Spotlight on Cénacle!


Cénacle Photo

Who are you? Tell us about your work and activities.

Karim Nasr: I’m a musician specialized in historical double reeds, clarinets, and traverso. I also publish music facsimilies and build instruments.

Jennifer Thiessen: I choose musical situations for their creative and interesting natures when possible, focusing on historic music, new music, improvising and songwriting. My main instruments are viola and viola d’amore.

Why are you a musician?

Karim Nasr: It’s the one profession I’m truly proud of.

Jennifer Thiessen:  I feel like music is my first language and I have to speak it. Doing it for a living is challenging, but since my second career choice is creative writing, you get an idea of what I’m working with here.

Tell us two memories, one happy and one unhappy or embarrassing about your musical life.

Karim Nasr: Getting drunk while performing my first ever Baroque opera, Les Indes galantes. This applies to both memories…

Jennifer Thiessen:  An unhappy event that became happy: The first time I was getting ready to go play viola d’amore in public, there was a loud bang from my instrument case, and my tailpiece flew up by the tuning pegs, resulting in a mess of 14 tangled strings. Who you gonna call in a tail gut emergency? Louis Gaucher. He gracefully answered my Saturday evening call and agreed to help. I sat on a stool in his workshop in my concert clothes while he mindfully talked me through everything he was doing. Before I knew it, I was out the door in time and in good spirits. I’m grateful for that memory of him.

Tell us about your first concert as an ensemble?

Karim Nasr: Unofficially we played an outdoor program of classical music where we had to compete with church bells. The church bells won.

Jennifer Thiessen:  Our ensemble name for the first concert was Trio JFK, for our first names. Catchy, right? But Cénacle is better: it reflects our deep maturity and has nothing to do with American politics.

Your personal relationship to music? What music(s) do you listen to?

Karim Nasr: Music and I dated on and off for about 10 years but then we decided to settle down. 2 years later he popped the question and we’ve been happily married ever since. I listen to anything that drowns out the rats with wings, I mean, seagulls.

Jennifer Thiessen:  I mostly listen to singer-songwriters, solo string music (viol, cello, viola, viola d’amore), and contemporary/experimental music. I like Garth Knox’s creative use of the viola d’amore,  David Lang’s beautiful minimalist writing, am into most things Daniel Lanois produces, and have a soft spot for Buffy Saint-Marie, Joni Mitchel and EmmyLou Harris. Oh, and the original women of jazz: Ella Fitzgerald, Blossom Dearie and company.

What was the weirdest thing to happen to you during a concert or on tour?

Karim Nasr: Getting lost in Beijing before a nationally televised dress rehearsal.

Jennifer Thiessen:  Playing the Kremlin in Moscow with La La La Human Steps. The local tech crew had a problem with our crew, and one of the ways they expressed this was turning off the main electricity switch at the exact time of our sound check ended, so we had to feel our way off the stage and out of the theatre in the dark.

Your first encounter with early music?

Karim Nasr: I was 13, let loose in a 7-story Virgin megastore in London when I stumbled on a recording of Handel’s Fireworks. I’d never have guessed my future teacher’s face was the one I’d been looking at in the liner notes.

Jennifer Thiessen:  I was studying theology (another story) in Winnipeg, and taking violin lessons on the side from Elizabeth Lupton Ens, who introduced me to historical repertoire, gesture and ornamentation. I always kept this interest and influence through my studies on modern violin and viola.

What can NovAntica contribute to Montreal musical life?

Karim Nasr: Hopefully, a sense of community to bridge the rift created by the older generations.

Jennifer Thiessen:  A place for people with a common interest to put our heads together, instead of each reinventing the wheel in our own workshops.

A place, a good spot, a good book, a film to see, or your CD of the moment?

Karim Nasr: A clean beach with decent surf.

Jennifer Thiessen:   Near water, trees and wildlife. I moved to Verdun last year and go to the riverside paths whenever I can.


What is your favorite place to go to eat or drink after a concert?

Karim Nasr: Any where with lots of food because I can’t drink on an empty stomach, I’m a cheap date.

Jennifer Thiessen:   Auprès de ma blonde, because it is magically never full, despite its good food. They also don’t seem to mind the chaotic table-moving that happens when a big group tries to sit together.

Spotlight on Kimberly Reine from DISCANTVS

square flutes

Who are you? Tell us a bit about yourself and your ensemble.

I am a baroque and renaissance flutist and member of DISCANTVS. I started playing renaissance flute in a consort when I was studying in Holland and, as luck would have it, I was the tallest one in the group and had the longest arms. No one else could even hold the bass flute let alone cover the holes, so I became the bass flute player. I quite like it, I suppose that every flutist has a bit of “bass envy” and this is a great way to fulfill it. I think that I can state with some certainty that I am one of the only bass renaissance flutists in town, the other being my partner, Boaz Berney, who also plays in DISCANTVS – although only one of us plays bass at any given time.

DISCANTVS was founded in Israel when we were living there from 2004-2009. It was originally a three part consort with myself, Boaz Berney and Geneviève Blanchard (who is originally from Quebec City). We have always played in a variety of combinations: just flutes, flutes and lute, with singers. When Boaz and I moved to Montreal we started working with Mika Putterman and it was a really good fit. We really missed playing with Geneviève, but fortunately she visits often and was able to come for a project that we were putting together with 4-part consort music. We were a bit nervous the first time that Mika and Genevieve met. We had played with Geneviève for so many years that we didn’t want her to feel like she had been “replaced” by Mika, and also did not want Mika to feel like she was an intruder in a long-standing ensemble. Fortunately for all of us, Mika and Geneviève got along like a house on fire! We are always happy when we have a chance to put together a 4-part programme because it means that we spend several intense weeks together…

What was your first concert as an ensemble? Do you have an anecdote to share?

I think our first paying concert was at a guitar festival, strangely enough. We had a programme for flute consort and lute and the artistic director of the festival was quite taken with the idea of the lute.

Tell us about the most ridiculous thing that had ever happened to you during a concert or a tour.

We had a mini-tour once that was a complete comedy of errors. Fortunately it was short! About five years ago, in the pre-smartphone days, we had a concert in Ottawa, a city which none of us were familiar with. We rented a car to get there and when we went to pick the car up the only one available was a huge, boxy white Chrysler. Despite looking huge, it was really cramped inside and had a very small trunk, so the five of us were all piled in with all of our instruments and clothes feeling a bit like sardines. We had printed out the directions to get to the church where the concert took place (the type of directions that tell you every little detail and take 4 pages to print out for even the most simple trip). On the way there we got stuck in traffic and so were running a bit late. Finally, with much relief we pulled up our destination, only to realize that it was a papered-up, abandoned storefront in a fairly shady part of town. Somehow in the rush to print out the instructions, I had entered the wrong address. We tried calling the church but no one was answering. We tried asking passers-by, but none of them had heard of any churches in the area. We drove around in circles for a while, becoming increasingly desperate, and finally somebody at the church answered and gave us directions.

The concert went really well, and we drove home in a much better mood…until the gas light went on. Our gas-guzzling Chrysler had used up an entire tank just on the trip to Ottawa! Somewhere in the middle of rural Ontario at around midnight is not the ideal time to be looking for a gas station. We found one with a snoozing attendant who said that they were actually closed….unless we really needed gas and could pay in cash. We all pooled our cash and managed to make it home!

What is your personal relationship with music? What sort of music do you like to listen to?

I like to listen to a variety of different styles of music, most of which would be considered either “classical” or “traditional” . In addition to Renaissance and Baroque music, which I love to both play and listen to (as one would expect), I also love Indian Karnatic music, traditional Turkish “halk” music, and old fashioned jazz and blues, to name just a few. In terms of my “personal relationship” with music, I sometimes wish I had more time to simply sit down and listen to music. I rarely have music playing unless I can listen to it with undivided attention, if I have to concentrate on other things at the same time I would prefer to just have quiet. A constant background of top 40 radio is my personal definition of hell.

Can you suggest a motto for NovAntica?

Think big and dream bigger!

What can NovAntica contribute to Montreal musical life?

NovAntica is in a position to become a driving and uniting force on the Montreal concert scene. Having so many member ensembles of such great variety means that there is a lot of potential not only to realize larger and more daring projects but also to experiment with more intimate concert concepts and venues.

My favourite place: Musée des beaux arts. Specifically the one in Montreal, but actually I love museums in general. I could spend hours wandering around museums.

My favourite book: The Thousand Autums of Jacob de Zoet, by David Mitchell.

A film to recommend: Bombay Talkies

What is your favourite après-concert restaurant/bar?

Going out after a concert used to be one of my favourite activities. By the time the concert is finished you have worked up a good appetite by playing all sorts of wonderful music and there is nothing as satisfying as that first bite of food (or sip of drink) and a full re-hash of the concert with your colleagues. Now that I have two small kids, post-concert meals are usually at home, especially if my partner plays in the concert too. There used to be an Uzbecki restaurant that I went to years ago that epitomized post concert dining for me. They were open late, close to home and had a selection of hearty dumplings, grilled meats/offal and salads, all of which were cheap and ready in minutes. They also sold vodka by the bottle. The grill man was rather surly and wouldn’t let you order the offal unless you were quite insistent.

Come see our concert, Qui Regna Amore with Suzie LeBlanc, on Thursday, the 11th of February at 19:30!

Susie Napper en vedette

image Susie Napper


Who are you?

I’ve been a musician as long as I can remember!

When I was three years old I remember being in a cathedral in France (Poitiers, I believe) riveted by the sound of the organ. Was it Bach? Then having a vinyl of Bach violin concerti with the father and son Oistrakh that I listened to ad nauseam! Hearing the opening to Monteverdi’s Orfeo clinched my attachment to baroque music at eight years old. Recorder, piano and cello lessons, a childhood filled with music and musicians in London in the 1950’s and 1960’s, being involved with premiere London performances of Ligeti and Boulez, studying in New York and Paris, I discovered a new universe of fresh ideas amongst renegade, classical musicians creating a new kind of style and performance of baroque music….music as rhetoric….speaking music.

Why are you a musician?

Because of the rhetorical power of music! Music is my favourite language! Through music I hope to speak directly to you! I’m a musician in order to tell stories that make you laugh, think, cry…. Yes, music is as much a language as anything spoken! The miracle of the language of music is that the “words” exist to touch our emotions without the encumbrance of specific meanings. This leaves us the freedom to interpret the music we perform, or hear, in a much more personal way. The eloquent performer can tell a story as if speaking to us. There are no notes without meaning in a musical phrase just as there are no words that are meaningless in a sentence. Every note counts but no note should sound as if it’s being counted!

What can NovAntica contribute to Montreal musical life?

The idea of creating NovAntica came to me six years ago. So many talented young musicians interested in early music, creating ensembles, experimenting with period instruments, were graduating from Montreal Universities. Thirty years earlier, they would have had the advantage of a booming economy and a province committed to creating its own cultural scene. There was financial support from Quebec, a recording industry eager to produce local talent, and a receptive audience.

Now, in an environment stripped of cash, governments are forced to be short on generosity. How can new groups thrive without the old forms of support? How can they survive the demise of an ageing and fast diminishing audience? How can they catch the attention of their own generation?

I am convinced that the brilliant minds within NovAntica can collectively come up with new kinds of performing platforms. The old system of concert series in concert venues can be complemented by, or replaced by other forms of performance. The classic recording on disc is clearly being replaced by on-line diffusion. Surely on-line performance can be developed in a way that the music predominates rather than drowning below unrelated visuals or videos with ever-boring drone shots! Live performance can take place in other kinds of venues. 19th century costume that remains the dress of choice for classical musicians, should be closeted….

NovAntica could be used as a think-tank for the members. If we can come up with new ideas, the organization can then take the ideas to the governments and the private sector and argue collectively for support in making the new ideas come to life….NovAntica could be a platform for those willing to take risks and live or die for their art! Let’s experiment and see if we can find new universes! Let’s use NovAntica as a means of survival!

My fave book of the hour: The Hare with Amber Eyes by Edmund de Waal

My fave dish of the hour: Aubergine, yogurt and pomegranate

My fave music of the hour: Whatever I’m playing now

My fave film of the past year: Mr Turner

My fave after-concert resto: Chez-Moi

Bienvenue NovAntica! ENFIN!!!!

(This blog post is only available in French).

En février 2007, je rencontrais Susie Napper pour la première fois (lors de mon entrevue d’embauche pour travailler au Festival Montréal Baroque). Un des sujets abordés fut un projet qu’elle chérissait depuis des années : créer un réseau des ensembles de musique baroque de Montréal.

Les visées du réseau comprenaient l’entraide, le partage des services, le soutien aux jeunes ensembles avec, comme but ultime, de faire de Montréal un centre mondialement reconnu pour la qualité de ses artistes baroques. Et avec raison car ils sont vraiment talentueux!

Je suis donc heureuse, huit ans plus tard, de voir ce projet se concrétiser avec NovAntica qui, tout en gardant le cap sur certains projets d’origine (site web partagé, calendrier de programmation, lancements collectifs, etc), apporte aussi un souffle de fraîcheur à cette ambition de réseau musical.

Je suis émerveillée de voir l’énergie que les jeunes artistes investissent dans ce projet collectif, dont celui de bien définir qui ce regroupement représente : les artistes professionnels jouant sur instruments anciens. Bravo pour cette précision et pour le choix du nom tellement juste et représentatif!

Je suis fascinée par l’originalité des idées qui fusent de toutes parts lors des rencontres de travail et du sérieux investi pour que les projets se concrétisent.

Je suis émue de constater le ralliement progressif entre les générations d’artistes.

Enfin, je souhaite simplement que tous saisissent cette opportunité de se regrouper pour renforcer la visibilité, la crédibilité et l’envergure d’un milieu musical de grand talent. Car, NovAntica ça peut marcher car vous êtes tous des artistes talentueux.

Bravo et longue vie!

Jacqueline Ascah
qui fut DG de Montréal Baroque de 2007 à 2013.