It all started with a philosophy: people need music. That's all people - young, old, those who can't afford $200 opera tickets. More specifically, people need chamber music - that most intimate and reflective form of music-making.
Thus the Allegra Chamber Music series was born - and the rest is history. Six times a year for the past 36 years Montreal's finest musicians have come together to play the chamber music they love best. And we get to hear it for free.
A 37th birthday is a significant milestone in anyone's books. Dorothy Fieldman Fraiberg, the group's pianist and founder, contemplates everything that has happened over the past thirty-six years, and what is still to come. Sitting at her Steinway in her home - which doubles as Allegra's rehearsal space - she says that even many years and many, many concerts down the line, the aspirations of the group haven't really changed.
"Allegra's concerts have always been of the highest standard - our musicians are the principal players of the Orchestre Metropolitain and the MSO. We are still entirely non-government-funded, and our concerts are still entirely free."
In a world where arts funding is pretty rare, bringing together such high profile performers without charging entrance is no small achievement.
"Our sponsors have been very good to us," says Fraiberg - so good that every season Allegra is able, without any artistic restraint, to invite 40 musicians to play in a season of six concerts. The group also holds a gala event at the start of each season.
There is certainly no lack of interest from audiences - the concerts, which take place in McGill University's Redpath Hall, are always packed, with people who can't find a seat standing at the back. Fraiberg is pleased that Allegra has produced such an enthusiastic response; the chamber repertoire is often overlooked by a music industry that bestows much of its attention on the larger opera companies and symphony orchestras.
While a string quartet or wind quintet might not provide the same overwhelming force that attracts audiences to orchestral concerts, there is an intimacy that can be reached only through the level of player interaction needed to bring chamber music together. Glancing, breathing, head nodding, arm raising, eyebrow twitching - every communication possible is used to make the music work.
In such small ensembles, every note played is of vital importance, and what lifts a performance from mere score-reading to real music-making rests in the finest of details: well-placed rubato, a slight colouring at the top of the phrase or a skilful diminuendo to nothing - everything must be accomplished together. And this is where the magic lies.
To hear chamber music is to be offered a glimpse into the real joy of music making. "Once the public experiences the intimacy of chamber music and sees how special it is - sees the bond that is created not only between the musicians, but between musicians and audience - they realize it's something very special, and they feel like a part of it."
In terms of programs, the scope is vast. There are the greats, the pillars of the repertoire - Mozart, Schubert, Beethoven, Brahms - whose music alone would be enough to keep any chamber series busy for a lifetime. But Fraiberg takes pride that Allegra also tackles some more obscure works as well as new works by Canadian composers. She says that thanks to the free nature of the concerts, and therefore a loyal audience, the group is more at liberty to play what is really interesting, rather than just what sells tickets.
"It's a real privilege," she says, "because for musicians there is nothing better than offering an audience the music they love. We lend our ears, Allegra lends its passion. Because ultimately, sharing is what chamber music is all about."