Montreal Symphony Orchestra/Orchestre symphonique de Montréal | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Montreal Symphony Orchestra/Orchestre symphonique de Montréal

Montreal Symphony Orchestra (MSO)/Orchestre symphonique de Montréal (OSM). The name of four successive Montreal symphonic ensembles. The first (1894-6) was directed by Guillaume Couture, the second (1898-1919) by J.-J. Goulet, and the third (1927-9) by J.-J. Gagnier.

Montreal Symphony Orchestra/Orchestre symphonique de Montréal

Montreal Symphony Orchestra (MSO)/Orchestre symphonique de Montréal (OSM). The name of four successive Montreal symphonic ensembles. The first (1894-6) was directed by Guillaume Couture, the second (1898-1919) by J.-J. Goulet, and the third (1927-9) by J.-J. Gagnier. The fourth - by 1980 one of the principal large orchestras in Canada, and unrivalled for output and awards - was founded in 1934 as Société des Concerts symphoniques de Montréal (SCSM or CSM) and in 1954 adopted the bilingual name Orchestre symphonique de Montréal (OSM) /Montreal Symphony Orchestra (MSO), altering it to the French-only designation in 1979.

Origins of the MSO (1845-96)

As early as 1845 a notice in Le Spectateur canadien invited Montreal instrumentalists to join a philharmonic society. However, it was not until 1863 that the Société philharmonique canadienne was born, bringing together about 30 musicians under the direction of J.-B. Labelle. At its first 'grand concert,' 26 March in Nordheimer Hall, the 'full orchestra' played the overture to Auber's La Muette de Portici and accompanied Rossini's Stabat Mater. It is not known whether the concert was followed by others. The six classical chamber concerts conducted by Frantz Jehin-Prume at the Mechanics' Hall early in 1871 marked another stage. In addition to string quartets the programs included one or more movements of Beethoven's Pastoral Symphony and overtures by Mozart, Weber and Rossini, and the orchestra accompanied the violinist-conductor in concertos by Beethoven and Mendelssohn.

For an orchestra to accompany the inaugural concert of the Montreal Philharmonic Society (a performance 28 May 1877 of Messiah), 'Dr. MacLagan was obliged not only to combine all the available talent of Montreal and Quebec, but even to go as far as Boston for a player of the timpani, which instrument, as the programme naively remarks, was unknown in Montreal' (Musical Red Book). When Guillaume Couture became conductor of the society in 1880, he founded the Société des symphonistes in an attempt to provide the choir with a regular accompanying orchestra, but the attempt failed because of the dearth of competent instrumentalists.

It was probably J.-Arthur Boucher who first called an orchestra 'Symphonie de Montréal' (1887), but nothing more is known of his endeavour.

A decisive year in the progress towards a regular Montreal orchestra was 1891, when Ernest Lavigne brought over from Europe (especially from Belgium) some 30 qualified young instrumentalists to join the ranks of the orchestra at Sohmer Park. The orchestra only played a few seasons, and Lavigne's plans for a conservatory - which had attracted the players - came to naught. However, many of the musicians remained in Montreal, and it was they who formed the nucleus of the first MSO, set up as a co-operative by its concertmaster, J.-J. Goulet. Guillaume Couture fulfilled the duties of conductor for two seasons (1894-6) at Windsor Hall. The 40 or so instrumentalists gave 10 concerts 1894-5 and eight in 1895-6. At the first of these, Beethoven's Symphony No. 1 'was given a masterly rendition' according to the anonymous critic of La Patrie (8 November), who added, 'At last we have in Montreal a full symphony orchestra; thanks to that we are going to have our Concerts Colonne and our Orchestre Lamoureux just like Paris.' Couture performed the Rienzi and Tannhäuser overtures and symphonies by Schubert (No. 8), Mendelssohn (No. 4), and Schumann (No. 1). Among the soloists were Joseph Saucier, baritone; Émery Lavigne, pianist; Ellsworth Duquette, bass; and the orchestra principals Goulet, J.-B. Dubois (cello), and B. Gerome (bassoon). The two seasons concluded without a deficit, but the orchestra ceased to exist as a result of internal conflicts. During the whole 1896-7 season and the first half of the 1897-8 season, Montreal was without a symphony orchestra.

The Second MSO (1898-1919)

At the beginning of 1898, J.-J. Goulet again assembled about 30 instrumentalists under the name MSO, and this time he became the conductor, pledging to pay any deficit from his own pocket. Joseph Saucier was the soloist in the first concert, 14 January at Queen's Hall. The William Tell overture and Haydn's Military Symphony were performed. In 1898-9 this well-organized orchestra, with the cellist Victor Pelletier as secretary and Frank A. Veitch as administrator, gave 12 concerts.

After a fire at Queen's Hall in 1899, l'Orchestre Goulet, or the Goulet Orchestra as it also was known, moved to Windsor Hall. In 1903 it comprised 45 instrumentalists and moved into a larger hall, the Académie de musique, subsequently giving six to eight concerts a season. At the end of 1905-6 the treasurer proudly reported a surplus of $70. Soloists from abroad, including the violinists Henri Marteau, Mary Hall, and Fritz Kreisler, were engaged. Also among the soloists were the Canadian bass Edmund Burke, and the famous pianist Emil von Sauer, who played Beethoven's Emperor Concerto in 1908. In 1900 Goulet presented the pianist Émiliano Renaud, who performed his own Concertstück. In 1903 the Goulet MSO went to Halifax, Moncton, and Saint John, NB, to participate in the Cycle of Musical Festivals of the Dominion of Canada.

For several seasons the concertmaster was Émile Taranto who also, in 1904, appeared as soloist with the orchestra. The repertoire chosen by Goulet at times was ambitious. It included Symphonies No. 2, 3, and 4 by Beethoven, No. 7 and 8 by Schubert, No. 3 and 4 by Mendelssohn, and No. 40 by Mozart. These works, however, were not always played in their entirety.

After the demolition of the Académie de musique in 1910, Goulet took his orchestra to His Majesty's Theatre. During the war the concerts occurred less frequently, and in 1919 at the Princess Theatre the Goulet MSO gave its last concert.

Other Symphonic Endeavours in Montreal 1910-14
Other symphonic seasons took place in Montreal beginning in 1910; these were usually short, often adjuncts to operatic seasons. For instance, the orchestra of the Montreal Opera Company presented eight concerts at His Majesty's under the direction of Agide Jacchia during the 1910-11 season and five under Louis Hasselmans during the 1911-12 season. In 1913-14 the National Opera Company of Canada presented eight concerts at His Majesty's under the direction of Jacchia, Alexander Savine, and Oscar Spirescu. Jacques Thibaud, Wilhelm Backhaus, Harold Bauer, and Kathleen Parlow were among the soloists. In 1914 Jerry Shea put together an orchestra of 50 that presented just one season at the Imperial Theatre (Montreal). Florence Easton was among the soloists, along with the Canadians Albert Chamberland, Jean Dansereau, and Gustave Labelle. A Symphonie royale of Henri Delcellier gave some concerts at the same location.

The Third MSO (1927-9)

The foundation of this third MSO was announced in December 1927, with J.-J. Gagnier as the orchestra's artistic director and Frank S. Meighen as its president. The first concert took place 22 Jan 1928 at the Princess Theatre. On that occasion Haydn's Oxford Symphony was played, along with Roussel's Le Festin de l'araignée and Elgar's Caractacus. Later Gagnier performed major works of Schubert, Beethoven, Wagner, Sibelius, Ravel, and Honegger. The Depression severely affected the orchestra, however, and it was obliged to cease its activities. Gagnier also conducted a Petite Symphonie de Montréal, still active in 1930-1, taking part in a performance of Constant Lambert's Rio Grande.

Around 1930, Eugène Chartier formed the Montreal Philharmonic Orchestra (originally the orchestra of the Conservatoire national de musique) and gave concerts with it at the Mount Royal Hotel. Much later (ca 1943-6) a professional ensemble by the same name presented a few seasons at the St-Denis Theatre featuring famous guest conductors, including Pierre Monteux, Igor Stravinsky, Jascha Horenstein, Lorin Maazel, and Wilfrid Pelletier.

The Present MSO/OSM (Société des concerts symphoniques de Montréal)

Beginnings (1934-51)
The Société des concerts symphoniques de Montréal (SCSM) was founded in the autumn of 1934. At the time another orchestra, the Montreal Orchestra (a separate orchestra that presented weekly Sunday concerts under the direction of Douglas Clarke), had been in existence for four years. The idea of founding the SCSM as a second orchestra in the middle of the Depression seems to have developed for two reasons. The first in all likelihood was the desire of Canadian francophones to have an orchestra of their own, since the Montreal Orchestra was much more identified with the anglophone milieu. The second was a result of the repeated refusal of the management of the Montreal Orchestra to accord a proportional place to Quebec soloists, conductors, and composers, especially the winners of the Prix d'Europe and other holders of grants from the Quebec government. To overcome this resistance, the Hon Louis-Athanase David, the provincial secretary at that time and the person responsible for the arts and humanities, had offered a subsidy, which was refused. Others pointed to the supposedly inordinately large place afforded to British composers, but a survey of the orchestra's programs proves this allegation to have been unjustified.

The idea of a second orchestra gained ground, nurtured by a campaign in the press, particularly by the critic Henri Letondal. The latter and a group of citizens were the instigators of the project, for which David obtained a grant of $3000 from the Quebec government. A committee was formed and the first concert set for 14 Jan 1935 at the Plateau Hall. The first printed program contains the names of 37 founder-members and those of the executive committee, comprising David, honorary president; Ernest Tétreau, president; and Mme (Louis) Athanase David, Annette Doré, J. Ubald Boyer, Victor Doré, Jean C. Lallemand, and Henri Letondal. On page 2 of the program it was stated that 'the creation of a symphony orchestra in the east end of Montreal fulfils a long standing request by the French population of our city' and that 'two-thirds of its players are French-Canadian.' (In fact, the personnel of the two orchestras was appreciably the same.)

Wilfrid Pelletier, who was actively involved with the Metropolitan Opera in New York, was enthusiastic in his support. The first concert was conducted, however, by Rosario Bourdon, with the pianist Léo-Pol Morin as soloist, in Mendelssohn's Capriccio brillant. Bourdon led the orchestra in two overtures (Beethoven's Leonora No. 3 and Goldmark's Sakuntala), Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 6, and his own arrangement of Calixa Lavallée 's piano piece Le Papillon. Edmond Trudel, Eugène Chartier, and J.-J. Gagnier followed on the podium, with Pelletier finally making his debut 11 Apr 1935. Shortly afterwards Pelletier became the first artistic director of the orchestra, and during his tenure, 1935-41, several new directions were taken: symphonic matinees for young people in 1935, the annual Prix Jean-Lallemand for composition 1936-8, an annual festival 1936-8 in the suburb of St-Laurent, and summer concerts 1938-64 on the promenade at the Chalet on Mount Royal.


The SCSM received its official charter in 1939. Meanwhile, conductors and soloists began coming from abroad: Vladimir Golschmann, Jean Morel, Paul Stassevitch, Fritz Stiedry, Alexandre Brailowsky, Mack Harrell, Zino Francescatti, Artur Rubinstein, Jesús-María Sanromá, Rudolf Serkin, and others. Attempts to merge the the SCSM and the Montreal Orchestra proved unsuccessful, but some degree of collaboration was established and maintained until the Montreal Orchestra was disbanded in 1941. After an internal dispute, the Davids left the SCSM/MSO.

Kept increasingly in New York by his work at the Metropolitan Opera, Pelletier turned over the artistic directorship to the Belgian conductor Désiré Defauw (b Ghent 5 Sep 1885, d Gary, Ind, 25 Jul 1960), who filled the position 1941-53. Defauw's long experience in his native Belgium and elsewhere in Europe and his international reputation were beneficial, though his presence in Montreal became less and less frequent, especially after his appointment to the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in 1943. Defauw presented special events such as a festival of Beethoven symphonies (1941) and spring gala performances featuring operas, eg, Boris Godunov and The Damnation of Faust, with Les Disciples de Massenet. Within three years of their composition works such as Strauss's Metamorphosen and Shostakovitch's Symphony No. 9 were given under his direction. In the 1944-5 season the Tuesday programs were repeated on Wednesday. During this period, the most distinguished conductors began appearing with the orchestra, among them Sir Thomas Beecham, Leonard Bernstein, Fritz Busch, Georges Enesco, Erich Leinsdorf, Pierre Monteux, Charles Munch, Paul Paray, Victor de Sabata, Georg Solti, Leopold Stokowski, Igor Stravinsky, George Szell, and Bruno Walter. Among soloists of international repute were Claudio Arrau, Eileen Farrell, Emanuel Feuermann, Kirsten Flagstad, Jascha Heifetz, George London, Yehudi Menuhin, and Gregor Piatigorsky.

Canadian conductors and soloists, such as Jean-Marie Beaudet, Noël Brunet, Jean Dansereau, Lionel Daunais, Raoul Jobin, Arthur LeBlanc, Roland Leduc, Sir Ernest MacMillan, Anna Malenfant, Gilberte Martin, and Ettore Mazzoleni also were among those invited to perform.

Ascendance (1951-77)

While disembarking from the airplane that had brought him to inaugurate the 1951-2 season, Otto Klemperer (b Breslau 14 May 1885, d Zurich 6 Jul 1973) suffered a severe accident and was hospitalized for several months in Montreal. While convalescing there he resumed his activities little by little (conducting from a chair), and for two seasons he dispensed advice to the orchestra in an unofficial capacity. Gradually he returned to his international schedule, and the ensemble once again called on the services of a number of guests. Charles Munch, Pierre Monteux, Thomas Schippers, and Josef Krips were frequent visitors at the time.

Coming first as a guest, Igor Markevitch (b Kiev 27 Jul 1912, d Antibes 7 Mar 1983) served 1957-8 as artistic consultant and 1958-61 as regular conductor. In more than one respect his term marked a turning point in the MSO's history. In 1957 he took that decisive step in the life of any orchestra and performed Sacre du printemps, and he also was one of the architects of the restructuring of the MSO into a permanent body with members engaged by contract with the salary clauses and conditions of employment of the American Federation of Musicians. Supplementary series were organized at the Plateau Hall, and pop concert series (which flourished annually 1958-76) were begun at the Forum sponsored by the Montreal Star. With the assistance of the Young People's Committee, Markevitch also instituted the tradition of an annual commission from a Canadian composer.

When Markevitch was ill he was replaced at short notice in October 1960 by a young Indian conductor of 24, Zubin Mehta (b Bombay 29 Apr 1936). Mehta achieved so outstanding a success that he was invited to succeed Markevitch and did, in fact, serve 1961-7 as the orchestra's artistic director. The MSO could not hope to retain Mehta's exclusive services for long, and he became associate conductor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra in 1963. The MSO was enriched by Mehta's personal dynamism and prodigious talent. The orchestra's European tour under his direction in 1962 - which included concerts in Moscow, Leningrad, Paris, and Vienna - was the first undertaken by a Canadian symphony orchestra.

On 21 Sep 1963, Mehta shared with Pelletier the honour of conducting the inaugural concert at the Place des Arts, the orchestra having moved after being housed for 28 years in the cramped quarters of the Plateau Hall auditorium, which seated an audience of only 1300. Consisting now of 95 instrumentalists and performing in a 3000-seat auditorium, the MSO had gradually attained the status of a major orchestra. During Mehta's directorship the MSO also undertook operatic productions, Mehta himself conducting Tosca and Carmen (1964), La Traviata and Aida (1965), Tosca (1966), and Otello (1967). With other conductors the MSO presented Rigoletto (Hans Swarowsky, 1966), Faust (Pelletier, 1967), and Puccini's Manon Lescaut (Franz-Paul Decker, 1968). The MSO was the regular orchestra 1971-5 for the Opera du Québec, and Mehta returned to conduct memorable productions of Salomé in 1972 and Tristan und Isolde in 1975. In 1966 Mehta and the MSO embarked on a second European tour, limited this time to French-speaking countries (France, Belgium, Switzerland). The same year, he inaugurated an exchange program with the Toronto Symphony.

After Mehta's departure the MSO welcomed Franz-Paul Decker, who was to serve 1967-75 as the orchestra's artistic director. It was a difficult transition, but Decker soon made his presence felt through well-ordered and meticulously prepared performances. He further developed the orchestra's sound palette and expressiveness and introduced new works while continuing the Austro-German tradition of his predecessors, Klemperer and Mehta. Under his direction the orchestra gave concerts in Japan in 1970.

The Spaniard Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos (b Burgos, Spain, 15 Sep 1933) succeeded Decker at the beginning of the 1975-6 season but did not complete his three-year contract. Like Defauw and Mehta before him, he had the responsibility of a second orchestra, the National Orchestra of Spain. His Montreal concerts rarely roused much enthusiasm, but he did make better known a number of works by Spanish composers, including Manuel de Falla (La Vida breve, El Retablo de Maese Pedro), Granados, and Albeniz. In 1976 the MSO made its US debut in Carnegie Hall under his direction, and then embarked on a third European tour (of France, Switzerland, Great Britain, Czechoslovakia). Frühbeck de Burgos also gave remarkable performances of Haydn's The Creation and Bach's St Matthew Passion.

Frühbeck's hasty departure a few days before a concert (November 1976) and his resignation a few weeks later appear to have been a result of misunderstanding and of inaccurate press interpretation of comments he had made with regard to certain members of the orchestra. The remainder of the 1976-7 season was assigned to guest conductors, including the Swiss Charles Dutoit (b Lausanne 7 Oct 1936).

Apogee and Descent - The Dutoit Years (1977-2002)

Charles Dutoit was engaged to assume the artistic directorship of the Montreal Symphony Orchestra at the beginning of the 1978-9 season. As soon as he took charge, Dutoit announced his goal: to make the MSO one of the world's greatest orchestras. From then on, working assiduously to refine the sound and technical quality of the ensemble, Dutoit soon elevated the MSO to the summit of international recognition, aided by recordings and tours in Canada and abroad. As early as 1980, the orchestra signed an exclusive contract with the Decca-London company. The first record, Daphnis et Chloé, issued in March 1981, won the prestigious Prix mondial du disque de Montreux. The MSO went on to create over 100 recordings, including reissues, with Decca as well as Philips, EMI, and CBC Records. It was the first Canadian orchestra to see one of its recordings, Ravel's Bolero (1984), achieve platinum sales (over 100,000 units). Under Dutoit, the orchestra won over 40 awards, including Grammys for Berlioz's Les Troyens (1996) and for Prokofiev's Piano Concertos Nos. 1 and 2 and Bartòk's Piano Concerto No. 3 (1999); 12 Junos, and six Félix awards. The orchestra also won three Prix Opus for best concert of the year. Following Dutoit's arrival, the orchestra devoted itself mostly to French, Spanish and Russian repertoire.

The MSO undertook a series of tours in 1981, starting with its first North American tour, then going to Japan, Hong Kong, South Korea and throughout Europe. (It has since been to Japan and Europe on several occasions, Korea and Hong Kong again during an Asian tour in 1997, and South America in 1998.) In 1982, the MSO performed in Carnegie Hall for the second time in its history, to a sold-out house. It continued performing there every year with equal success, save for 2003, when they were not invited, ostensibly because the orchestra had no musical director. During the summer of 1987, the orchestra was invited to give five consecutive concerts at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles, becoming the first Canadian orchestra to play there as well as at the Tanglewood and Ravinia festivals.

The orchestra's total operating budget for the 1989-90 season was close to $15 million. In the 1990-1 season, the MSO engaged its musicians on an annual basis of 46 weeks and offered nine concert series including Signature Performances, the Grands concerts, the Concerts gala, the Air Canada Words and Music Concerts, Dimanches Standard Life (Musical Sundays), and Matins symphoniques Métro.

While achieving international recognition, Dutoit and the MSO's administration also endeavoured to increase the orchestra's audience at home. Thus, in addition to its regular series at the Place des Arts, the MSO set up summer seasons with festivals at the Notre-Dame Basilica, popular concerts at the Maurice Richard Arena and free concerts in city parks. Supported by Dutoit's many and various interviews in the media, the MSO attracted crowds, especially during the events marking its 50th anniversary 1983-4, which featured Mahler's monumental Symphony of a Thousand. More than 30,000 persons attended the two evening presentations at the Forum and applauded some 850 performers. The orchestra's success was soon accompanied by various honours: in 1983 the City of Montreal launched a billboard campaign featuring the portrait of Dutoit with the message, 'La Fierté a une ville'; the following year the Canadian Music Council named it 'ensemble of the year,' while a postage stamp commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of the orchestra was issued by Canada Post.

Towards the end of the 1990s, the classical recording industry started suffering. Many recording opportunities no longer existed for the MSO, the London/Decca recordings stopping altogether. This was only the beginning of difficult times. The orchestra's budget - over 40 per cent of which is from federal, provincial and municipal governments while the rest derives from sales, fundraisers, and private sponsorships - had risen only 10 per cent 1990-2004, well behind inflation. The Canada Council's portion alone, adjusted for inflation, had diminished by $400,000; meanwhile the orchestra's administration staff tripled, from around 15 in 1990 to 45 in 2005. Still, at $17.7 million, the MSO's budget is among the lowest for an orchestra of its stature in North America. As of 1996 the MSO was running a $4.3 million deficit, (which decreased somewhat to $3.4 million in 2005). The orchestra underwent a labour dispute and musician's strike in 1998 resulting from these difficult conditions. It was ended after three weeks with the participation of Dutoit, who had a good relationship with the Québec premier, Lucien Bouchard.

The high tensions did not dissipate, however. When Dutoit tried to have two orchestra members dismissed in 2002, several musicians petitioned the Quebec musicians' guild to intervene. Emile Subirana, then head of the guild, wrote an open letter describing Dutoit as authoritarian and the musicians as victims. This gave rise to long-unvoiced frustrations on both sides and Dutoit resigned shortly afterwards. It fell to principal guest conductor Jacques Lacombe to keep the orchestra afloat, which he did, receiving solid reviews from the critics.

Old Problems and New Directions (2002 - )

By 2003-4, the outrage against the orchestra over Dutoit's resignation, which had kept several soloists away the previous year, subsided. Cellist Yo-Yo Ma returned for engagements at the MSO and, once Kent Nagano was named music director in March 2004 (effective 2006), the orchestra returned to Carnegie Hall, though under James Conlon.

By naming Kent Nagano as music director commencing 2006, the orchestra ended nearly two years of searching and rekindled hope that the organization would pull through its difficulties. Nagano gave his first concert as music advisor at Place des Arts 30 Mar 2005 with the North American premiere of Olivier Messiaen's last work, Éclairs sur l'au delà. The event won a Prix Opus for best concert of the year.

Though an encouraging start, the orchestra was plunged again into a labour dispute, resulting in a second musicians' strike in May 2005 that proved caustic and difficult to resolve. The main stake was the musicians' request for salarial parity with both the National Arts Centre Orchestra and the Toronto Symphony Orchestra. The strike was resolved five months later on, 18 Oct 2005, with 96 percent of the musicians agreeing to a wage increase of far less than what they had asked for, and the media assessing that the orchestra's administration had prevailed.

In 2006, Nagano announced the creation of the MSO's "Olivier Messiaen International Composition Competition." In May of that year the orchestra played in Paris, marking the first time it had given a concert outside Canada since its Florida tour in 2000.

Commissions, Premieres, Other Initiatives

The first Canadian composer to receive the MSO's annual commission, a tradition begun under Igor Markevitch, was Harry Somers; his Fantasia was premiered by Markevitch in 1958. Subsequent works commissioned and premiered were Papineau-Couture's Pièce concertante No. 3 in 1959, Morel's Boréal in 1960, Alexander Brott's Spheres in Orbit in 1961, Matton's Mouvement symphonique II in 1962, Morawetz's Concerto No. 1 for piano in 1963, Prévost's Fantasmes in 1963, Mercure's Lignes et points in 1965, Morawetz's Sinfonietta in 1966, Pépin's Quasars, Symphonie No. 3 in 1967, Garant's Phrases II in 1968, Schafer's Son of Heldenleben in 1968, Saint-Marcoux's Hétéromorphie in 1970, Jacques Hétu's Passacaille in 1971, Pépin's Prismes et cristaux in 1974, Tremblay's Fleuves in 1977, Prévost's Le Conte de l'oiseau 1979, Vivier's Orion 1980, Freedman's Royal Flush 1982, Hodkinson's Bumberboom : Scherzo diabolique 1982, Pépin's Implosion, Symphony No. 5 1983, Michel Longtin's La Route des pèlerins reclus 1985, Brégent's Trad-sens concertio 1987, Morel's Au couleur du ciel 1988, Buhr's Ecstasy 1988, Hétu's Images de la Révolution 1989 and Gougeon's Jardin secret 1990, André Prévost's Concerto pour hautbois et orchestra 1993, Rodney Sharman's In Changing Light 1995, Stewart Grant's Concerto for flute, harp and orchestra 2000, Gilles Tremblay's En Partage viola concerto 2002, a work by John Estacio 2004, Denys Bouliane's Tetrapharmakos 2004, Morel's Passage à l'aube 2006, and John Rea's Figures hâtives pour violin and orchestre 2006.

Other Canadian works premiered by the MSO include Descarries' Rhapsodie canadienne (1936), Blackburn's Symphonie en un mouvement (1942), Vallerand's Le Diable dans le beffroi (1942), Champagne's Symphonie gaspésienne (1945), Alexander Brott's War and Peace (1945), Pépin's Variations symphoniques (1948), Brott's Delightful Delusions (1950) and his Analogy in Anagram (1956), Morel's L'Étoile noire (1962), Malcolm Forsyth's Concerto for trumpet, Anne Lauber's Concerto for doublebass, Robert Turner's Concerto for viola (1988), Ana Sokolovic's Oro (2001), Michel Longtin's Quaternions (2003), and Denys Bouliane's Tetrapharmakos (2004).

In 1989 Denis Gougeon became the first composer-in-residence in the ensemble's history; he was followed by José Evangelista in 1992. After 1995 no others were named to this position.

Student Matinées
The MSO's student matinées gained impetus in 1970, when Mario Duschenes was appointed to conduct them. Pelletier had conducted them originally, and Defauw followed his precedent 1942-8, but Pelletier resumed their direction 1948-63. His successors were Pierre Hétu 1963-4 and 1965-8 and Eugene Kash 1964-5. Jean-François Sénart was guest conductor 1981-2. The American composer and conductor David Amran conducted 1982-9. Richard Hoenich succeeded him; Jean-François Rivest held the post in 2006.

MSO Concours
The MSO Concours (Competition) was begun in 1965 and has been held annually for the purpose of discovering new talent. The winners take part in concerts with the MSO. The competition was known 1940-62 as the Prix Archambault.


Over the years the MSO continued to engage illustrious guest soloists and conductors, reserving a reasonable place for Canadian performers, who appeared with the orchestra in increasing numbers during the 1970s. Among the Canadian soloists who have performed with the orchestra are Lucille Chung, James Ehnes, Marc-André Hamelin, Chantal Juillet, André Laplante, Michael Laucke, Marie-Danielle Parent, Louis-Philippe Pelletier, Gino Quilico, and Alain Trudel.

The greatest international artists continue to appear with the MSO: Emmanuel Ax, Joshua Bell, Yefim Bronfman, Hilary Hahn, Leila Josefowicz, Lang Lang, Radu Lupu, Yo-Yo Ma, Anne-Sophie Mutter, Jessie Norman, Isaac Stern, Kiri Te Kanawa, and Pinchas Zukerman, to name but a few.


Concertmasters, Assistant Conductors
The orchestra has benefited from highly acclaimed concertmasters and assistant conductors. The position of concertmaster was held by Albert Chamberland 1935-41, Maurice Onderet 1941-5, Alexander Brott 1945-58, Hyman Bress 1958-9, Calvin Sieb 1959-77 and 1978-9, Eugène Husaruk 1977-8, 1979-82, succeeded by Richard Roberts 1982-2006, Chantal Juillet (co-concertmaster with Roberts) 1990-3, and Jonathan Crow (co-concertmaster) 2002-6.

The post of assistant conductor has been filled 1939-48 by Chamberland, 1948-61 by Alexander Brott, 1963-9 by Pierre Hétu, 1978-81 by Uri Mayer, 1985-94 by Richard Hoenich, Jacques Lacombe 1994-8, and Rolf Bertsch 2001-4.

A considerable part of the MSO's spectacular development must be attributed to Pierre Béique, honorary treasurer 1936-9 and administrator 1939-70. Through his dedication, his eagerness to provide Montreal with a first-rate orchestra, and his connections with the musical establishment, he was able to govern the fortunes of the MSO with undisputed success. Another driving force behind the MSO's success, and a generous patron, was Jean C. Lallemand, several times president before his appointment as honorary president for life. After Béique, MSO administrators were Denis Langelier 1970-3, Jacques Druelle 1973-4, John C. Goodwin 1975-8, Roger Larose 1979-80, Madeleine Panaccio (acting 1980-1), Zarin Mehta (1981-90), Robert Spickler 1990-5, Michelle Courchesne 1995-2000, and Madeleine Careau from 2000.

The administration of the MSO is overseen by a board of directors and an executive committee, led beginning in 2004 by former Quebec premier Lucien Bouchard. An advisory committee has among its members all former presidents.

Selected Discography

Glick Fantasy for Violin and Orchestra. Simionescu violin, Decker conductor. (1989). 4-ACM 34 (CD)

Montreal International Competition (voice) - concert of winners. Mueller conductor. 1967. CBC EXPO-10

Montreal Symphony Orchestra: Matton Mouvement symphonique II - MercureLignes et points - Prévost Fantasmes - Somers Fantasia. Mehta conductor, P. Hétu conductor. 1967. RCI 230/RCA LSC-2980. Also released in 1969 under the title New Music Series, vol 5 : Canada. Vic VICS-1040/MEL SMLP-4039/(Matton) 5-ACM 29//(Mercure) 4-ACM 35/(Prévost) 6-ACM 28/(Somers) 10-ACM 7

Pépin Quasars; Symphony No. 3 - Schafer Son of Heldenleben. Decker conductor. 1973. RCI 387/Sel CC-15-101/(Pépin) 4-ACM 5/(Schafer) 5-ACM 3

Place des arts: Papineau-Couture Pièce concertante No. 5 - Ravel La Valse - Mahler Symphony No. 1. Pelletier conductor, Mehta conductor. 1963. Limited ed 2-record set (no label, no number)

Prévost Terre des hommes - Beethoven 'Ode to Joy' from Symphony No. 9. Alarie soprano, Forrester alto, Simoneau tenor, Rouleau bass, World Festival Chorus, Rutgers U Choir, P. Hétu conductor, Pelletier conductor. 1967. CBC EXPO-1

Schumann Concerto. Rubinstein piano, Mehta conductor. 1968. Music and Arts CD-655


Bartók Concerto for Orchestra, Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta. 1987. Lon 421-443-2 (CD)

Berlioz Harold in Italy, Overture 'Rob Roy'. Overture 'The Corsair'. Zukerman viola. 1984, 1987. Lon 421-193-2 (CD)

- Roméo et Juliette, Opus 17 (Quivar mezzo, Cupido tenor, Krause bass, Tudor Singers of Montréal) - Symphonie funèbre et triomphale (Budin trombone, MSO Choir). 1985. 2-Lon 417-302-2 (CD)/(excerpts) 425-001-2 (CD)

- Symphonie Fantastique, Opus 14. 1984. Lon 414-203-2 (CD)

- Huite Scènes de Faust. Various artists. 1995/2003. Decca 028947509721

- L'enfance du Christe. Various artists. 1995/2000. Decca 028945891521

- Les Troyens. Various artists. 1994. Decca 28944369328

- Le Carnaval Romain. 1997. Decca 028945248028

- Requiem. 2000. John Mark Ainsley tenor, Darquise Bilodeau soprano, Maren Nelson alto, Andrée de Repentigny soprano, Patrick Wedd organ. Decca 028945892122

Bizet L'Arlésienne, Suites Nos. 1 and 2 (arr Guiraud); Carmen, Suites Nos. 1 and 2. 1986-7. Lon 417-839-2 (CD)

Chausson: Poème/Symphony. Chantal Juillet violin, François Roux bass-baritone. Decca 028945801025

Chopin Piano Concertos Nos. 1 and 2. Bolet piano. 1989. Lon 425-859-2 (CD)

Debussy Images, Nocturnes. 1988. Lon 425-502-2 (CD)

- La Mer; Jeux; Le Martyr de St-Sébastien, Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune. 1989. Lon 430-240-2 (CD)

- Pelléas et Mélisande. 1990. Henry (Pelléas), Alliot-Lugaz (Mélisande). 1990. 2-Lon 430-502-2 (CD)

Dompierre Concerto in A for piano; Harmonica Flash. E. Boivin-Béluse piano, Garden harmonica. 1979. DG 2531-265

Elgar Enigma Variations, Falstaff. 1989. Lon 430-241-2 (CD)

Falla The Three Cornered Hat (complete ballet), El Amor brujo. Boky soprano, Tourangeau mezzo, Hoenich bassoon. 1981. Lon LDR-71060/Lon 410-008-2 (CD)/(Three Cornered Hat selections) Ovation 417-748-2 (CD)

Fauré Requiem; Pavane; Pelléas et Mélisande. Te Kanawa soprano, Milnes bar, MSO Chorus. 1987. Lon 421-440-2 (CD)

Fête À La Française: Bizet - Dukas - Satie - et al. 1987. Lon 421-527-2 (CD)

Franck Symphony - d'Indy Symphonie sur un chant montagnard français. Thibaudet piano. (1991). Lon 430-278-2 (CD)

Gershwin Rhapsody in Blue (Cowley clarinet); An American in Paris (Thomson trumpet); Cuban Overture; A Symphonic Portait of Porgy and Bess. Lortie piano. 1988. Lon 425-111-2 (CD)

Holst The Planets. Women of the MSO Chorus. 1986. Lon 417-553-2 (CD)

Lalo Symphonie Espagnole - Saint-Saëns Violin Concerto No. 1, Opus 20. Chung violin. 1981. Lon LDR-71029/Lon 411-952-2 (CD)

- Symphonie Espagnole - Saint-Saëns Violin Concerto No. 3. Bell violin. 1988. Lon 425-501-2 (CD)

Liszt Hungarian Fantasy; Piano Concertos 1 and 2; Totentanz. Thibaudet piano. (1991). Lon 433-075-2 (CD)

Matton Mouvement symphonique IV. (1987). 5-ACM 29

Mendelssohn A Midsummer Night's Dream, Opus 61; The Hebrides; The Fair Melusine; Ruy Blas. 1986. Lon 417-541-2 (CD)

Mercure Kaléidoscope; Pantomime; Triptyque. (1990). 4-ACM 35 (CD)

Mussorgsky Pictures at an Exhibition (arr Ravel); Night on the Bare Mountain (arr Rimsky-Korsakov); Khovanshchina - Rimsky-Korsakov Russian Easter Festival Overture. 1985. Lon 417-299-2 (CD)

Noël Noël. Price soprano, Tudor Singers of Montreal. 1983. Lon 410-198-1

Offenbach Gaîté parisienne (arr Rosenthal) - Gounod Faust (ballet). 1983. Lon 411-708-2 (CD)

Orff. Carmina Burana. Beverly Hoch soprano, Stanford Olsen tenor, Mark Oswald baritone. 1997. Decca 028945529028

Piazzola. Tangazo. Daniel Binelli bandoneon, Eduardo Isaac guitar, Louise Pellerin oboe. 2000. Decca 028946852828

Prokofiev Roméo and Juliet (excerpts). (1991). Lon 430-279-2 (CD)

- Symphony No. 1 'Classical'; Symphony No. 5. 1988. Lon 421-813-2 (CD)

- Prokofiev, Bartok: Piano Concertos. Martha Argerich piano. 1998. EMI Classics 56654

- Alexander Nevsky, Lieutenant Kije. Jard Van Nes mezzo-soprano. 1992. London/Decca 430506

- Violin Concertos 1 and 2. Joshua Bell violin. 1993. London/Decca 440331

- Violin Concertos 1 & 2. Tchaikovsky: Serenade Melancholique. Leila Josefowicz violin. 2001. Philips 462592

Ravel Boléro; Alborada del gracioso; Rapsodie espagnole; La Valse. 1981. Lon LDR-71059/Lon 410-010-2 (CD)/4-Jubilee 421-458-2 (CD)/10-Lon 430-239-2 (CD)/(Boléro, La Valse) Lon 414-406-2 (CD)

- Daphnis et Chloé (complete ballet). Hutchins fl, MSO Chorus. 1980. Lon LDR-71028/Lon 400-055-2 (CD)/4-Jubilee 421-458-2 (CD)/(Suite No. 2) Lon 414-406-2(CD)

- Ma Mère l'Oye (complete ballet); Pavane pour une infante défunte; Le Tombeau de Couperin; Valses nobles et sentimentales. 1983. Lon 410-254-2 (CD)/4-Jubilee 421-458-2 (CD)/(Pavane) Lon 414-406-2 (CD)

- Orchestral Works. (1988). 4-Jubilee 421-458-2 (CD)

- Piano Concertos; et al. Rogé piano. 1982. Lon 410-230-2 (CD)

Respighi Pines of Rome, Feste Romane, Fountians of Rome. 1983. Lon LDR-71091/Lon 410-145-2 (CD)

- La Boutique Fantasque / Impressioni Brasiliane. 1999. Decca 028945598321

Rimsky-Korsakov Scherazade (symphonic suite); Capriccio espagnol. Roberts violin. 1983. Lon 410-253-2 (CD)

Rodrigo Concierto de Aranjuez; Fantasia para un Gentilhombre. Bonell guitar. 1981. Lon LDR-71027/Jubilee 417-748-2 (CD)

Rossini: Overtures. 2001. Decca 028946742723

Saint-Saëns Symphony No. 3. Hurford organ. 1982. Lon 71090/Lon 410-201-2 (CD)

Stravinsky The Firebird (complete ballet); Scherzo fantastique; Feu d'artifice. 1984. Lon 414-409-2 (CD)

- Pétrouchka; Le Chant du Rossignol; Quatre études. Maiste piano. 1986. Lon 417-619-2 (CD)

- The Rite of Spring; Symphonies of Wind Instruments. 1984. Lon 414-202-2 (CD)

Suppé Overtures. (1985). Lon 414-408-2 (CD)

Tchaikovsky 1812 Overture; Capriccio italien; The Nutracker Suite; Marche slave. 1985. Lon LDR-71058/Lon 417-300-2 (CD)

- Piano Concerto No. 1 - Rakhmaninov Piano Concerto No. 2. Bolet piano. 1987. Lon 421-181-2 (CD)

- Symphony No. 4; Francesca da Rimini. (1988). Lon 421-814-2 (CD)

- Symphony No. 5; Hamlet. 1988. Lon 425-503-2 (CD)

- Violin Concerto - Mendelssohn Violin Concerto. Chung violin. 1981. Lon LDR-71058/Lon 410-011-2 (CD)

- Swan Lake; Nutcracker; Sleeping Beauty (Highlights). Dutoit conductor. 1994. Decca 028944355529

- Symphony No. 6 in B Minor; 1812 Overture. Dutoit conductor. 2003. Decca 028947519621

The Virtuoso Sound. (1990). 10-Lon 430-239-2 (CD)

In 1991, the Voyager Co of Santa Monica, Cal, issued a CD-ROM entitled The Rite of Spring using the MSO recording with Dutoit.


Brubeck Dave Brubeck Symphonia. Dave Brubeck Quartet. 1987. Spectel Video

Leontyne Price Sings Noel. Dutoit conductor. 1986. CBC/Home Vision

Ravel Bolero. Dutoit conductor. 1984. CBC

Rimsky-Korsakov Scheherazade. Gillis dancer, Dutoit conductor. 1983. CBC

Stravinsky The Firebird. Romero choreography, Back animation, Dutoit conductor. 1987. CBC

L'Orchestre fantastique (NFB/Spectel Vidéo 1986)

La Symphonie fantastique 'La Marche au supplice' (NFB/Spectel Vidéo 1987)

Ravel (Rhombus Media 1987)

Further Reading