By Gabrielle Izaguirré-Falardeau
There is no introduction needed when it comes to Jacques Marchand. The man having been at the helm of the Regional Symphonic Orchestra of Abitibi-Témiscamingue (RSOAT) for 36 years now, well known for his famous mustache and his hair white as snow, composes with a very busy schedule! Meeting with a man of a thousand projects to debrief the year that ended and to consider the year that just begun.
2023: THE GREAT RETURN
Mr Marchand says so right away: 2022 was not an easy year. The ghost of COVID-19 kept looming over the whole Spring and Fall seasons, triggering the cancellation of a complete tour for the orchestra, and of several shows for the Aiguebelle Ensemble. These turnarounds provoked continued insecurities: “It’s hard. We plan things, we put everything in place, but we never really know what is going to happen,” says the conductor. Nonetheless, he is categorical: the motivation of the members was not affected. In fact, the opposite happened: “I just came back from a practice weekend, we were euphorics! We laughed like children, I think we found hope again.”
For Mr Marchand, this way the musicians have to stick with the group and their instruments is not surprising: “Practicing an instrument, it is hours of work. It is a part of our lives, of our vision, it is a part of us, it’s visceral. The orchestra offers an opportunity to play, it is a huge motivation when one invests so much time into something.”
Thus, the January 15th weekend rehearsal covered the program for next Spring: “For the first act, we present Pierre et le loup which had been planned last year with a smaller orchestra and, for the second act, the forty musicians will be back on stage,” Jacques Marchand explains. This second act will be the occasion to play well known pieces of the classical repertoire, which Mr Marchand laughingly labels “the greatest hits”. Festive and gathering masterpieces have been chosen as a “gift to the audience” after three years of absence.
CHALLENGES AND JOYS OF REGIONAL MUSIC
Conducting a symphonic orchestra on a vast territory such as the whole region comes with its lot of obstacles. Considering the budget cuts of the scholar services centers and the end of harmonies in several schools, and with the youth leaving for urban centers regularly, the recruitment of high-level musicians becomes difficult, especially with the case of wind instruments.
Mr Marchand thus shows creativity by organizing exchanges with musicians from North-Eastern Ontario or by involving, as supernumerary, musicians who come from here, but are now expatriated to the urban centers. He emphasizes that through the exchanges and the diversity of musicians emerges a great openness and a certain solidarity, as well as a mutual enrichment created by the shared variety of experiences. Despite the challenges, Mr Marchand affirms that the level of the orchestra continues to rise through the years and that makes his pleasure to be its conductor grow accordingly.
THAT IS NOT ALL THERE IS!
Jacques Marchand paints the portrait of the future of the orchestra with confidence. Set up as an important institution of our regional panorama, the RSOAT plays an essential role not only for the cultural vitality, but also for the training of the future musicians: “The youth has the occasion to train with high-level musicians in a large orchestra, it is very rewarding. They learn, among other things, the importance of listening,” underlines Mr Marchand, who then affirms that as long as his health will allow it, he will pursue his activities with passion.
Being also a pianist and composer, he only deplores the lack of time to focus on his own creation. He tries to deal with this situation by integrating composition to his current projects, as it is the case with the Aiguebelle Ensemble, which will present in February the shows that were canceled last Fall: a series of Margot Lemire poems, put in music by Mr Marchand himself and sung by the mezzo soprano Caroline Gélinas. Sure thing, Jacques Marchand is far from lacking ideas and expects to keep contributing to the vitality of our musical scene for a long time ahead.