An interview with Quasar's artistic director.
Our "Portrait" series introduces the people and organizations that are part of the Percumedia client community.
Marie-Chantal Leclair was exposed to music at a very young age, first in her family and then in elementary school. In high school, she discovered and fell in love with the saxophone. She then decided to pursue her studies in music at Cégep St-Laurent and at the Université de Montréal where she completed a bachelor's and master's degrees under the direction of Professor René Masino.
At the end of her master's degree, her teacher encouraged her to dive into a professional life rather than continue her studies.
"You have to understand that as a young graduate in contemporary saxophone interpretation, headhunters are not after you!"
She decided to take her professional development in hand and founded the Quasar Saxophone Quartet with fellow passionate musicians. That was in 1994.
Quasar is a family-owned company: apart from Marie-Chantal Leclair, the group is made up of her husband, Jean-Marc Bouchard, her brother Mathieu Leclair and a long-time friend, André Leroux. The four founders are still together after 23 years, an unusual longevity for a musical group
The chemistry between the members of the group is due to the fact that all share a well defined artistic project. The group's mission has always remained intact: creative music, repertoire development and innovation. Each of its members has evolved, and developed individually, but the mission of the group has always remained the same.
"Chamber music, in a small group, is an ideal format, since we experience both the advantages of collective work and individual artistic expression."
Marie-Chantal Leclair also explains the longevity of the group by the fact that its success was gradually built over the years, rather than spontaneously. As working and creative conditions have improved each year, each of the musicians has seen his involvement and motivation grow.
Nowadays, in addition to the tours and the numerous concerts that must be payed and prepared, the group devotes a minimum of 9 hours per week of rehearsal work to maintain its technical and artistic level.
A self-managed company
In addition to their artistic work, the members of the group also assume the main tasks related to the management of the company. Quasar originally operated on a project-by-project basis and Marie-Chantal Leclair was responsible for most of the administrative work. After having evolved into yearly based management, and finally into a multi-year management context, in which planning is done over longer cycles, the other members of the group have gradually become more involved in its management.
Today, although decision-making is always done in a collegial way, the management tasks are divided among three of the members: Marie-Chantal Leclair assumes the artistic management, Jean-Marc Bouchard the operations management and Mathieu Leclair the financial management. Quasar is therefore a self-managed artistic company.
This core was joined by a team of external collaborators for some of the more specialized functions such as graphic design, web development, press relations, translation, etc. This team of freelancers, which evolve around the three directors, is stable and each of them is familiar with the group and its needs, so that the work can be done very quickly.
The role of artistic director.
As artistic director, Marie-Chantal Leclair first maintains the artistic vision and brings the team together around this vision. Moreover, it is she who "signs" the group's programming, although everyone can contribute to defining it. It is therefore a matter of maintaining and nurturing the vision, and ensuring that actions are consistent with this vision.
Her role also includes a research aspect. Marie-Chantal Leclair must be on the lookout for new trends, and remains well informed of what is happening at the international level.
In addition, she has to maintain and initiate relations with artistic partners of all kinds: symphony orchestras, other groups, composers, concert societies, cultural organizations, etc.
"One of the factors contributing to the group's success is its position in a highly competitive world. It is therefore necessary for the artistic director to nourish the brand and the identity of the group."
What is a good piece of music?
Music appreciation depends on both irrational and rational criteria. Music is primarily communication and emotion, not in the romantic sense of the term, but rather in the sense of sharing an experience. It's very sensory.
Music has to surprise and carry a clear intention, it has to "stand on its own". In music, we stalk about form in this respect.
A good piece of music makes you want to listen to it again, it allows you to discover new facets with each listening. For Marie-Chantal Leclair, notions of originality, identity and personality are very important. She seeks a distinctive voice.
What is a good music listener?
Basically, for Marie-Chantal Leclair, a good listener is first a curious person. It is also someone who is ready for a certain form of abandonment to an artistic proposition, without any preconception.
A good listener is also a demanding listener. This requirement goes along with curiosity. The listener must expect o be given something by the music.
On stage, as a musician, you can feel the audience. In order to respond, the relationship must be initiated by the artist. He or she who has the responsibility to open the conversation and build confidence.
Quasar likes to meet with the audience, and does not hesitate to leave its comfort zone to perform in the public space.
At the end of September, the group plays at the Jean-Talon Market in Montreal and on October 1st with the Montreal Symphony Orchestral. After that, comes a week of creative residency in Vancouver and in late October a new project: the Quasar-chestra with other musicians, up to 12 saxophones. You can see the details of these activities on the calendar of Quasar's website.