Conductor Bernard Labadie and his chamber music group Les Violons du Roy have a closer connection to the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall than most groups. Les Violons will perform there on Saturday.
In 1999, Les Violons, which specializes in the music of the Baroque and Renaissance periods, debuted at the hall. In 2001, they returned and a concert was scheduled for mid-September. Then, Sept. 11 happened.
“We were worried about it,” Labadie said from Quebec City where the orchestra is based. “But early on we got assurances from the presenters. They said they would understand if we didn’t want to come but that now was the time they needed this music [Mozart’s Requiem and Haydn’s ‘Lord Nelson Mass’]. So we went.”
The Troy concert was part of a mini-tour that included concerts at Lincoln Center in New York City and New Jersey. They decided to travel by bus and not by plane, which is probably why they had no problems at the border, he said.
Les Violons du Roy
WHEN: 8 p.m. Saturday
WHERE: Troy Savings Bank Music Hall
HOW MUCH: $30; $15 students; $10 gallery rush tickets available at 7 p.m.
MORE INFO: 273-0038 or go to www.troymusichall.org. Conductor Bernard Labadie will also give a free pre-concert talk at 7 p.m. at the Rensselaer County Historical Society at 57 Second St.
“The Troy concert was pure magic,” Labadie said. “If I had had to plan the repertoire for that concert, I couldn’t have been more perfectly attuned.”
The concert was recorded on the Dorian label and 80 percent of its special atmosphere made it onto the disc, he said. (Some balances were corrected later on.) The recording received the 2001 Juno Award — Canada’s equivalent to a Grammy Award.
Labadie has had an extensive career as a guest conductor worldwide (he recently debuted with the Boston Symphony Orchestra) and was music director of L’Opera de Quebec between 1994 and 2003, but Les Violons du Roy has always been a labor of love. He didn’t come from a musical background, he said, but an elementary school music teacher recognized that he had musical talent.
Choosing an instrument
“She told me to pick an instrument and I chose recorder,” Labadie said. “In those days, there were many period recordings around with [Dutch recorder player] Frans Brüeggen and I fell in love with Baroque music.”
When he attended Laval University’s music school, he also studied voice, but he was a bad singer, he said.
“I told people I had a loud octave,” Labadie said laughing. “But it got me interested in opera.”
In 1983 while he was still a student at Laval, he started a choir with friends, La Chapelle de Quebec. But he realized he needed an orchestra to accompany his singers in larger works.
In 1984, Les Violons du Roy was born. The next year, Labadie graduated and because he had to take the choir and orchestra outside the conservatory, he opened them up to other musicians. He still conducts both groups today, although the 35-member La Chapelle, which attracts singers from all over Canada, only does about three projects a year.
Choosing the repertoire for Les Violons, which is named after the famous string orchestra of the court of the French kings, was easy, he said.
“I love Baroque. I love its theatrical aspect: its dramatic contrasts, sharp articulations, no curves. Its rhythm is a fundamental element. It’s not wallpaper music,” he said.
The music appeals to modern, especially young audiences, who seem to have shorter attention spans.
“We live in a world of smaller forms like the four-minute song. A suite of baroque dances is easier than a Mahler symphony movement,” he said.
On Saturday, Les Violons will play Telemann’s “Ouverture des Nations anciens et modernes,” Handel’s “Water Music” Suite No. 3 and a Suite from “Alcina,” a Chaconne from Purcell’s “King Arthur,” Geminiani’s Concerto Gross “La Folia,” and Haydn’s Horn Concerto No. 1 with the group’s principal French hornist Louis-Philippe Marsolais, who is a top prize winner in several international competitions. The concert is part of a six-city tour.
In the past few years, Les Violons, which maintains a core group of 15 string players, has added winds to branch out into 19th and 20th century repertoire. It has a 30-week international season and recorded 15 discs, including winning the 2006 Juno Award for “Water Music” (ATMA). Baroque repertoire remains its stock in trade.
Early on, the group decided it would play on modern instruments but use copies of period bows. A Baroque bow is lighter and has less hair than a modern bow. Because its tip is weak due to the slightly convex shape, the best sound is in the middle area of the bow.
A modern bow is more concave yet straighter, which allows for an equal and louder level of sound from the frog (the handle) to the tip.
But Baroque bows can produce many subtle sound gradations and will make an orchestra playing period French music sound very different from one using modern bows, Labadie said.
“The down and up bows sound different. The sound itself will be lighter with more speed and color,” Labadie said. “The strings also use vibrato only as an ornament compared to it being a fixture of the sound in modern string playing.”
Not all players are adept at using these types of bows, so when there is turnover, Labadie hires players who exhibit exceptional technical skills, pitch and have a suppleness to their playing. And, of course, they must love playing Baroque music.
“Playing Baroque music is like spending more time at home,” Labadie said laughing.