Speech - guest speaker: Mr. Kent Nagano, music director designate, Orchestre symponique de Montréal The OSM and Montreal: a symbiosis to nurture

The OSM and Montreal: The Cultivation of a Symbiotic Relationship

Address by Mr. Kent Nagano
Music Director designate
Of the Orchestre symphonique de Montréal
Before the members of the Board of Trade of Metropolitan Montreal

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Please note that the given speech shall override the printed version

Madame Beauchamp,
Maire Tremblay,
Ex Premier Bouchard,
Mr. Labonté,
Distinguished guests of the Table of Honour,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

If you allow me, I would like to begin by thanking the Board of Trade of Metropolitan Montreal for this kind invitation and honour.

Mr. Labonté, you have decided to launch your prestigious season by presenting a guest speaker whose life revolves around culture innovation and creativity.

This is compelling confirmation of the fact that the Board of Trade understands not only how strategically important these elements are to the development of a major metropolis, but how closely related - through innovation and creativity - the art of successful business and culture are to the health of a community.

It also attests to an impressive strategic openness of behalf of the Board of Trade of Metropolitan Montreal.

As Mr. Labonté has just acknowledged, over the past two years your organization has taken an interest and become actively involved in sectors that, while perhaps not the traditional domain of business people, are undeniably vital to building a great city, and this, of course, establishes the Board of Trade as dynamically progressive and visionary in its thinking.

Visionary since, after all, the goal of business world, like that of artists is to help create and contribute to the development of a vibrant, harmonious society, open to the world, cultivated, diversified, one which is forward looking, evolutionary and striving for success.

Why go to Montreal?

While travelling throughout Europe, the USA and Japan since last March I have been frequently asked what is it that made me accept the position of Music Director of the OSM, especially since it was known that I had been blessed with the privilege position of having a number of seemingly attractive options to choose from.

The answer is easy to find within:

  1. the immense talent and virtuoso skill of the artists who make up the OSM;
  2. the strength of character and personality and dedication of the orchestra;
  3. most importantly the sense of hope, joy, passion, cultural depth and optimism of the community;
  4. the creative dynamic within Montreal which has given birth to the remarkable achievements the city's brilliant citizens such as - Cirque de Soleil, Oscar winner Denys Arcand, pop diva Celine Dion, and the artistic processes of Francois Girard, Robert Lepage and composer Denys Bouliane.

They all attest to Montreal as an exceptional community of exceptional individuals and as a city of hope.

The answers to the question of why Montreal and the roots of its optimism lie, of course, within this very room - in your hands - you as the business leaders of this vibrant community. Your guidance, innovation and creativity - your artistry if you will - as the heads of the community's commercial and social evolution are the seeds and nourishment of today as an investment in the future.

As you know Montreal has over the past years has come to offer all the advantages of a major cultural metropolis, combining the best of European and North American cultures, to symbolize an alternative of hope and potential. It is a bubbling cultural cauldron, highly stimulating and seductive to creative minds of all walk of all disciplines. Indeed any description of Montreal must recognize the broad community involvement and shared pride and emotional ownership of its cultural expressions and achievements.

That you as leaders of the community have specifically helped to develop and support the OSM on its long pathway of evolution, you can take a personal pride in the Orchestra as well as identify with the OSM history, the origins of its artistic foundation, its long tradition of excellence and the roots the orchestra has within Quebec and Canadian culture. From the outdoor summer concerts of Wilfrid Pelletier at the beginning of the 20th century to its bursting onto the international music scene under Charles Dutoit with its international touring and award winning recordings, the Orchestra has personified the spirit, values, and social dynamics of the city of Montreal.

By the way, as an aside - speaking of social dynamics -, as you know, negotiations are on their way between the Musician's Association and the OSM management. It is an important exercise and I wish it conclusion as speedy and successful as possible, one in which the best interests of our extraordinary and excellent artists of the Orchestra as well as the OSM management team, the community of Montreal and above all of music. As you are aware, however, I will not be assuming the Music Director position until two years from now and do not feel qualified to intervene in this ongoing process nor could I make any comment regarding the negotiation procedure. Though in the middle of a very intense opening of the Los Angeles Opera season, where I am conducting 14 performances of Idomeneo and Ariadne auf Naxos, I am here with you today to lend my support to the OSM and their very important fundraising Benefit Concert. This morning, I had the pleasure of meeting the Orchestra as well as Maestro De Burgos and Dame Kiri Te Kanawa and I so much look forward to applauding them this evening at what I am certain will be a brilliant evening.

And what will be the future, where will you, we, take the OSM from here?

Any tradition young and old implies stability, time, dedication and commitment. In my own affiliations, we are referring to a wide range of traditions:
Halle Orchestra: over 180 years
Deutsche Symphony Orchestra: over 60 years
Bayrische Staats Orchestra: over 465 years
Opera de Lyon: about 25 years
Berkeley Symphony: 32 years
Los Angeles Opera: over 4 years.

In each of these cases, as with the OSM, the future of its tradition rests upon a vision based on a profound belief in humanity, its ability to achieve the exceptional, to dream beyond our boundaries, to strive for excellence.

A second more challenging question I would like share with you today is one which I am asked with increasing frequency, from people from all backgrounds, nationalities, education levels, and walks of life, one which is a challenge to all of us who share such a vision of community. It is one which is critical to those who hope to build a city whose quality of life factors are a source of pride and identity.

The query is the following:

"At this very difficult economic time, will Classical music survive?
Is there still a place for the Symphony Orchestra and Opera House in our contemporary society?
Or is it that classical music and its various institutions have become irrelevant, expensive expressions of elitist thinking long past having legitimacy in today's world?"

Before endeavouring to answer, we must consider that we live in what we perceive as increasingly complicated times. Accompanying this is an oft written about general and underlying malaise throughout the world that something is somehow things are not working right, something is not functioning, that try as we might there seems to be no solution.

The feeling is further accompanied by a longing for some idealized past, for another time of perceived simplicity where there is order and sense. In our contemporary lives of ever increasing speed, instantaneous communication, and seemingly relentless technological advancement and we all at times find ourselves struggling to withstand the stress and the resulting social confrontation our world thrusts upon us. The miracles of convenience and efficiency which so called phenomenon of globalization, standardization, and inter changeability which technology offers to us can, at the same time, agitate the potential of a troubling loss of individuality, the defining essence of character, and the handicapping of social intercourse - and with it, alienation - all of which have the potential of blunting humanity's exuberance and creativity.

Within this context, when confronted with the above question of whether classical music has relevance, an exploration for an answer must lie somewhere in the definition that classical music, as a beaux art, that which represents the beauty of human spirit and its creativity, belongs to everyone, is a part of everyone and is owned by everyone and at all times - especially times of uncertainty.

For those given roles of leadership such as yourselves, it is a shared responsibility of us all to make the cultural fulfilment available to all - through sharing, building, investing in and through education. Several recent studies have shown that communities that are open to the world, yet hold quality of life factors, specifically culture in high esteem, and invest its resources into their nourishment are regarded has having the highest rating of desirability.

The failure of a city to take this choice to nourish its present can result in penalties the example of the Oakland Symphony. […]

Thanks in large part to the leadership contained within this room today, Montreal is an extraordinary example of when business and the arts interact and compliment one another in helping to realize the optimum potential and richness of the natural and human resources within a city. Montreal's cultural vitality is undeniable and my hope will be that the OSM continues to contribute to the international influence of Montreal, Quebec and Canada. Together we can help the world realize that Montreal in a cultural treasure with still many jewels to reveal.

Just as much as the future of the OSM is based upon celebrating humanity's unique emotional, intellectual, physical and spiritual make up - it is about providing a sound and vital cultural institution for our future generations beyond our relatively short time in which we have been given with having the privilege of influence. To give our children an alternative to routine, an eternal source of discovery, and the experience of new and modern dimensions in great masterpieces, the rich timelessness of our traditional literature and all the innovation, spontaneity, refinement contained within.

A major part of this would be the role a concert hall as a cultural center plays. It is a role which stretches far beyond simply acoustics and architecture - when successful, a concert hall serves as a psychological centre or symbolic heart of a community.

You will not be surprised to hear that I passionately support the project of a new concert for so many reasons. Mostly this passion is based upon the dramatic examples I have witnessed - of what changes a successful concert hall can bring for future generations would be Lyon, Manchester, and Los Angeles. […]

Last week as I observed the former classmates of my 6 year old daughter frozen to a movie screen, momentarily addicted to an internet dialogue, expressionless within 10 centimetres of a blaring loud speaker shouting rap music, and then looking up and sincerely asking about what happened to the children in Chechnya the question, "Is classical music relevant today?" came back to haunt me.

Together we all can send the resounding response that yes, not only is it relevant it as never been more so, it has never been more needed that today. Here in Montreal one has a sense of hope that the power of classical music lies in the capacity to bridge the traditions of the past with the aspirations of the future while enrapturing today's audiences with moments of magic that go far beyond the merely fashionable. Our world is in need of these moments to transcend our differences and disparate origins - and to offer above all hope.

Music is the only art whose experience can bring a miracle - existential freedom - a momentary transportation into an ideal world - and in doing so it offers a glimpse as to what might be. For those of us who have felt the power of musical arts, we belief that music contributes to social cohesion without which there would be no economic, scientific, or human progress.

In closing, I ask you to recall the great anthropologist, Margaret Mead, who once referred to the arts as a window into the soul of a community. By this she refers to the fact that when studying ancient civilizations, as interesting excavations of ruins might be, it is the fragments of a cultures art which give us glimpses into the true personality, value system, and perceptions of that civilization.

With this in mind I thank you once again for your deep commitment to the community of Montreal, its quality as a place to live and thrive and your partnership with the arts community and for the special energy you inject into this special place in the world.

I shall look forward to having the opportunity to welcome you to join the Orchestre symphonique de Montréal on its exciting journey towards the future.


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