Les Violons du Roy
Les Violons du Roy. Chamber orchestra based in Quebec City, composed of 15 permanent musicians, founded in 1984 by principal conductor Bernard Labadie. Its name comes from that of the court orchestra of the Bourbon kings of France in the 17th and 18th centuries. The ensemble is mainly devoted to Baroque and Classical repertoire (though it increasingly plays Romantic and, occasionally, 20th-century works), favouring the most authentic performance practice. Almost all of the orchestra's personnel come from Montreal and Quebec City, giving the ensemble a home-grown aspect that has clearly worked in its favour.
In 1983 and 1984, while at the Université Laval, Labadie successfully mounted performances of two Baroque operas, Purcell's Dido and Aeneas and Monteverdi's The Coronation of Poppea. Labadie and the musicians then decided to form a professional chamber orchestra. He added the professional chamber choir L'Ensemble vocal Bernard Labadie (later called La Chapelle de Québec) in 1985, which allowed the ensemble to tackle combined works such as masses and cantatas.
Les Violons du Roy first came to recognition with their performance of Mozart's Requiem (which became a staple of their repertoire) for the funeral of René Levesque in 1987. The ensemble's reputation spread quickly. They started touring internationally in 1988 with an engagement in Belgium, and have since played many times in Europe, with destinations in Spain, Belgium, Germany, France, England, Austria, Denmark, and Holland. They have also toured in Morocco, Ecuador, Mexico, and the US, and across Canada. The year 1992 became a watershed, as the core 15 members of the orchestra were made permanent and Labadie signed a recording contract with the US label, Dorian. Their first album for the label was Simphonies des noëls [sic] in 1993; they have since recorded over 12 others.
If the late 1980s saw the rise of Les Violons' star, the late 1990s saw its position cemented. They played their first engagement at New York's Lincoln Center in 1997, and the same year began a series of Messiah performances that they took on the road to Montreal, Ottawa, and Toronto, garnering acclaim; the 1999 performance was televised by Radio-Canada. In 1998 they performed opera for the first time, playing The Marriage of Figaro with the Opéra de Montréal and Opéra de Québec. The following year marked the launch of a regular concert series in Montreal. To celebrate the 250th anniversary of Bach's death in 2000, Les Violons du Roy recorded Labadie's arrangement of the Art of the Fugue, and, together with La Chapelle de Québec, performed the St Matthew Passion to great acclaim in Quebec City, Montreal, and Toronto.
The ensemble played again at the Lincoln Center 18 Sep 2001, despite the terrorist attacks a week before. The program was appropriate: Haydn's Lord Nelson Mass and Mozart's Requiem. The recording of the Requiem in Troy, NY, 20 Sep 2001 was released a year later and won for Les Violons one of their three Junos (they had won a year before for Handel: Apollo e Dafne, and in 2007 for Piazzolla). The group maintains a busy schedule, performing in 2004 Bach's St John Passion and touring Europe, as well as presenting Così fan tutte at the Lincoln Centre. Also in 2004, the Palais Montcalm began a renovation with the object of becoming the permanent residence for Les Violons du Roy.
Among its many awards, the ensemble has won several Prix Opus for concert of the year since 2000, and a Prix d'excellence de la ville de Québec in 1994, and has several Juno nominations, including 2010 for their album Bartók (2008. ATMA ACD22576). It has played with many of the finest Canadian and international soloists, including violinist James Ehnes, violist Roberto Diaz, sopranos Karina Gauvin and Sandrine Piau, mezzo Anita Kraus, tenor Benjamin Butterfield, and baritone Russell Braun.
According to Labadie, "words such as precision, tension, energy, and involvement are often used in connection with Les Violons du Roy" (La Scena Musicale, 1 May 1999). Conductor and ensemble take great care to attune themselves to the style of the era of the work they are playing. Though the musicians do not use period instruments, they do use period bows. The result is a bow stroke that has a variable intensity, growing stronger closer to the middle of the bow. The use of modern instruments, and therefore steel strings, allows for greater projection and brilliance of sound. Les Violons du Roy is among very few ensembles in the world to use such a combination of traditional and current instruments. Response to their sound has been positive on the whole, with a few critics being less than enthusiastic, saying that the musicians must fight too hard to get the sound they want.
Labadie is a meticulous conductor who is known to leave permanent chairs vacant until he finds exactly the right musician to fill the seat. His attention to detail translates to the music, and merits his and Les Violons' excellent reputation for their performance practice. Le Devoir described the ensemble as "impeccably refined and precise. Their chemistry becomes invisible, inaudible ... so that only its result is apparent, as formidable as it is unexpected."
Mozart Flute Concertos. Marc Grauwels flute, Labadie conductor. 1989. Hyperion/Melodic CDA 66393
Simphonies des noëls. Labadie conductor. 1993. Dorian DOR-90180
Cantates profanes de J.S. Bach, Vol. 1. Labadie conductor. 1994. Dorian DOR-90199
Pergolesi : Stabat Mater / Vivaldi : Stabat Mater, Motet in furore giustissimae irae. Labadie conductor. 1994. Dorian DOR-90196
Cantates profanes de J.S. Bach, Vol. 2. Labadie conductor. 1995. Dorian DOR-90207
Music of Bach's Sons. Labadie conductor. 1996. Dorian DOR-90239
Encore! Labadie conductor. 1998. Dorian DOR-90012
Vivaldi Concerti for Strings. Labadie conductor. 1999. Dorian xCD-90255
Handel: Apollo e Dafne. Karina Gauvin soprano, Russell Braun baritone, Labadie conductor. 2000. Dorian xCD-90288
Bach: Goldberg Variations. Labadie conductor, arranger. 2000. Dorian xCD-90281
J.S. Bach: Art of the Fugue. Labadie conductor, arranger. 2001. Dorian xCD-90297
Requiem de Mozart. Labadie conductor. 2002. Dorian DOR-90310
Celebration. Labadie conductor. 2004. Dorian DOR-90024
Psaume 51 et Cantate 82 de J.S. Bach. Labadie conductor. 2004. ATMA ACD2 2343