Jean-Michel Blais Festival de Musique Émergente, Rouyn-Noranda QC, September 3
Published Sep 04, 2017FME's acoustically pristine Agora des Arts set with Jean-Michel Blais's unamplified Yamaha began with a previously recorded message requesting guests turn off their phones for the performance, but it wasn't enough; this could've been the most beautiful set of the weekend if the crowd weren't so idly restless.
By the final day of the festival, it seemed, the crowd had taken in too many late nights in clubs to muster the nerve to sit still for subtle, unamplified works of neoclassical virtuosity. The bar stayed open, so beer cans cracked loudly throughout, and whenever anyone rummaged in their bags for whatever they decided they needed in the moment, it was audible from the other side of the room.
Blais was impeccably precise nevertheless, and even forgiving under the circumstances. The classically trained pianist's current work was designed with more casual audiences in mind, and this wasn't his first time dealing with a festival audience, so he took it all in stride, explaining the concept of the project and cracking jokes in between pieces.
Breaking the fourth wall seemed to help manage the environment, as did some bits of extended technique that had Blais reaching into his grand, plucking and scraping at the strings; eventually, the audience sat still and really dug in, and then they saved their resting energy for generous standing ovations. Even if it doesn't make for an ideal presentation, it's encouraging to see rock festivals pursuing neoclassical music in their programs, let's just bridge that new frontier with some education, okay?