will allow us to follow the thread of the work.


The Montreal Symphony Orchestra

After the break, Rafael (he prefers his first name to the pompous maestro) jumps on his podium and very clearly says “third movement”, showing… two fingers. Several musicians opt for the figure heard, others for the figure shown. We are entitled to a chaotic start, followed by a giggle: the leader makes fun of himself, does a brief exercise in diction on the word “second” – a challenge for Spanish speakers -, then resumes the movement with tenderness .

From the beginning, he will take care of the carpet of horns, double basses and harp: a serious and quiet chord that will support the melody.

He then draws the sentence entrusted to the violins, then asks for more active listening between them and the cellos: “You are far away, you have to connect. Gradually, the landscape takes shape, more and more moving.

Wonderful ! This will be the last comment this morning. Everyone smiles.

In three hours, two movements of a symphony took shape, because dozens of musicians offered their attention and talent to a conductor who was both charismatic and pleasant.

Radio-Canada television will present a program called The OSM and Rafael Payare: the extraordinary encounterSaturday, April 23 at 8 p.m. Tchaikovsky’s piano concerto, played by Inon Barnatan, and the classical symphony by Prokofiev are on the program, as well as an interview in French that I had the pleasure of conducting with Rafael Payare last December, immediately after this rehearsal.

The show All a music will broadcast the concert on April 26, at 8 p.m., on Ici Musique.

Thanks to the OSM, Radio-Canada and chief technician François Goupil for the sound clips.

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