Canada Council Digital Originals

Montreal ensemble performs more than 4,900 mini-concerts during pandemic

The Montreal orchestra Caprice Ensemble created Mini-Concerts Santé, a series of free classical music concerts, in partnership with Mécénat Musica.
The Montreal orchestra Caprice Ensemble created Mini-Concerts Santé, a series of free classical music concerts, in partnership with Mécénat Musica. (Courtesy Caprice Ensemble)

This story is translated from Radio-Canada's French-language coverage of selected works from the Canada Council for the Arts Digital Originals grant. À lire en français sur le site de Radio-Canada.

During the first weeks of the quarantine, a small group of people wanted to ease the solitude of one of their friends, who was celebrating her birthday.

"They sang 'Happy Birthday' through their car windows. The police quickly showed up afterwards to slap a fine on the birthday girl. That's what gave us the idea for Mini-Concerts Santé," said Matthias Maute, conductor of the Caprice Ensemble.

The Montreal orchestra created Mini-Concerts Santé, a series of free classical music concerts, in partnership with Mécénat Musica.

Maute and his colleagues felt people's mental health was suffering during the pandemic, particularly due to isolation. 

The Caprice Ensemble artists quickly decided to put their instruments in their cases and go out in pairs into the streets of Montreal and offer 10-minute private mini-concerts.

The artists were looking for things to do, as the pandemic had forced the cancellation of 40 of the 65 shows that the ensemble was set to offer in 2020.

"We didn't know what sort of welcome we would get. We are spoiled musicians who play in beautiful halls, with an established audience that follows a strict code of behaviour. Here, musicians would play right to people who weren't necessarily classical music enthusiasts. We had to learn to overcome this uncertainly," said Maute.

While some people refused the impromptu musical gift, the great majority were delighted to accept it. The notes often provoked tears of relief and happiness, said Maute.

"There were people who said they were angry or lonely who felt a lot better after our visit," he said, adding they eventually also worked with Ensemble Vocal Arts-Québec, where Maute is also artistic director.

Musicians of Ensemble Caprice perform a concert in the streets of Montreal. (Courtesy Ensemble Caprice )

Between June and September, the Mini-Concerts Santé spread at breakneck speed, reaching 36,000 people perched on their balconies or seated in their doorways, who attended a total of 4,900 performances. The team also succeeded in collecting $510,000 in donations, of which 91 per cent went into artists' pockets.

"That allowed the musicians to get through the summer, because everyone was suffering from the immense loss of revenue. They got involved in an impressive way: the project went beyond our two ensembles to include artists from the Outaouais, the Centre-du-Québec, or even the Eastern Townships. Ten first violins even lent themselves to the game!" said Maute.

Concerts are already scheduled for the next few years. According to Maute, the magic of a symphony will only happen with an audience.

"We recorded the concerts on video to share online, but they lacked something. People don't know how much their simple presence contributes to classical music. We also need them," he said.

This story is part of Digital Originals, an initiative of the Canada Council for the Arts. Artists were offered a $5,000 micro-grant to either adapt their existing work or create new work for the digital world during the COVID-19 pandemic. CBC Arts has partnered with Canada Council to feature a selection of these projects. This story is translated from Radio-Canada's French-language Digital Originals coverage. You can see more of these projects here.

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