Thursday, November 24, 2011

Canada's only recorder quintet? Flute Alors!

photo by Pierre-Étienne Bergeron and Daniel-Jean Primeau
Flute Alors! (from left to right)
Marie-Laurence Primeau
Vincent Lauzer
Alexa Raine-Wright
Caroline Tremblay
Jean-Michel Leduc
Montreal, North America's most European city. A veritable oak of a city with a rich heritage and a deeply-rooted early music community supporting notable groups such as Arion, Ensemble Caprice, and Les Idees Heureuses. The city is also home to many prestigious music schools including Universite de Montreal, McGill University, Le Conservatoire de musique de Quebec a Montreal, and Concordia University.

A typical Saturday evening's choice of concerts include the Opera, the various orchestre (OSM, Arion, I Musici, Orchestre Metropolitaine, etc.), the universities' ensembles, and, occasionally, a bright group of recorder virtuosi named Flute Alors!

Originally formed for a student exchange to Germany, Flute Alors! sprouted into being in 1999. Over the past decade, the group grew from a student ensemble to a fully-professional quintet appearing in the Festival Montreal Baroque, and taking first prizes at the  National Music Competition, the Festival de musique classique du Bas-Richelieu, and the Festival de musique classique Vallée-des-Champ along the way.

Four of the five members of the group hold, or are currently pursuing graduate degrees in early music performance and are very active members of the musical community in Montreal. The fifth, Jean-Michel, is in his residency to becoming a doctor! 

Since 2008, Flute Alors! has held a concert series in Montreal in the Chapelle Saint-Louis, a small venue which, until this year, made for quite a cozy concert. "We had a few concerts in the Chapelle where we couldn't fit anymore people in to watch," notes Marie-Laurence Primeau, one of the five virtuosi, "so this season we're playing in a bigger place ." Last weekend, Flute Alors! planted themselves in a new home, the church of St. John the Evangelist, twice the size of their previous; for their first concert of the season.

Although the culture of the city makes it a great place to perform, Marie-Laurence did acknowledge a challenge, "... on any given night there's so much going on there isn't enough people to go to all of it. [Last Saturday] there was the opera, Arion had a show, and there was a hockey game too." This hasn't stopped them, however.

Over the past three years, Flute Alors! has cultivated a core group of fans which is constantly growing. "We try and make our concerts interesting to people our age (around 27)," says Marie-Laurence, "by premiering works by young composers, and mixing popular music into our program. The recorder has a very long history and an incredibly diverse repertoire, which makes for a [concert] with a lot of variety."

The most difficult aspect in promoting their group is that they play an instrument which has baggage for the audience. "They used to play [the recorder] when they were a kid , or their kids currently do, and they have, unfortunately, a poor idea of what the instrument sounds like", acknowledges Marie-Laurence. However, concert by concert, Flute Alors! is changing the stereotype, "We program fun concerts, we have fun rehearsing them, and... after the concert there's at least one person who tells us how we changed their mind about the instrument."

Despite what you may think, ensemble music for the recorder has, in fact, an interesting history. From the renaissance to the late baroque period we find music written for the instrument in it's various sizes (ranging from sopranino to contrabass), but by the turn of the 19th century, the instrument fell out of favour with composers. Fortunately, the instrument reappeared during the 20th century, thanks to personalities like Arnold Dolmetsch, and, more recently, has once again won composers' hearts.

With their first CD, Kaléidoscope, having been release this past May, Flute Alors! has seen things pick up. Their superb performance of music both baroque and modern has garnered critical acclaim and has won them much-deserved exposure. They have a tour next season through the Jeunesses Musicales du Canada and have been getting calls from across the country since Radio-Canada broadcasted their cd. But this extra exposure hasn't been all rainbows and butterflies, notes Marie-Laurence, "we each put in a few hours a day towards our ensemble work now, on top of our practicing."

So keep your eyes and ears out for this exciting young group as they branch out from their home of Montreal. In the mean time, take a look at their two videos recently published (here and here) as well as their website.

I look forward to seeing them in concert again soon!
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