Discover the Musical Chairs Chamber Music Festival with Stéphane Lemelin

Classical music students from 9 schools around the world meet at Schulich to play chamber music together.

The Musical Chairs Chamber Music Festival : 9 days of chamber music 

From May 20 to 28, 2022, chamber music will take over the Schulich School of Music as part of the Musical Chairs Chamber Music Festival, a major event held every two years at the School. For this fourth edition, McGill will open its doors to chamber music ensembles featuring students and professors from nine music schools from around the world.

What does the Festival have in store for participants from here and abroad — and for the public? What are the benefits for the young artists taking part? Stéphane Lemelin, Chair of the Department of Performance at the Schulich School of Music and Artistic Director of the Festival, answers our questions.

Nine schools, nine countries, nine intensive days of chamber music

The essence of the Musical Chairs Chamber Music Festival is to allow university-level musicians from around the world to delve into chamber music through an intensive schedule of performances, reading sessions, rehearsals and master classes. In addition to the chamber music ensembles from each participating institution, new ephemeral ensembles will be formed by pairing students and faculty from different schools over the course of a few busy days.

This year, students will come together from nine schools in Australia, Austria, Finland, Norway, Singapore, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, the United States and, of course, Canada. "Every time we do this, the schools that have already participated want to come back — it's very gratifying! These partnerships allow for great exchanges; it's an important way for young musicians to network and expand their horizons. It is also an extraordinary showcase for the high level of classical cultural life in Montreal, promoting the city internationally."

Networking, work ethic... and fun!

Where did the idea come from to create a festival dedicated to chamber music within an educational institution? "Initially, the idea was to allow high-level students to share the stage with professionals and learn by playing alongside them," explains Stéphane Lemelin. "The goal was also to create opportunities for musicians from different cultures to meet. When you aspire to be a professional musician, the contacts and relationships you develop with others are very important. The starting point was to learn how to collaborate, design and create projects with other musicians."

Participation also requires a good work discipline. "It's kind of the same formula as in professional summer festivals: there are two or three rehearsals and then the concert takes place. So it's important to learn how to prepare well. For students who are used to having a lot of space to master their repertoire, this is an important lesson. You have to arrive at the first meeting and be ready to play! You also have to learn to react quickly and work with colleagues you don't necessarily know."

Renewing the pleasure of playing classical music

Beyond the seriousness of the initiative, what is most important is the sheer pleasure of playing! "Often, in our professional lives, we are serious and assiduous and we forget to laugh. It's important to have moments where we simply enjoy being together, where we make music without judgment, without worrying too much about mistakes and having fun! That's what our readings are for. We bring a stack of scores, some wine to loosen up, and we exchange in a fun way. For a musician, it's important to have a place where you can take risks, where you can explore without too many constraints," says the artistic director.

Concerts and master classes: a comprehensive offering for all

Throughout the Festival, events open to the general public are held within the walls of the Schulich School of Music at all hours of the day and night. Don't be shy about attending the events of your choice, as often as you like!

"There is a great deal of excitement and the offer is generous," enthuses Stéphane Lemelin. "The concert programs are abundant, and everyone is welcome, even if it's only for part of the concert. You can experience the Festival à la carte and try whatever you like, according to your appetite, like an all-you-can-eat buffet! And it's all free."

Several formulas are offered: evening concerts (for which it is preferable to reserve your place), the marathon concerts that will close the Festival in the lobby of the Elizabeth Wirth Music Pavilion with a glass of wine on Friday night and coffee on Saturday in a brunch formula, master classes, etc.

Magical moments created by classical music students

Much of the pleasure of attending chamber music performances comes from witnessing the conversation taking place before your eyes. "It's such an interactive medium, there's a real exchange between the musicians, and you're watching a very dynamic conversation. The solo recital highlights a musician, the orchestra highlights the cohesion of a group led by the vision of a conductor, and chamber music is a very democratic, free and spontaneous conversation between a trio or quartet of musicians. And the students are so happy to play! Their infectious enthusiasm easily engages the audience."

What promises to be a unique experience? "An ensemble will perform Schönberg's Transfigured Night on May 24 at 11:00 p.m. in the lobby of the Wirth Pavilion, a space with large windows looking out onto the street. It's going to be magical to see this work inspired by a poem about night, as the night enfolds us!"

To make sure you don't miss out on any of the activities taking place during the Musical Chairs Chamber Music Festival, join our Facebook event — wonderful surprises are in store!

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