Friday, February 14, 2020

Jacques Hétu: Canadian Composer

As most of my professional music career was spent as a performer, not a composer, I haven't spent much time either socializing or studying with composers. I really have only met a few--and only a couple of well-known ones. After posting about the Orchestre Métropolitain and their upcoming performance of the Symphony No. 5 of Jacques Hétu, I recall that he is one of the few composers I have met. Wikipedia has a basic bio. We learn that he died in 2010, age seventy-one. He studied in various places and most notably with Lucas Foss in the US and with Henri Dutilleux and Olivier Messiaen in France. He taught at the three most important French language universities in Quebec: Laval University, the University of Montreal and the University of Quebec at Montreal.

I first encountered his music in the form of his Suite for Guitar, op 41, written in 1986. I did the West Coast premiere of the work at a contemporary music festival at the University of Victoria in, I think, 1987 or 88. In 1989 I played the piece in a solo recital at McGill University in Montreal. This was the occasion when I met M. Hétu as he not only attended the concert, but he came backstage afterwards to talk to me. He was quite complimentary and we had an interesting chat about the piece. Alas, I never got around to recording it. Here is a performance by Andrei Burdeti:

The composer that most reminds me of Hétu is Dutilleux. They are both lyrical, meticulous composers, not prolific, but the creators of lapidary delights. The Suite for Guitar is a fairly minor piece, for a better idea of his range as a composer we should listen to his Symphony No. 5, which might have been his last finished work. This is the premiere performance with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, Peter Oundjian (Conductor), Amadeus Choir and Elmer Iseler Singers.

UPDATE: On reflection, I have actually met a few more composers: my old friend Canadian composer Anthony Genge, Cuban composer Leo Brouwer, English composer Stephen Dodgson and probably a couple of others. Oh, and Karlheinz Stockhausen.

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