Photo: © Alain Lefort
If curiosity is an essential ingredient for an explorer, then Francis Colpron, recorder and traverso soloist and founder of the period ensemble Les Boréades, fits the bill perfectly. Indeed, Colpron was proclaimed “the Québecois representative of the new breed of virtuoso recorder players” by Ariama.com, and almost ten years after establishing the phenomenon that is Les Boréades, he appears eager to stretch the boundaries that might limit other less ambitious artists.
Colpron began his love affair with music early in life, and as a teenager, could be found playing progressive rock riffs on the recorder. His musical talent was precocious enough that, by the age of 15, he was touring Canada and Europe with the Ensemble de flûtes à bec de Châteauguay, a local group under the direction of the legendary music teacher Jocelyne Laberge.
In search of more specialised training on recorder — an instrument that offered limited study opportunities in Québec at the time — he travelled to The Netherlands to be mentored by recorder greats Marion Verbrüggen and Heiko ter Schegget and on traverso with Maarten Root. He spent three years in Europe, where his solo performances at the Utrecht Early Music Festival, The Bruges Festival Musica Antiqua and with La Compagnie inégale in Helsinki were highly praised. He returned to Canada in the early 1990s with his new wife, the Dutch recorder player Femke Bergsma.
By 1993, Les Boréades was on the map with a Montréal series. The beginning of a fruitful collaboration with ATMA Classique followed, resulting in more than 20 titles by Colpron and his ensemble in the label’s catalogue, including the smash hit Beatles Baroque series. These recordings feature beloved Beatles tunes performed in clever arrangements for period instruments, and according to Colpron, were the result of serendipity: “Beatles Baroque was a spontaneous idea; during a break in a recording session, harpsichordist Eric Milnes started playing Beatles songs for fun. [ATMA president] Johanne Goyette really liked this, and we decided to make some arrangements of these songs for baroque instruments. We’re very happy that this became such a big success, and yes, it was surprising. But the Beatles have made good music, so we’re happy to have explored their universe,” says Colpron.
La Geniale is his latest CD with Les Boréades and features a wide variety of sinfonias and concertos by Italian baroque composers. Colpron hints at plans for more recordings: “It’s a bit early to talk about other projects but we do have plenty! We’re really lucky to be able to work with ATMA: Johanne allows me to choose my own programs and gives me a lot of freedom.”
It’s no surprise that Colpron is willing to take artistic risks in the sometimes ultra-academic world of period performance. From his presence on stage to his publicity shots, Colpron conveys a real sense of play and humour — a reflection of his personality. Perhaps it is this genuine inquisitiveness that allows him to see the world of early music as anything but a closed book. “I think there is still a lot to discover in early music, even now that period performance is widely accepted. I insist on discovering and producing new material every year, because this is what I like about my job — it’s the music I want to play! I’m open to experimentation, but not necessarily at all costs: it has to be good music.”
Recently, Colpron and his colleagues launched a new phase of Les Boréades’ evolution by incorporating theatre into their productions, like Les Tabarinades, last season’s play with music. “We want to respect the spirit of the Baroque. We want to create artistic experiences that stand out. There’s also the successful children’s show we co-produced with Le Moulin à Musique called Garde-Robe, which has toured abroad as well as here in Québec.”
Colpron is confident that audiences will be eager to join him on his voyage of exploration. “I strongly believe in communication,” he says, “but I do think that serious music is demanding and I don’t want to compromise by trying to please everyone. I’m ready to speak to people about this music and invite audiences to make the effort of investigating.”
How can we resist such an invitation?
© Luisa Trisi, January 24, 2011