60 Years later...
Because I am sensitive to the inexorable passage of Time, to its abysmal depth as well at the frailty that stems from it, I am always receptive in the presence of an institution created long ago. In Sao Joao del Rei, Brazil, there still exists an amateur orchestra founded during the Baroque era; the mastery of the young singers I’ve heard in Dresden was first developed during Bach’s lifetime.
In the New World, where the relation between Time and cultural status is different than in the old world, the establishment, continuation, and expansion of strong and perennial institutions are made possible only when their founders and developers are blessed with an acute sense of their responsibilities as builders in relation to culture’s history. The Orford Arts Centre, founded officially 60 years ago in 1951, perfectly illustrates to my way of thinking the quality of the men and women – Gilles Lefebvre, Anaïs Allard-Rousseau, Laurette Desruisseaux-Boisvert, and reverend Joseph Hector Lemieux – who back in those dark ages had a vision for the future: the obligation of opening, in the superb countryside of Mont Orford, a summer camp for the Jeunesses musicales du Canada, where, organized around two abandoned farm buildings, the first ten students slept in tents. The precarious conditions of those early days were met with enthusiasm, and in the early sixties, the camp became a true Music Academy welcoming more and more students every year. As soon as the late fifties, the organization went international with its hiring practices for music teachers, inviting pillars of the Jeunesses musicales de France such as pianist Vlado Perlemuter, harpist Marie-Claire Jamet and flautist Christian Lardé.
The outside observer cannot but be stunned and filled with admiration in the face of the initiatives and regular accomplishments of the first stakeholders. In 1960, a concert hall seating 500 was inaugurated, the first of its kind in Canada, dedicated mostly to the performance of chamber music, and built according to Paul-Marie Côté’s architectural plans without which the Centre would not be what it is today: a festival location. Over the years, the music camp would become the Orford Arts Centre of the Jeunesses musicales du Canada. In 1968, a central pavilion housed a cafeteria, the reception area, a dining room, and a meeting room. Later on, two 60-room residences were added to increase the Centre’s accommodation capacity. In 1972, the Man and Music Pavilion from Expo 67 was moved to the Arts Centre to house administrative offices, classrooms, meeting and exhibition halls. During 1970, some 40 chalets-studios were built in the dreamy environment of the forest. In 1989, the Arts Centre inaugurated a multi-functional pavilion complete with documentation centre, 32 individual rehearsal studios, and an orchestral rehearsal studio. More recently, in 2004, the construction of the Laurette-Desruisseaux-Boisvert Pavilion added 15 much-needed rooms and office space.
The development of artistic activities was as important as the building of infrastructures for the Centre’s growth. From two weeks at the beginning, the music camp expanded into a two month Summer Academy welcoming the likes of Karl Engel, Lorand Fenyves, and Paul Tortelier as guest teachers. The plastic arts and theatre were also present; as early as 1951, the Centre welcomed an historic exhibition of les automatistes (Barbeau, Riopelle, Gauvreau and Borduas). Louis Perrier (fine crafts), Yves Trudeau (sculpture), Jacques Zouvi (theatre), and Claude St-Denis (pantomime) have taught at the Centre. In 1983, the Centre hosted a symposium dedicated to mosaic, the first-ever in North America directed by grand master Paolo Racagni himself. To this day, each summer the public may admire painting exhibitions and a garden of sculptures containing some 20 works. The Jeunesses musicales World Orchestra was born at the Orford Arts Centre in 1970, and returned there in 1976 and 1988. In 2010, Jean-François Rivest, the present Artistic Director of the Arts Centre, founded the Orford Academy Orchestra, giving young musicians from over 20 countries the opportunity to mingle and learn from one another, musically, as well as culturally and humanly. In fact, an arts centre such as Orford is in truth a laboratory, a smaller model of what the planet should be like: the focal point for exchanges, tolerance and cooperation from which not only our society, but humanity as a whole may benefit.
An ideal training location for young musicians confronted by the most exacting international standards, the Orford Arts Centre also became an essential pole of cultural and musical activity in Québec and Canada with the creation of the Orford Festival in 1960. In 1951, did the founders have any idea that one day not so far down the line, the Orford region would welcome artists of the stature of Wilfrid Pelletier, Franz-Paul Decker, Charles Dutoit, Yannick Nézet-Séguin and Kent Nagano; Maureen Forrester and Jessye Norman; Anton Kuerti, Dave Brubeck and Oliver Jones; Alexandre Lagoya and Ida Haendel…? Did they dream that the Orford Quartet would become the ambassador of the Centre around the world during 25 years? And that the Théâtre du Nouveau Monde would present in Orford productions staged by leading Québécois actors and directors such as Guy Beaulne, Jean-Louis Roux, Paul Buissonneau, Jean Gascon, and Lorraine Pintal? Nowadays, the Orford Festival presents each year no less than 60 concerts, conferences, exhibitions and workshops, from mid-June through mid-August. Thanks to the Orford Arts Centre, this magnificent region has become a choice destination for festival-goers and all those looking to celebrate the union of nature and culture during their summer holidays.
In the preceding brief overview, I’ve necessarily omitted a great many essential names, starting with those of all the persons that have dedicated their energies to the artistic direction of the Centre from its inception to this day. And what about all those members of successive board of directors, guest music teachers, musicians, accompanists, participants to visual and theatre arts, as well as all the important collaborators over the years that the public mostly never gets to meet? This souvenir-album offers the opportunity to all the Centre’s visitors, past and present, to renew with its history through pictures and words. The youngest among them, born long after those first heady and glorious creative hours, will be reminded that the Orford Arts Centre’s quality from which they benefit today is the result of the perseverance of many individuals, often anonymous, often long gone. This album was conceived as an homage to all those without whom the Orford Arts Centre, its music Academy, and the Orford Festival would not have become what they are today: a major cultural institution of Québec, of Canada, and most certainly, of North America.
Translation © 2011 Jean Prévost (les beaux écrits)