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THE SCOOP | Classical Music JUNOs For 2024 Showcase Depth Of The Genre

By Anya Wassenberg on March 25, 2024

L-R (clockwise): Chamber ensemble Constantinople (Photo courtesy of the artists); .’Orchestre Classique de Montréal, Alain Trudel, conductor, premiere Maxime Goulet: Symphonie de la tempête de verglas in 2023 (Photo courtesy of Maxie Goulet); James Ehnes (Photo courtesy of the artist)
L-R (clockwise): Chamber ensemble Constantinople (Photo courtesy of the artists); .’Orchestre Classique de Montréal, Alain Trudel, conductor, premiere Maxime Goulet: Symphonie de la tempête de verglas in 2023 (Photo courtesy of Maxie Goulet); James Ehnes (Photo courtesy of the artist)

The JUNO Awards were given out over the weekend of March 22 and 23, with the classical category included in the non-televised Saturday night festivities. The winners of the four classical music categories showcase a range of music and composers within the genres, as well as a diverse group of musicians.

Along with the four specifically classical categories, a fifth win adds to the spotlight on the province of Québec.

Here’s a look at those who took home the trophies

CLASSICAL ALBUM OF THE YEAR, SOLO ARTIST: James Ehnes | Nielsen: Violin Concerto, Symphony No. 4

A true international superstar, violinist James Ehnes needs no introduction to classical music fans. He’s been widely praised over the years not only for his mastery of technique, but his sensitive sense of interpretation. Nielsen’s Violin Concerto, written in two movements, premiered in 1912, with the composer himself conducting the Royal Danish Symphony.

It falls into the more melodic of Nielsen’s works, with a Neo-Classical structure, and despite a string of notable recordings, has not become part of the usual orchestral repertoire in North America. Perhaps Ehnes’ win will change that.

CLASSICAL ALBUM OF THE YEAR, LARGE ENSEMBLE: Orchestre Classique de Montréal, Jacques Lacombe, conductor | Maxime Goulet: Symphonie de la tempête de verglas

A native of Montréal, composer Maxime Goulet studied at the University of Montréal, obtaining both his bachelor’s and master’s degrees there. He is known today as a composer of works for orchestra and also video games. His works have been performed across Canada, including by the TSO, along with the Houston Symphony Orchestra, Normandy Regional Orchestra, and others.

The Symphonie de la tempête de verglas (Ice Storm Symphony) is a substantial work of 40 minutes that defies easy categorization. The OSM and Jacques Lacombe are fully committed in their rendition of the evocative and emotionally colourful score.

CLASSICAL ALBUM OF THE YEAR, SMALL ENSEMBLE: Constantinople | Il Ponte di Leonardo

Constantinople is a unique chamber ensemble that was founded in Montreal in 2001 by its artistic director, Kiya Tabassian, a master player of the setar. The group weaves global cultures together to create music that draws inspiration from the Middle Ages and Renaissance, and cultures from the Middle East, through the Mediterranean region and Europe.

The ensemble, along with Tabassian consisting of Didem Basar on the kanun (or Turkish zither), Patrick Graham and Hamin Honari (percussion), and Tanya LaPerrière (Baroque violin and viola d’amore), has released more than 20 albums through their history. Il Ponte di Leonardo is named after Da Vinci’s innovative bridge design, one that would never be realized. Like Constantinople the group, Da Vinci saw his design as a bridge between East and West. They’re joined on the album by Italian tenor and musicologist Marco Beasley.

CLASSICAL COMPOSITION OF THE YEAR: Nicole Lizée | Don’t Throw Your Head in Your Hands

Born in Gravelbourg, SK, Nicole studied music at McGill University, where she received her M.Mus. As a composer, her inspirations include films and pop culture, and her pieces have been performed by ensembles from the Kronos Quartet to the Australian Art Orchestra, San Francisco Symphony, TSO, and many more. She has won several prizes for her work, including the 2019 Prix Opus for Composer of the Year. Prior to this win, she was nominated for a JUNO twice.

Don’t Throw Your Head In Your Hands was composed for violin and karaoke machine, and the results are evocative and surprising, to say the least. The piece was commissioned by violinist Christopher Whitley, and was released on his 2023 album Describe Yourself.

FRANCOPHONE ALBUM OF THE YEAR: Les Cowboys Fringants avec l’Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal

A surprise addition to the list comes from the Francophone Album of the Year category, where the winner was Les Cowboys Fringant En concert avec l’Orchestre symphonique de Montréal (sous la direction du chef Simon Leclerc).

Baritone Dominique Côté and celebrated soprano Karina Gauvin sing along with Les Cowboys Fringants and the OSM, creating perhaps the perfect combination of québécois and classical music.

Given the preponderance of the Québecois in the classical music categories, both as nominees and winners, it seems hardly surprising.

Vive le Québec classique.

Find the full list of 2024 JUNO nominees and winners here.

* This piece was amended to correct the details of the album on which Nicole Lizée’s piece Don’t Throw Your Head in Your Hands appears.

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