Interview with Claire Guimond
Founded in 1981, Arion Baroque Orchestra began as a quartet of McGill School of Music graduates: Claire Guimond (baroque flute), Chantal Rémillard (baroque violin), Betsy MacMillian (viola de gamba), and Hank Knox (harpsichord). The ensemble’s name comes from a musical composition (“Arion” by eighteenth-century composer André Campra) that the four performed together at their first concert. It also derives from Arion of Corinth, a Dyonisiac poet who invented the dithyramb, a sacred hymn of song and dance.
Under Claire Guimond’s artistic direction, Arion Baroque Orchestra has since expanded to 20 musicians. The ensemble regularly features internationally-celebrated guest conductors and soloists like Suzie LeBlanc, Stefano Montanari, Jaap ter Linden, Monica Huggett, Elizabeth Wallfisch, and Gary Cooper. As one of the very few ensembles in Quebec to exclusively perform on period instruments, Arion Baroque Orchestra has gained considerable renown for its majestically interpreted early music repertoire.
Arion Baroque Orchestra has toured North America, Europe, Asia, and in many South American countries. Online distribution of the Orchestra’s albums – through Naxos, Codaex, Mercury, and ALES Music – brings its music to eager listeners around the world. With regular airtime on CBC and an annual concert series in Quebec, Arion Baroque Orchestra remains very active in the chamber music community.
In anticipation of the Ottawa Chamberfest Concert Series performance on February 16, we spoke to Claire Guimond about Arion Baroque Orchestra and its broad “musical vocabulary.”
Arion Baroque Orchestra is one of the few early music ensembles in Quebec to perform on period instruments. What are the challenges to perform on these instruments? How do the instruments add authenticity to the pieces being performed?
There are indeed a few early music ensembles in Quebec, but we are actually the only orchestra performing on period instruments. Of course, performing on period instruments comes with a few challenges: the instruments are very fragile and sensitive to changes in temperature and humidity, so they need to be tuned more often.
But the advantages far outweigh the challenges! The repertoire we play was specifically meant for these instruments, since modern instruments did not exist at the time of Bach and Vivaldi, so it’s a natural choice to use them. The instruments add authenticity, but they also add so much meaning and life. Take for example the Sistine Chapel: before its restoration, the colors were dull, even (dare I say it?) a little dreary. The restorers of the Chapel have done a wonderful job and brought all these amazing colors out, colors we wouldn’t have believed were hidden beneath hundreds of years of pollution. Using period instruments to play baroque music brings out all the color and life of early music and the compositions really come alive. It is an incredible process.
The orchestra has collaborated with many international musicians and conductors. In working with musicians from other countries, has the ensemble ever dealt with differences in the musical interpretation or cultural music practice of the guest performer/conductor?
We are lucky to have collaborated with so many incredible musicians: every experience and every musician is different. Of course, they aren’t diametrically opposite. We always work with early music specialists, so there is a common language and philosophy: to make baroque music as vibrant and lively as possible, with the utmost respect for the creative energy of the composer.
But we always invite people with different expertise who add to our musical vocabulary and widen our horizons. Thanks to this philosophy we have very open minds and so much flexibility. Besides, meeting new people and exchanging ideas is so exciting for both the musicians and the public. Every time it’s like a good first date!
What were the effects of the ensemble’s expansion from four to eventually 20 members? Did the atmosphere at concerts change?
Good question! I need to reach back in my memory, because it has already been 18 years since we last performed in quartet formation. It was a natural process though, to go from four musicians to 20: after having played together for so many years, we wanted to explore different repertoires. So musicians were added on to the original formation, and we grew and grew.
For us, the effect is all positive. We’ve gained an enormous amount of flexibility, in that we can pick out music from any early music repertoire; add musicians to our orchestra, if we need to; or scale back if the music calls for it.
Our February 16 concert at Ottawa Chamberfest, Commedia dell’arte, features all sorts of fun, theatrical, and sometimes extravagant music that we wouldn’t have dreamt of if we were still a quartet! So, for our audiences, I think it’s very positive because they have access to so many different repertoires. It certainly keeps everybody on their toes!Posted by: Chamberfest Admin on February 10, 2012 Posted by: Chamberfest Admin on February 10, 2012