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.

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.