Conductor Louis Lavigueir, left, has been at the helm of Ensemble Sinfonia's choral and orchestral groups for 30 years.
When trying to imagine a personification for classical music, images of serious musicians dressed in black with an almost military-like level of precision in their playing often come to the collective mind. “Orchestras are very organized and very disciplined and everybody, out of the nature of the ensemble, knows what his or her responsibility and position is,” explains Louis Lavigueur, who, as conductor, has been at the helm of Ensemble Sinfonia de Montréal’s choral and orchestral groups for 30 years.
His Ensemble is no different, even though it includes amateur musicians who have been honing their craft for years, but doctors, lawyers, engineers and other professionals who share and exude a similar passion for music.
Sitting encircled by a first row of violins, Lavigueur guides the Ensemble with a lively and focused energy. But the illusion of a well-oiled machine is sometimes shattered as curse words are whispered in both English and French when parts are missed or played incorrectly — something audiences do not get to witness.
The Ensemble Sinfonia, in addition to the aforementioned members, is also composed of alumni belonging to another of Lavigueur’s groups, the Montreal Youth Orchestra, which has a cut-off age of 25. Born through the initiative of Lavigueur and several former Youth Orchestra members who wanted to continue playing, Ensemble Sinfonia initially began as a small string group, but has since expanded to include a healthy wind section.
This year marks their 15th season, but seeing as the Ensemble already has a full calendar for 2016, Lavigueur explains that a celebratory concert marking this achievement is in the works for next year.
So how is it that the Ensemble has managed to fill out its social card for the year so quickly?
“Some of our members come from different minority groups or from other cultural backgrounds and hear of events that might be interesting,” explains Lavigueur. “Another way is that some people are aware of our existence and get in touch with us to mark their event with a concert.”
In fact, last year the Ensemble performed at one of McGill University’s concert halls to help commemorate the Armenian genocide, a particularly moving concert as some Ensemble members are Armenian themselves.
This year the Ensemble will be celebrating something a bit closer to home, performing at Montreal’s St-Jean Baptiste church to highlight its organ’s centennial.
Like many musical ensembles, Sinfonia is left to fend for itself when it comes to financing. “An amateur adult orchestra is considered by some as an elitist hobby and there’s no public funding for that,” says Lavigueur.
This attitude has proved detrimental not only to the Ensemble, but to the Youth Orchestra as well. Yet it’s not all black ties and tight budgets. Members of the Ensemble still surprise Lavigueur with its rendition ofHappy Birthday that explodes in the middle of rehearsals or, as is the case with the Youth Orchestra, the occasional adult magazine clipping that finds its way into Lavigueur’s sheets. “That’s happened to me both in rehearsal and in concert,” laughs Lavigueur, proving that the buttoned-down stereotype does not always apply.