Conductor’s advice resonates

Posted on Monday, November 30, 2015

Alain Trudel waves a conductor's baton.

Alain Trudel is a visiting professor at the University of Ottawa's School of Music.
By Marcelle-Anne Fletcher

Alain Trudel learned his first classical work, Brahms Hungarian Dance No 5, for his Conservatoire de musique de Montréal audition at age 15, in order to receive free music lessons. A renowned conductor today, Trudel has conducted every major orchestra in Canada as well as in Europe, Asia and Latin America and is now a visiting professor at the University of Ottawa’s School of Music. 

Why did you decide to come to the University of Ottawa?

The thing that most influenced me was the University’s Orchestral Studies program. Its connection with the Ottawa Symphony Orchestra means that students not only learn their instrument but also play in a professional orchestra. I was honoured to join the team as a visiting professor and be part of something that is unique.

Alain Trudel.

Alain Trudel

In October 2015, you conducted the University of Ottawa Orchestra to great acclaim. For those of us who are not musicians, can you tell us what exactly a conductor does?

If you’re not a musician, you look at these people in front orchestras waving their arms and music happens, right? If they stop waving their arms, the music will continue. So some might wonder whether there’s any utility to having this person up there? Most of the conductor’s work is done in rehearsal and also prior to rehearsal. It’s really more about organizing time, ideas, strengths and moving forward with the composer’s vision. A conductor is a lot like the coach of a sports team.

You have worked with the Toronto Symphony Youth Orchestra and you are regularly invited to conduct the National Youth Orchestra of Canada. Why are you committed to helping upcoming generations of musicians?

They remind me of myself when I was young. If I hadn’t had anyone in my corner, I wouldn’t have done anything. We were really poor, basically making rent—so we couldn’t buy an instrument or pay for lessons. But because someone gave me a chance, I’ve done pretty well. It’s a gift and I have to share it.

What do you think is most needed for this upcoming generation of musicians to succeed after they leave university?

No excuses and be flexible. There seems to always be a good excuse, but in the real world, there are no excuses. When you get out there, it’s a tough business. There are maybe 20 orchestras in Canada that have professional positions and depending on your instrument can translate to from one to about 15 positions. You also have to be flexible. You have to learn many different things. A musician in the 21st century will never be somebody who just plays in an orchestra. Even now, musicians in the orchestra are also very good teachers, they play chamber music and they can play all styles of music.

If you missed the University of Ottawa Orchestra’s performance in October, you’ll have another chance to see Alain Trudel when he conducts the opera chamber orchestra in March 2016 and at the year-end orchestra concert in April.

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