Tracking down Trudel: OSO’s main man conducts The Wall and the Resurrection

OSO's Alain Trudel starts second season at OSO.

You wouldn’t think three minutes of music would be that hard to write.

Not so. How much work is it Alain Trudel?

“So much,” says the artistic advisor and principal guest conductor of the Ottawa Symphony Orchestra when talking about his piece Birth which will open the OSO’s last concert of the season on April 3 in Southam Hall. “It is an art to miniaturize your message and not lose the core of it.”

The work is part of a massive commission by the Toronto Symphony Orchestra for the 150th of Confederation. The TSO asked 40 composers to write opening numbers for a concert series of which they are part, Trudel says.

“It’s difficult to say everything you want to say in three minutes.” In fact the TSO had called for a two minute piece but he snuck in another minute.

“It’s a micro-microcosm of what I want to say next to one of the largest pieces ever written, Mahler’s Resurrection Symphony which is an hour and 20 minutes long.

“When a country is 150 years old … you can make a start. I feel it is the beginning. So we celebrate looking forward and we celebrate welcoming the future. This piece dedicated to all Canadians and all people who want to help make Canada. … The point is Canada is what we make of it.

The piece begins with a trumpet flourish, he says, and then some drumming begins in the sale of Indigenous peoples. That drumming evolves into “a groove” that forms the backbone of the piece.

“Then the horns enter,” says Trudel, who is an internationally respected trombonist. “They play O Canada but it’s modulated. You wouldn’t recognize it but since I have told you, you will.

The piece continues on with an interlude that symbolizes nature before resolving with another round of a variation on O Canada.

“It would have been great to have eight minutes but I had to pack it into three. I rewrote it more than a few times.”

The energetic sentiment packed into Birth is typical of Trudel, whose OSO role isn’t enough for him. He’s teaching at the University of Ottawa, running l’Orchestre Symphonique de Laval, as well as posts with the NAC and the Victoria Symphony Orchestra.

Oh yeah … he’s just finished conducting the orchestra for Opéra de Montréal ‘s world premiere production of Another Brick in the Wall, based on the Pink Floyd album The Wall. Even Rolling Stone magazine has been to review that one. It was pretty much a rave.

When ARTSFILE spoke to Trudel recently he was in his dressing room at Place des Arts in Montreal getting ready to conduct The Wall. “It’s our ninth show we have 10 shows.”

The experience of The Wall was a fascinating one for Trudel. Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters had been approached many times to allow his work to be turned into an opera, but Waters had turned down all comers until the composer Julien Bilodeau brought his vision to Britain.

What clicked for Waters, Trudel says, was that Bilodeau was not just orchestrating his original score. He was making the music his own.

So, Trudel says, people who came to hear the opera expecting to hear the Pink Floyd album would have been surprised.

The opera, which sold out a 3,000 seat hall for all 10 shows, has a life beyond Montreal. The Cincinnati Opera will be staging the U.S.premiere and Trudel will conduct that show.

A few other places are talking about picking up the piece which, Trudel describes as a very difficult score. He says it sounds a lot like works by the American minimalist composer John Adams with a little hint of Wagner.

This energizer bunny says he likes being busy “conducting the music I love from Mahler to Tchaikovsky to this new opera. I really love conducting opera.”

And he is looking forward to next season with the OSO which will open with a new work by the Canadian composer Howard Shore, who is best known perhaps for his music for The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit film trilogies.

“Even the musicians don’t know this yet,” he said, revealing a scoop. The rest of next season will be announced on Monday. He also says the OSO will move from Southam Hall to perform in other venues across the city in what will be a bigger season.

Trudel has committed to the OSO for two years. Beyond that, he says, remains to be determined. But there is no doubt he remains committed for the long term to the idea of the OSO’s role in the community and the collaborative nature of its work.

It has become a place where music students can gain the kind of experience playing repertoire that can only come from a large orchestra. The OSO takes on board about 30 University of Ottawa music students each season.

This is also typical of Trudel. He has always been very involved with youth and music. He was for years with the National Youth Orchestra.

“You need to have a good local orchestra especially in the nation’s capital. One of our jobs is to keep the music going at a local level. And the professionals who play with the OSO mentor students.”

Trudel wants to preserve the development system that has been built up in Ottawa and which begins with such things as OrKidstra, leading to the Ottawa Youth Orchestra, which connects to the University of Ottawa, to the OSO and then maybe to NACO or elsewhere in the world.

The 8 p.m. concert on Monday will feature another appearance in Southam Hall by Krisztina Szabó, mezzo-soprano, with Nathalie Paulin, soprano, and the Calixa Lavallée Ensemble and Choral Ensemble from the University of Ottawa, conducted by Laurence Ewashko. For tickets, go here.

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Peter Robb began his connection with the arts community in Ottawa in the mid-1980s when he was the administrator and public relations director of the Great Canadian Theatre Company. After a long career in journalism with the Ottawa Citizen where he served in a number of different posts he returned to the arts when he became the Citizen's arts editor.