[Grand angle] Bach, between family spirit and resilience

The 2022 Bach Festival will open Thursday at the Maison symphonique with The Passion according to Saint John by the famous Gächinger Kantorei, the ensemble directed for nearly 60 years by Helmuth Rilling and now, since 2013, in the hands of Hans-Christoph Rademann. This fall festival, which brings together our best artists with international stars, is distinguished by a loyal and dedicated audience. Will the latter be there in a difficult year?

“It’s a kind of fascination for me to see the joy of the public who come to experience a beautiful evening every year. Founder and director of the Bach Festival for 15 years, Alexandra Scheibler has the impression that this public has come to form over time a kind of family attached to the event she directs. “The message to convey today is: yes, the situation is difficult, we know that everything is more expensive, so we need you even more. It’s important to go to the concert to support the artists, the organizers and, above all, we all need art in our lives. »

The Gächinger Kantorei, a legend in Bach

On Thursday, Alexandra Scheibler and her team welcome the Gächinger Kantorei (now spelled “Gaechinger Cantorey”) to open their festival. To optimize things, she reserved the Maison symphonique. But the challenge manifests itself from the first concert. Last summer, it clearly materialized in Lanaudière. The Festival, which traditionally welcomed around 50,000 spectators, admitted in its report to have received 25,000 despite a rich international program. “We are trying to understand why the Saint Jeanwith such a set, has become a difficult sell”, observes the director of the Bach Festival a few days before its prestigious opening.

Year at risk

Alexandra Scheibler recognizes that things are “more complicated than in the past” for a festival that welcomes many artists from elsewhere. She also acknowledges that “the risk is higher than 2018, 2019 and even 2021”, but wants to “be positive and not look at things from a risk angle”.

Above all, she thinks that in 2022 she has found the balance between local artists and international stars. Masaaki Suzuki, Christian Tetzlaff, Filippo Gorini and lutenist Thomas Dunford will follow in a few days. “It’s a progressive construction that recognizes the excellence of the best musicians here. Previously, we were like a large umbrella welcoming Quebec organizations that came to play a Bach program from their season as part of the Festival. But this paradigm has changed. »

Even if for the closing concert, the festival was able to count on Les Violons du Roy and Bernard Labadie, who included in their season a concert of cantatas on December 9, the Goldberg Variations in an orchestral version by Les Violons du Roy or the concert by Luc Beauséjour in 2022 are productions of the Festival, which engages the musicians itself, just like those of its orchestra, which will be conducted by the great Masaaki Suzuki on November 25. Alexandra Scheibler hopes that this will one day translate into public support for the Festival, which is significantly less than for other events.

What I find unfortunate here, in Montreal, is that many institutions tend to panic and sell off tickets shortly before the date of their concerts at 30 or 50%. Seeing ticket prices cut to pieces sends a very dangerous signal, in my opinion.

In 2022, we hardly talk about webcasting anymore. “Yes, there are distant, elderly, sick or young people who appreciate webcasting. But for us, and our small structure, the indoor concert is the priority that relegates webcasting to the background for the moment. Moreover, we have had no assistance for this purpose. On the other hand, from her vast experience acquired in 2020 and 2021, Alexandra Scheibler argues that “the Web audience does not deprive the live concert of spectators: these are two different audiences”.

The dangers of panic

In practice, what, at the dawn of this edition, most disturbs the founder and general director of the Bach Festival, are the threats she perceives to the very ecology of live performance and the promotion of art. Analyzing that the current problem of public reluctance in its return to theaters is “international” and that, moreover, an erosion of the public for classical music had begun well before the pandemic, Alexandra Scheibler considers that the situation requires deep reflection.

“What I find unfortunate here, in Montreal, is that many institutions tend to panic and sell off tickets shortly before the date of their concerts at 30 or 50%. Seeing ticket prices cut to pieces sends a very dangerous signal, in my opinion. First of all, it implies that the valuation of the concert can suddenly be halved. Secondly, we can say to ourselves: “It was too expensive before, since they can sell it at half price.” Third, and this is the worst part, I think it’s pointless. »

Alexandra Scheibler believes that all of this sends the wrong signal to the public and reinforces a new buying behavior. “From the moment he understands the maneuver, the public waits until the last moment to see if there is a last minute sale. But if this sale does not arrive, will people really buy the ticket at the normal price? »

The Bachen Festival five dates

Alexandra Scheibler does not deny that “it’s not pleasant when a concert is half full (or half empty)”, neither for the artist nor for the organizer. But, in his opinion, “we have to get through it, absorb the inconveniences of the present situation”, in short, admit a crossing of the desert. “The world has changed in two years. We must seek to understand these changes. What attracts people? Has the public itself changed? How do you understand anything if you attract people by the artificial screen of a price drop? »

Because, of course, M.me Scheibler is convinced that this commercial practice is a sword shot in the water: “How would these people attracted by the price be interested in the long term? Next time, at the true price, why would they come back? So how can we imagine that this panic will improve things in the long term? »

For her, the solution is to stagger the ticket prices at each concert so that the range allows everyone to attend. The tickets for the Passion by Bach are sold between 40 and 110 dollars, which still makes access quite expensive. “When we are little subsidized, like us, it is difficult for an international festival to go below a certain price level”, notes Alexandra Scheibler. “There was a lot of help during COVID, but not for concerts with international artists. Moreover, life is more and more expensive for the organizers too. We cannot suddenly lower the prices when we pay more for the transport of the artists and for everything”, analyzes the one who hopes that the “COVID subsidies” are not used to “finance the sales”.

The Bach Festival will not sell out. It is about the future, according to Mme Scheibler. It is necessary, “as an organizer, to ensure that the concert experience is special, so that the public feels that something is going to happen. It is a question of regaining confidence. All this is important, takes time, requires taking a deep breath and looking at the long term”, she says, before adding: “My goal is that in the future, we can always organize concerts which are not not necessarily mass concerts; concerts for a few hundred spectators, but which are significant. It won’t hold up by unscrewing the face value of art to the tune of “No one wants it anymore, so go ahead; we liquidate everything!” »

Even if it doesn’t seem like too much, Alexandra Scheibler is an optimist: “Times are tough, but if we’ve made it through the last two years, we’re going to get through this one too!” »

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