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|Written by Ty Snaden|
|Friday, 23 July 2010 09:40|
Alain Trudel began his musical pilgrimage in early adolescence, finding solace in the floating notes blasted from the euphonious stage. Dissonant and melodic structures alike displayed themselves as an endless creativity, overflowing with influence yet still with an accepting vacancy. One has to wonder if the realization of the infinitude of music influenced Trudel's expressive personality, or if it was his intrinsic expressiveness and worldly attitude that sought the medium of music metaphysically.
The facts, however, display the clarity of his achievements. Trudel was raised in a musical home in one of the most inspirational cultures within Canada, the eclectic francophone culture of Montréal. His mother was a cabaret jazz vocalist, his father a jazz drummer, and in reflecting on his nurtured influence, Trudel states, "It's just what I hear, but what you hear is of course influenced by your life experience."
Trudel began playing trombone in a community brass band at the age of 12, before entering École secondaire Joseph-François-Perrault in Montréal. While attending Joseph-François-Perrault, Trudel spent his time as a protégé under the mentorship of Gerald MacLey and sonfondateur (founding father) Raymond Grignet. While advancing as an unusually strong trombonist, it was within this milieu that Trudel also began to grasp an overall understanding of the orchestra, and an interest in conductorship was incubated.
Concurrently while attending Joseph-François-Perrault, Trudel was accepted into the Conservatoire de musique de Montréal at the age of 15, and although the increased workload to some could be crippling, he balanced the two institutions studiously. Trudel embraced his love of music intrinsically, and while he became more entwined with his studies he also began playing professionally on the side. He embraced music from everywhere, performing in everything from island calypso to Bavarian oompah bands -- "and you know, with the suit also," Trudel laughs. With the rapid development of his ability, Trudel decided to enter the international audition for Principal Trombone in the Orchestre symphonique de Montréal (Montréal Symphony Orchestra). Of the eighty musicians who attempted, Trudel and one other Montréal musician were selected as finalists. Although the position remained vacant, Trudel was offered by the OSM to play 'officially' as an extra, and went on to play with the Orchestra for more than two years. In 1984 at the age of 18 Trudel entered and won the OSM's soloist competition, and a year later he took the Canadian Music Centre's Prix Tremplin International, bringing him onto the international stage.
Trudel received his diploma from the Conservatoire, and through his previous summer involvement in the World Youth Orchestra, developed an inescapable desire to see the world, especially Europe. So at the age of 19, shortly after finishing his studies, Franz-Paul Decker, Music Director of Orquestra Ciutat de Barcelona (City of Barcelona Orchestra) offered him the seat of Principal Trombone, and, as Trudel modestly claimed, "I just grabbed it, I thought it was great."
After one year of playing with the Barcelona Orchestra, Trudel was offered tenure and was requested to stay as Premiere Trombone. With his own ambitions of becoming a reputable soloist and to change the personality of his instrument within the orchestral eye, Trudel was unsure how long he would stay. He craved the soloist experience and the thrill of performing a premiering piece. In a similar fashion to the way Edgard Varese and John Cage began to break down the barriers of sound and explore the musical value of noise, Trudel shattered institutionalized perceptions of the trombone and its auxiliary placement within the orchestra, performing an increasingly astonishing repertoire.
For Trudel, establishing a reputation adhered to the success of soloing was also an extension of his complete, uninhibited artistic desire. "Always in the back of my head I knew I would wind up as a conductor, since the age of 15," he says now. He spent nights tirelessly learning entire scores of anything he could find, from his early days within the halls of Joseph-François-Perrault and the Conservatoire, to Barcelona and his days in summer orchestras in between. Trudel trained himself to completely understand the minute similarities and stark differences that surrounded him in any orchestra. Through an incessant desire to learn he would question fellow musicians during rehearsals and spent many performances studying the mannerisms used by conductors to direct the orchestra, and the importance of such subtle gestures.
Always conscious of the steps he inevitably had to climb, Trudel returned to Montréal to begin performing instrumentally for as many people as possible. Shortly after his return, Trudel met his longstanding agent Barbara Scales, whom he has continued to work with for over 20 years. Trudel's determination was his real fortune, and although many of his colleagues have commented on his speculative luck, intrinsically Trudel has never faltered on the realization that accepting rejection as an endgame is not an option. "It is still only one project out of ten that works. If you're lucky, maybe two or three out of ten," Trudel says coolly.
Trudel's unwavering strength pushed his own ability and the instrumental expectations of the trombone exponentially further. His will became himself, and although some fall victim either to the emotionless calculations of their will, or the plethora of distractions laced within their own desire, Alain Trudel's emotive personality, the balancing of his passion and the calculation of skill, are stapled to his success.
Trudel premiered many pieces as a soloist, and performed an abundance of concertos written specifically for him. "The fact that my instrument is also an instrument that people may have the possibility to enjoy as much as a piano or violin, that was a big thing for me," Trudel remarks. "I really wanted to give people the option if they wanted to hear something else, something new and exciting."
His three most notable personal achievements as a soloist are astounding. First is a concerto written for him by one of France's best known contemporary composers, Pascal Dusapin, which he performed with the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio-France and the Österreichischer Rundfunk (Radio Orchestra of Austria). A vital aspect of this piece was Trudel's opportunity to work closely with Dusapin in its creation. In relation to this process, Trudel says, "That's one of the things I've always loved and that's one thing we do in the [National Broadcast Orchestra of Canada], is to work closely with composers to create their work."
The second, Trudel claims, was wining the OSM's soloist competition in his youth: "No one would have expected or desired a brass player to win." This gratification aided him with a benevolent thrust, and although, as Trudel states, winning the competition itself is not "soul defining," the opportunity to perform Ballade by the Swiss composer Frank Martin on stage with the OSM at the age of 18 was an unquestionably profound experience.
Trudel's third and immensely important experience was a piece which was conceived on a paper napkin belonging to Jacques Hétu, the recently deceased iconic Canadian composer. To have a composer of Hétu's stature create a concerto for Trudel was an incredibly uplifting experience. Concerto took a decade to complete, from those first notes scribbled down into an opening bar, to the blossomed score which it became. In reflecting on the duration Trudel remarks, "It's not a question of procrastination. It's a question of craftsmanship and being patient."
After developing an impressive repertoire for conducting through assisting rehearsals and his naturally intuitive nature, Trudel began auditioning for conducting positions throughout Canada. His first break as conductor was after being shortlisted for the Windsor Symphony Orchestra. For some this came as a surprise, and comments were made as to the amount of material which he was already familiar with; but for Trudel, studying since he was 15, he felt by his mid-thirties that he had reached the proper level of preparedness to begin the next step in his career. Through support from the administration of Camp Musical Saint-Alexandre, the Scotia Festival's music director Christopher Wilcox who allowed him to act as principle conductor eight out of the 15 times he attended, performing as guest conductor and auditioning for any orchestra possible, Trudel fastidiously rose in the nation's orchestral sphere as an extraordinary young conductor. In 2004, Trudel was accepted as conductor of the talented musicians of the Toronto Symphony Youth Orchestra, his first permanent position.
While Trudel's conducting career was flourishing and his reputation growing, his initial celebrations were short-lived. In late 2005, Trudel was diagnosed with an extremely rare form of cancer. "I had to cancel...You know, I'd never cancelled in my life, but I had to cancel orchestras across the country, unfortunately," Trudel admitted. To him this disappointment seemed more debilitating than his actual illness. His strength and conviction were unwavering throughout the treatments and surgery, and while still in recovery, he received news that he had been offered the position of principle conductor for the CBC Radio Orchestra. This was not a position that was offered through audition. Trudel and the Executive Producer, Denise Ball, had established a strong artistic connection in regard to repertoire and direction during Trudel's three previous performances as Guest Conductor.
Trudel's resilience was obvious to those around him. "I was really moved by Denise's conviction in making me sign my contract, because I actually signed my contract while I was in the hospital!" he mentions while laughing. "It really helps, because then you think, 'well I guess they think I'm all right' so it looks like I should be all right then!"
Trudel worked with Ball and the musicians of the Radio Orchestra to begin a renaissance that would elevate the Orchestra's profile and entwine it within twenty-first century technologies. In 1938, when the CBC Radio Orchestra was founded, it targeted the current technology of radio to bring classical music and Canadian compositions to an audience typically unreachable. Throughout the years the Radio Orchestra gained a substantial following, but in later years lacked the potency that it had harnessed during the middle of the twentieth century. Trudel was determined to resuscitate the Orchestra, to reclaim that dissipated relevance. Having the responsibility of directing the only remaining Radio Orchestra in North America, Trudel began rebuilding the faded mainstream view of Canadian orchestral music by truly building a culture of national talent. Trudel would involve musicians and composers from every community throughout Canada that he could find. The listenership and audience were growing with each performance.
Considering the unceasing effort Trudel put into the Radio Orchestra, when the news was passed down that federal funding was being withdrawn, he confesses, "It hurt, as if somebody in my family had died." Despite much support throughout Canada, and the gigantic protestation of the entire Orchestra -- its administration, musicians, and community -- the fate of the Orchestra ultimately was controlled by the Conservative Government's fiscal policies and the degradation of federal arts funds. "It went from feeling really proud of being Canadian to this immense deception and really not understanding the reasons. They really didn't have any except for economic reasons," says Trudel. "It goes with the very Occidental culture of when someone gets older, we try to put them aside, we don't try to learn from them. Very often, people have something to say."
Exhausted from this lengthy, futile battle for the preservation of a Canadian artistic institution, Trudel had called a meeting with the players of the Orchestra to discuss the dissolution, when he received a phone call from Montréal entrepreneur Philippe Labelle. Outraged with the federal abandonment of the Radio Orchestra, Labelle confessed to Alain Trudel that he had been a follower of the Orchestra for many years and would not stand idly while an organization of such importance to Canadian culture was forced prematurely into history. Labelle persuaded Trudel not to "pull the plug just yet," to wait and try a few more options, and to continue with his characteristic perseverance. Trudel believes that, "In life you could take those things as big problems, or as opportunities. So we saw this as an opportunity to create an entirely new orchestra model."
The essence of the Radio Orchestra was to play on new technologies, which, at its inception, was radio. Now, in the information age, the importance has shifted into creating an adaptable orchestra for the twenty-first century broadcast medium, the internet. Trudel's belief in the importance of continuing the Canadian orchestral community, along with his experiences of working closely with many composers throughout his career, are important influences in the way his new orchestra, the National Broadcast Orchestra of Canada, creates longevity in its relationships with composers throughout the nation. "At one point Mozart and Beethoven...were contemporary composers and all the musicians that first took part in it were so excited....That's the kind of excitement we try to reproduce with the NBO."
Trudel's passion, which increased through his defeats and triumphs, his tenacity, which shatters barriers and doubting expectations, and the exemplary strength he has exhibited in defeating the barrage of difficulties he faces, are irrefutable influences of character for young Canadian artists. These striving artists should, regardless of their medium, see Alain Trudel as an influence. If they are able to harness even a thumbnail of Trudel's exuberance they will begin to find deliverance from obscurity. His passion for his medium is endless. It is this fervour that has led him from the seat to the podium through his own desire.
This artistic desire was blinding and obvious to his mentors and the many composers and conductors that he has worked closely with. One can only speculate whether his future eminence was evident to Raymond Grignet when he was allowing Trudel to lead the school orchestra in rehearsal occasionally, or if his amiability was simply unavoidable. From his early instrumental initiation in a community brass band, his classical transience has infused his career with opportunity. Trudel's participation with countless organizations, from Victoria to Vienna, and with composers both astute and obscure, continues to ignite his mind and baton. Although he does not yet consider himself a composer, after the debut of his magnificently eclectic piece Preach during the National Broadcast Orchestra's Inaugural Gala of January 2010, he confesses it is undoubtedly the next frontier for his already impressive career. This transience Trudel emits is also inescapably the soul of the NBO. They are both inescapable icons to be found nowhere but everywhere.