Pierre Simard - Conductor, Artistic Director, Composer - Vancouver Island Symphony
Pre-amble 2020: It was nearly 13 years ago (Fall 2007) I interviewed Pierre Simard when he was a candidate for the position of Artistic Director of the Vancouver Island Symphony. He was cradling his youngest child, two-month-old Antonin, and said softly, “As long as the baby doesn't cry I'm all yours.” Pierre spoke of his dreams and visions, and through his words and energy came his excitement, his passion for music, for humankind – for the spirit of life. The following articles reveal dreams coming true on his journey as conductor and composer – while living in a house now occupied by teenagers – our future.
INVENTIONS - Creation with hope for humankind - 2017
Creating New Music Lovers - 2007
Links to more information
INVENTIONS - Creation with hope for humankind
An interview article by Rosemary Phillips, 2017
Artistic Director, Conductor and Composer
Vancouver Island Symphony
Aptly titled "Epic Spirit – Inventions" the Vancouver Island Symphony’s powerful season finale on Saturday, April 22 (2017) at the Port Theatre in Nanaimo, opened with the monumental Symphony No. 5 by Beethoven - with its haunting and familiar notes of 'fate knocking at the door.' Then came an original, electrifying, mind-blowing, heart-throbbing, emotionally-filled new experience – Inventions – 14 movements in the Epic Music Style, with a sensational state-of-the-art audio-visual production, saluting inventions and inventors and their impact upon the course of life on this planet – from the wheel to the space shuttle.
World premiere: Says Pierre Simard, with noticeable excitement and yet mild trepidation, "This is the biggest composition project of my life. In my career, I have never conducted a show with orchestra and choirs (VIS Symphonic and Children’s choirs, Patricia Plumley director) along with electronic tracks and film. This is not only a world premier of a composition, but, in Canada, of a whole show concept."
Why this new idea? "This show is a crossroad for me as an artistic director, and for the orchestra. About a year and a half ago I started looking at options in my life. I had almost stopped composing. That part of my career had slowed down. Then, I found software which has brought me to the whole world of music for video games, TV and cinema – music I am very interested in. I discovered recordings of live instruments in dynamic levels and a library with very high level tracks (samples). My laptop holds about 800,000 different sounds. It’s a bit overwhelming. I have started composing pieces inspired by those high-quality sampled instruments, loops and software synthesizers - driving my creative process in new, unexpected and exciting ways!
"I was also asking myself if we are being current. This season, in addition to the classics, we did a pops concert, a celebration of Canadian rock and roll, but the songs we played were from the 60’s to the 90’s. Nothing was recent. I questioned how we can continue what we are doing, as keepers of the flame, with an eye to the past while also being super current, and looking to the future."
The Epic Music Style: "Over the last 30 years, Oscar and Grammy-winning movie composer Hans Zimmer (Rain Man, Lion King, Gladiator, Driving Miss Daisy, Pirates of the Caribbean, The Dark Knight etc.), and more recently others like Michael Giacchino (Up, Lost, Rogue One) and Alexandre Desplat (Grand Budapest Hotel, The Queen), built a bridge between traditional orchestra and electronic sound for what is now called the Epic Music Style. Many new movie and Hollywood blockbuster musical scores are in this style – with huge choirs, brass and percussion. When you look at a movie trailer you are getting that kind of music."
The show: Pierre has taken a leap of faith (so apropos in a symphony season titled Lifting the Human Spirit) to develop a new show concept, in this Epic Music Style, for Canadian audiences. And it is to be launched in Nanaimo. "I am very proud to offer this to Nanaimo – something completely new, completely current. For the first time, we will fuse the orchestra and choirs on stage with electronic tracks that I will control from the podium on my laptop and a Maschine studio box. Not only am I composing original charts for the musicians and choirs but creating computer-generated music that will fill the theatre. Onscreen will be original movies incorporating traditional film, computer-generated motion graphics and stock footage."
THE TEAM: Such a show takes teamwork. In collaboration with soprano/narrator/ scriptwriter Nadya Blanchette, Montreal film director Nathalie Cusson, and, with popular composer and Nanaimo-native Jason Nett, Pierre has formed the Plan Omega Collective.
Nadya Blanchette: Nadya, with her warm creamy voice, sings everything from great arias to Broadway favourites, and has performed frequently on the Port Theatre. "Nadya becomes an artist beyond the soprano under the Plan Omega Collective. In addition to being soloist and narrator, she is writing the script and will be on the podium, assisting with the computer and the Maschine studio box."
Natalie Cusson: An art director (of still photography), and now film director, Nathalie Cusson, resides in Montreal. "I saw a film by Nathalie at a screening for up-and-coming film directors, and approached her about the project, and she accepted the offer to join the team."
Jason Nett: A composer (and past composer-in-residence for the VIS), Jason is also a performer, conductor, producer/engineer, studio rat, and educator. "Jason wrote me last summer and said he was moving back to Vancouver from Toronto. It’s amazing how when you have a project like this, things happen. Jason has a background in TV, and as a sound mixer and engineer. This was perfect."
Like inventors: The Plan Omega Collective has developed a series of movie-type trailers depicting; an Overture (Veni Creator Spiritus), the Wheel (Nett), Compass, Printing Press, Flying Machine (Arnesen, Tait, orchestrated by Simard), Button and Scissors, Internal Combustion Engine (Nett), Light Bulb, Automobile, Penicillin, Atomic Bomb (and The Prayer by Ralph Vaughan Williams), Computer, and soaring Space Shuttle.
The process: "Originally, we had a list of 30 great inventions in mankind’s history then brought it down to 20, and now 14, for vignettes in the chronological order of events that changed human life. The show begins with the Gregorian hymn invoking the Creative Spirit, most famously used in Mahler’s 8th Symphony. The mood is restless and anxious. We pull all sonic stops near the end, including everyone on stage, enhanced with Taiko drums and a church organ. It’s a very different Veni Creator Spiritus.
"The Printing Press was a difficult number for me. I was stuck. So, I let the spirit work. I searched around and dug as a researcher would do. I found some video footage with the words we needed. I gave them to Nadya to sing and the piece became super-happy with a medieval flavour. It’s one of the numbers I can’t wait to perform. I really feel I caught Johannes Gutenberg’s spirit - through song, and a quote which everyone will recognize.
"The Epic Style can be positive and negative. We have worked at making it all positive. But, I wanted one negative item that changed our lives in a bad way – The Atomic Bomb. I’m giving voice to the inventor, J. Robert Oppenheimer, and his anger at what has been done with his atomic invention. He devoted the rest of his life to being a peacemaker. The music is therefore not a mechanical description of an explosion but rather about someone else’s spirit and place of mind. We forget about the ugliness of war. We reconcile with each other as human beings. And so, The Prayer by Ralph Vaughan Williams to give that peaceful moment."
Calling all ages: What is our future? What inventions are to come? "This show is a statement about hope, for we are too bright a species to stop here. We are constantly bettering ourselves through new inventions. I am excited to celebrate this extraordinary event with everyone at the Port Theatre. And by staying through to the last note of the Space Shuttle they will have experienced something - like they have never experienced before."
Creating new music-lovers
An interview article by Rosemary Phillips, 2007
Pierre Simard, at the time of this interview, was a candidate for the position of artistic director for the Vancouver Island Symphony. The program for the concert he was to conduct was very dramatic and included a performance by Canadian pianist Ian Parker playing "Rhapsody in Blue". It was a sensational evening, and Pierre was successful in his bid for the position. He is loved by audiences for his enthusiasm and passion. He is certainly very dynamic and brings wonderful music and energetic programs that inspire audiences of all ages - creating new music-lovers!
It was a quiet afternoon in the Simard household. When the phone rang, two-month-old Antonin woke from his nap. Pierre Simard, an emotionally charged and engaging young conductor and composer picked up the baby as he answered, and young Antonin lay gurgling and smiling on his knee. “As long as the baby doesn't cry I'm all yours,” said the maestro softly.
While Pierre's wife, soprano Nadya Blanchette, took a nap, young Antonin was in his care. “Antonin is our third child. We already have two daughters so it is a very lively household. The children are not yet into music, and we don't want to push them,” he said. But when Pierre is working on a new program for young audiences, “I ask myself if my 5-year-old would laugh here, or what emotion would inhabit her at this point.”
When he returned to Montreal after completing his Masters Degree in Conducting at the Peabody Institute he was put in charge of creating award-winning shows for youth. “In a very humble and realistic way we are bringing to these audiences the love for music and art; opening their minds. There is more to entertainment than TV and sports. There's a whole heritage out there, and we as artists have the responsibility to introduce youth to it.”
Fortunately for Pierre, he has always had music around him. “My parents were club musicians, and my dad played drums. There was no classical music in the house so I became interested in it through the school symphony orchestra."
But while Pierre played oboe he was never satisfied with one instrument. “I wanted to learn about all of them. I got to conduct on occasion and became enamoured with the orchestral sound. From then on I became more and more passionate about music. I have never lost that passion.”
He has since conducted in France, Belgium, Ukraine, Mariutius and Reunion islands, USA and throughout Canada for highly diversified ensembles in various settings, including large-scale choral and symphonic works, voice and chamber orchestras, and award-winning productions designed for youth. His upcoming conducting appearances will be with orchestras in Milwaukee, Toronto, Ottawa (NAC), Tucson and Hamilton.
Said one reviewer, “Simard knew the music from inside out. In the first half of the program he conducted from memory, giving him the freedom to pay full attention to the myriad details of orchestration and interpretation.”
“I believe in being prepared at all times,” said Pierre. “If you come prepared then you are better able to respond on the spot when a decision needs to be made or when a musician asks a question.”
Pierre also believes in community involvement, inside and outside the concert hall. “I am strongly committed to forging strong links with the listeners, to creating new music-lovers and reinventing the concert experience.”
In recent years, as resident conductor with the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra (CPO), his role, along with being responsible for the mainstage classical series, pops and special concerts and outreach, has also returned him to youth programs. “I started inventing education shows using the orchestra as the instrument and involving other forms of art, going from Beethoven to Mozart and ending up with Jimi Hendrix. I always bring it back to the importance of music.”
Links to more information
For more information, a formal biography about Pierre Simard and his programs visit the Vancouver Island Symphony web site.
For information on recordings, compositions, the Plan Omega Collective and his work with other orchestras visit Pierre Simard's website.
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