What if, for one evening, belugas were to become choir singers? Thanks to a composition by Claudie Bertounesque, which will fuse orchestra, choir singers and electroacoustics, these white whales will make their debut at Montréal’s Maison symphonique.

The Gala de la Terre is a unique and original musical evening aimed at raising awareness of environmental issues. Organized by the Orchestre de l’Agora, the 2022 edition even won an Opus award for musical event of the year. All ticket proceeds will go to three beneficiary organizations, including the Group for Research and Education on Marine Mammals (GREMM). Scheduled for June 12, this is one event you don’t want to miss!

In addition to the work of Claudie Bertounesque, Innu poet Natasha Kanapé Fontaine, also ambassador of the event, will recite her poems written especially for the occasion. The Gala de la Terre will also feature Innu soprano Elisabeth St-Gelais, who will interpret Wagner’s Wesendonck Lieder. Afterwards, more than 100 musicians will be on stage to perform Strauss’s An Alpine Symphony.

Integrating beluga sounds into a musical composition

On August 15, 2023, Claudie Bertounesque and Nicolas Ellis joined the GREMM research team on the St. Lawrence for a day to immerse themselves in this environment. “It was a foggy day, but we still had the chance to see belugas, seals and a humpback whale,” says the composer. These were her first-ever whale sightings. She also stayed an extra week in the region to explore and record the sounds of nature.

For Nicolas Ellis, it was a transforming experience: “It was absolutely incredible to observe marine mammals from such a prime viewing platform. It was really moving. It made me realize the beauty and importance of a project like this one.” The Gala de la Terre aims to raise public awareness of environmental issues while taking concrete action by supporting local organizations dedicated to environmental protection. This year, GREMM, WWF Canada and Sierra Club Canada will each receive a share of ticket proceeds. “In symphonic musical literature, links with nature are important,” explains the conductor. Nature has always been a source of inspiration. There’s no shortage of works for drawing parallels between nature and music.”

In order to compose her work, Claudie Bertounesque also had access to beluga sounds recorded by GREMM’s team in the Saguenay-St. Lawrence Marine Park. To capture these sounds, scientists place hydrophones (waterproof microphones) under the sea. Belugas are social animals and have an extensive vocal repertoire to communicate with one another. These whistles, clicks, squeaks and grunts have earned them the nickname “sea canaries.”

After her stay in Tadoussac, the composer jotted down some words and ideas while listening to music for inspiration. Describing her work as a “non-traditional sensory experience,” she points out that it will be truly accessible to the general public. The 10-minute creation is designed to transport us to the St. Lawrence, thanks not only to the sounds of belugas, but also to the orchestra, the 75-member choir of the Petits Chanteurs du Mont-Royal, and electroacoustics.

For Nicolas Ellis, the idea of collaborating with Claudie Bertounesque and integrating beluga sounds came from the objective of taking responsibility for our river and developing an unconditional love for our landscape. “I wanted to find a way to bring the issue to the local level where people could better identify with it. Bringing belugas to a concert hall was a way of bringing the public closer to the St. Lawrence.”

Orchestre de l’Agora

The Orchestre de l’Agora was founded in 2013 in the aftermath of Quebec’s so-called “Maple Spring” and pursues a social mission: “To address an issue that concerns us all through music,” explains Nicolas Ellis. To foster change and make a concrete difference.” Current projects of the orchestra include presentations of monthly workshop concerts to incarcerated persons through a partnership with the Centre de détention de Montréal. Music lessons and mentoring are also offered to hundreds of children from disadvantaged backgrounds.

See you Wednesday, June 12 at 8 p.m. at Montréal’s Maison symphonique!

News - 30/5/2024

Andréanne Forest

Andréanne Forest is the editor-in-chief of Whales Online since may 2022. After studying in environment and biology, she turned to science communication with the goal of making science both accessible and fun. Andréanne wishes to highlight the process of acquiring knowledge while transmitting the desire to learn.

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