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Sports Kent Nagano still holds Montreal — and the Habs — close to his heart

14:38  16 july  2021
14:38  16 july  2021 Source:   montrealgazette.com

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Kent Nagano wearing a suit and tie: “The most important thing is that the Canadiens made it to the finals,” Kent Nagano says of the playoffs. The OSM's conductor emeritus will lead the orchestra Friday, July 16 at the Lanaudière Festival. © Provided by The Gazette “The most important thing is that the Canadiens made it to the finals,” Kent Nagano says of the playoffs. The OSM's conductor emeritus will lead the orchestra Friday, July 16 at the Lanaudière Festival.

We must not underestimate the reach of Les Glorieux. Still, it is a fair bet that few members of the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin, on tour in Italy, set their alarms for 1 a.m. to watch the National Hockey League playoffs in real time.

Not like their conductor, Kent Nagano.

“The most important thing is that the Canadiens made it to the finals,” the inveterate lover of all things Montreal — including, most certainly, the symphony orchestra named after the city — said this week from a downtown hotel.

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“OK, they didn’t bring back the Stanley Cup. But to see them fighting their hearts out, I think that was really a moving moment.”

On Friday there might be another one: Nagano’s first concert with the OSM before a live audience since his exit last year as music director and his acceptance in February of the honorary title of conductor emeritus .

This program takes place not in the Maison symphonique, site of a triptych of Nagano webcasts in March, but in the sylvan surroundings of the Fernand Lindsay Amphitheatre, where Nagano appeared with the orchestra a total of 23 times from 2007 to 2019, never missing a summer.

a group of people standing in front of a crowd:  Kent Nagano conducts the Orchestre symphonique de Montréal and the St. Lawrence Choir in Haydn’s The Creation at the Fernand Lindsay Amphitheatre in Joliette on Aug. 7, 2010. © Robert J. Galbraith Kent Nagano conducts the Orchestre symphonique de Montréal and the St. Lawrence Choir in Haydn’s The Creation at the Fernand Lindsay Amphitheatre in Joliette on Aug. 7, 2010.

The concert, opening the three-week Lanaudière Festival, was announced late because it was not entirely clear in June that it could happen. As the clouds parted and COVID-19 restrictions started to loosen, the plan advanced from definite-maybe to almost-certain status.

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True to Nagano form, the repertoire, comprising Debussy’s Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun (1894) and Mahler’s Fourth Symphony (1899-1900), comes with a scholarly rationale.

“These pieces were written at about the same time, five years separating them,” the conductor explained. “They both employ imagery and tableaux as part of the storytelling.

“But there is a difference — as between (the painters Gustav) Klimt and (Claude) Monet — between the expressionist tradition from which Mahler emerges and through which he paints his poetic musical images, and the impressionistic tradition through which Debussy emerges.”

The wooded setting of the amphitheatre, built in the former Olympic archery grounds outside Joliette, is a perfect place for both scores.

“The stories have to do with rural or pastoral settings,” Nagano said. “You do not expect, in the afternoon, to see a faun in downtown Tokyo. You expect this to happen in a garden or in nature.

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“And it is the same for the folksong and folk rhythms of Mahler, the imagery of horses, sleds or sleigh bells. You don’t expect this in San Francisco.”

In the finale of the Mahler (which, remarkably, will be heard in its Lanaudière première), a soprano describes an idealistic vision of heaven. Hélène Guilmette, an OSM frequent flyer, does the honours. Debussy’s lush score does not have a soloist, strictly speaking, but fans can look forward to hearing veteran OSM principal Tim Hutchins play the seductive opening for flute.

Ten minutes into a Zoom interview, the 69-year-old American conductor was unabashedly comparing the Lanaudière Festival with its famous counterpart in Salzburg. Both festivals, he notes, take place in a region that is substantially rural and agricultural.

“It has a quality,” Nagano said of Lanaudière, founded in 1978 by Rev. Fernand Lindsay (1929-2009). “There is a combination of cultural roots in Quebec but at the same time an outreach that makes it different and special.

“The festival has international guests, great names, but it remains unique. That is why it is such a joy to come back, not just for me but for the musicians. And to play live for the first time in a long time at that great amphitheatre.”

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When it is suggested that his summertime taste often ran to blockbusters — including, in 2019, Mahler’s Third Symphony, the symphony longest in the standard repertoire — Nagano points out that the excellent acoustics of this outdoor facility, opened in 1989, makes lighter fare equally viable.

The good vibrations come in handy. Nagano recalls doing battle with “one of those famous thunderstorms.” The Friday forecast for Joliette suggests cloudy conditions after morning showers.

Nagano’s return to the OSM this summer is a one-off. Jacques Lacombe, a former OSM principal guest conductor, takes the baton on Saturday in a program ending with Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony.

The Lanaudière lineup includes chamber concerts in regional churches. Other orchestras in the amphitheatre are Les Violons du Roy and the Orchestre Métropolitain. The latter closes the proceedings on Aug. 8 under the direction of Yannick Nézet-Séguin.

As for OSM music director designate Rafael Payare , he will make his long-anticipated return to the podium not in Lanaudière, but in an outdoor concert Sept. 9 in Olympic Park. Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet and Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite are two highlights.

Only four of the Lanaudière presentations will be available as webcasts. The Nagano concert is not one of them.

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“We live in a world where, thanks to globalization, many things are possible,” the conductor said, philosophically. “A lot of things are available that were not available before, but this comes with the danger of inflation. Everything, very dangerously, can become the same.

“You can touch new audiences through streaming. But it’s a representation. It’s not the same as performing live, for both the public and the musicians. There is a qualitative difference.”

As of this writing, the approximately 1,500 tickets made available after the partial relaxation of distancing rules, including same-bubble lawn space, were gone. The unlucky many will have to wait for the next visit.

There will certainly be one. While the bulk of Nagano’s engagements are in Europe — he is general music director of the Hamburg State Opera — his “emeritus” designation with the OSM implies a future with the orchestra as well as a past.

“I took the chance just to walk around yesterday, all day,” Nagano said of the city he holds dear. “It was like being back with family.

“And I’m not exaggerating. As much as I feel at home in other great cities of the world, I feel at home in Montreal. Somehow it just makes sense.”

For more information, visit lanaudiere.org.

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