Radio SMCQ: Jean Lesage

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Montréal, Québec, 1958

  • Composer
  • Writer

The music of Jean Lesage calls into question, in a highly personal manner, our relationship with musical objects, and their evocative power and ability to generate mental images. His approach is revelatory, in the first sense of the word, in that it leads listeners to situate themselves toward and to react to a musical statement that appeals to their cultural memory. Organist and harpsichordist by training, Jean Lesage has revived the idea of the “character piece” in an original way, through an artistic discourse that flows from “musical personae”in forms that are highly recognizable, often invoked for their particular connotative meaning. As such, Lesage’s music represents both an exploration of and a melding with the musical understanding of Québecois culture.

Born in 1958 in Montréal, received his musical training at the Montréal Conservatory of Music, where he studied composition with Gilles Tremblay, electroacoustics with Micheline Coulombe Saint-Marcoux and Yves Daoust, orchestration with Clermont Pépin, and organ and harpsichord with Bernard and Mireille Lagacé. His encounters with John Rea also proved crucial to his musical development. He has composed in excess of over forty works, which have been performed in Canada, France, Germany, Holland, Switzerland, England, Italy and Austria.

His broad range of activities on the Montréal music scene include membership on the board of the Association pour la création et la recherche électroacoustique du Québec (ACREQ), and a stint as head of programming for the Société des concerts alternatifs du Québec (SCAQ). Lesage has also served on the artistic committee for the Société de musique contemporaine du Québec (SMCQ) since 1990. Former host of the Radio-Canada’s Musique actuelle program from 1987-1995, he also produced and hosted a series of 12 radio shows for this same broadcaster in 1996, entitled Musique du Québec, a series documenting Quebec’s musical modernism. In 1996-97, he was chief editor of the revue Circuit, a North-American voice for twentieth-century music, and in 1998, he worked with Denys Bouliane to compile the book Présences de la musique québécoise. Jean Lesage has been teaching composition at McGill University in Montréal since 1999, and is an associate composer of the Canadian Music Centre.

“For several years now, my work has been directed, among other things, towards a critical revaluation of music history. Refracted through a contemporary sensibility, I have attempted to bring to life certain aesthetic and rhetorical elements as well as interpretive gestures and compositional characteristics from various different historical periods. This bears witness to my desire to explore, within the musical domain, what a number of literary theorists have called transtextuality or intertextuality. By placing the symbolic, cultural, aesthetic, and/or technical aspects of a given text with those that came before, it is possible to create an enormous pool of references that enrich the primary level of perception through multiplication. Learning works from memory is the basis of my artistic pursuits. In my work, I seek to establish a fertile relationship between the presence of the work, and pastness of art. A playful relationship with the history of music takes shape at numerous levels simultaneously. It becomes a game of memory and forgetfulness, an interpretative manipulation of memory. Reconstructing the past exposes, through the work, the process through which memory makes, destroys, and recreates its own past, through a continual revaluation of the changing tenents of history that is freighted by a constant projections of our visions for the future. This artistic attitude is not synonymous with nostalgia. There is no question here of a return to music’s paradise lost, but of the erasure of the barriers between the present, the past, and the future.” — JL

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