aubades, the new album from post-classical piano icon Jean-Michel Blais, marks the Montreal-born musician’s transition from pianist to composer, as he collaborates with an ensemble for the first time in his recording career. Written during the pandemic and following a breakup, Blais has used his distinctive musical voice to create a defiantly uplifting record with glistening instrumental textures and warm major tonalities. The album’s title refers to the “aubade”, a morning love song about lovers separating at dawn.
Jean-Michel Blais has been a celebrated figure in the post-classical piano world since the release of his critically-acclaimed debut album II in 2016. He attended Quebec’s prestigious Trois-Rivières Music Conservatory but left after two years of study, exhausted by the restraints of the traditional music curriculum. Blais then travelled widely before retraining as a special education teacher. Whilst working as a teacher, he returned to music on his own terms, rediscovering his passion through improvising on the piano. These improvisations formed the basis of a recording career that has earned him a Polaris prize nomination, a #1 on the Billboard Classical chart and a Time Magazine top ten album of the year.
Despite the difficult global and personal backdrop, Blais described the time writing this album as a “fruitful moment of creativity for me. We started having hares in the park, beautiful butterflies flying everywhere. It was a time of lots of blossoming, and also a moment when I blossomed from being a pianist into a composer.” Musical ideas captured in over 600 recorded piano improvisations were transformed by Blais into 11 compositions performed by a 12-person ensemble. During the composition process, Blais collaborated with Alex Weston, former music assistant to Blais’s hero Philip Glass. The musicians were recorded with close-up microphones, creating a richly intimate atmosphere that captures the human behind each instrument, from the mechanics of the woodwind keys to the snap of a double bass string.
Blais also consciously found himself leaning towards major tonalities, which he believes are surprisingly rare in modern classical piano music. “With this album, I was definitely responding to certain trends in modern classical music,” Blais reckons. “For example, the fact that the solo piano tends to sound melancholic. That’s good, but I’ve done that already, I wanted to go beyond that.”
In aubades, every instrument is given moments of expression to an extent that took the players by surprise. “When the Second Violin player, Nadia, came to look at the music she thought there was a mistake. She was the only violin playing. I’d have to tell her ‘It’s not a mistake, it’s your time to shine’”, Blais says, “there’s often been this dominant idea in classical music that one instrument is the chief, the king of all the instruments, and the others are in the background merely supporting.” He was inspired by more democratic musical textures from the Renaissance and Middle Ages, as well as the social democratic artistic ethos of the English 19th century poet, designer and activist William Morris and the Arts and Crafts movement.
The album’s first single, murmures, was released on 3 September. It is described by the composer as a tribute to Philip Glass. A minimal piano is joined by fluttering strings resembling birds in flight. The release date and tracklist for the album will be announced later this month.
**Dates de spectacles
04/02/2022 St-Eustache - Le Zénith Promutuel Assurance
06/02/2022 Beloeil - Centre culturel de Beloeil
08/02/2022 Brossard - L'Étoile Banque Nationale
10/02/2022 Joliette - Centre culturel Desjardins - Salle Rolland-Brunelle
11/02/2022 Sorel-Tracy - Salle Georges-Codling
12/02/2022 Baie-du-Febvre - Théâtre Belcourt
17/02/2022 Longueuil - Théâtre de la Ville - Salle Pratt & Whitney
19/02/2022 Trois-Rivières - Salle J.-Antonio-Thompson
22/02/2022 Drummondville - Maison des arts Desjardins
24/02/2022 Lac-Mégantic - Salle Montignac
25/02/2022 Sherbrooke - Théâtre Granada
26/02/2022 Victoriaville - Le Carré 150 - Salle Les Frères-Lemaire
28/02/2022 St-Jérôme - Théâtre Gilles-Vigneault
01/03/2022 Gatineau - Maison de la culture - Salle Odyssée
03/03/2022 Québec - Grand Théâtre de Québec - Salle Louis-Fréchette
06/03/2022 St-Jean-sur-Richelieu - Théâtre des Deux Rives
09/03/2022 Laval - Salle André-Mathieu
11/03/2022 Ste-Thérèse - Théâtre Lionel-Groulx
13/03/2022 Sainte-Geneviève - Salle Pauline-Julien
08/09/2022 Gaspé - Salle de spectacles de Gaspé
09/09/2022 Carleton-sur-Mer - Studio Hydro-Québec du Quai des arts
10/09/2022 Rimouski - Salle Desjardins-Telus
12/09/2022 Sept-Îles - Salle Jean-Marc Dion
13/09/2022 Baie-Comeau - Centre des arts de Baie-Comeau
15/09/2022 Saguenay - Théâtre Banque Nationale
16/09/2022 Dolbeau-Mistassini - Salle Desjardins Maria-Chapdelaine
17/09/2022 Alma - Salle Michel-Côté
22/09/2022 Rivière-du-Loup - Centre culturel Berger - Salle Alphonse Desjardins
24/09/2022 Terrebonne - Théâtre du Vieux-Terrebonne
26/09/2022 Amos - Théâtre des Eskers
27/09/2022 La Sarre - Salle de spectacles Desjardins
28/09/2022 Rouyn-Noranda - Théâtre du Cuivre
30/09/2022 Val-d'Or - Théâtre Télébec
02/10/2022 Shawinigan - Centre des arts de Shawinigan - Salle Philippe-Filion