Chic cocktail celebrates Allegra Foundation

Social Notes
Veronica Redgrave

Alix Myers, Ken Dryden, Dorothy Fieldman Fraiberg and Stephanie Riddell.

Rising beside McGill University’s Schulich School of Music is an elegant contemporary façade. Inaugurated in 2005, the clean lines of the New Music Building act as counterpoint to the Schulich School of Music’s Strathcona Building with its late 19th century columns, arches and an earnest-looking statue of Queen Victoria.

The Strathcona’s architectural texture is echoed in the polished aluminum westfacing wall of the new building. Re-named the Elizabeth Wirth Building following McGill alumna Elizabeth Wirth’s donation of $7.5 million, it was the site of the Allegra Chamber Music gala.

Special guest was Ken Dryden, lawyer, politician, businessman, author and former National Hockey League goaltender, attending with his wife Lynda.

Westmounter Dorothy Fieldman Fraiberg, founder and artistic director of the Allegra Foundation, hosted the wine-andcheese reception and concert. But it was not just any wine and cheese. No toothpicks in bits of supermarket cheddar here.

Ron Moford and his Java U team presented award-winning cheeses with gourmet crackers and fresh baguette slices. Decorated with autumnal berries and fading-but-still lovely fall hydrangeas, cocktail tables ofered crudités and homemade hummus.

The 38th gala program starred Fraiberg (piano), Simon Aldrich (clarinet and the evening’s emee), Alexandre Lozowski (violin), Pierre Tourville (viola), Sheila Hannigan (cello) and Reuven Rothman (doublebass).

Carmela Vincelli, Anna Burgos and Leslie Alcorn.

To great applause, the musicians perform ed pieces by Schumann, Shostakovich and Schubert. Arriving Westmounters included Naomi and Eric Bissell, Gloria and Richard Bass, Leslie Alcorn, Julie Keith, Rachel Levy, Anna Burgos, Carmela Vincelli, Andrea Fieldman, Claudia Pasteris and JeanElie Sayegh, Katherine Skorzewska and Olaf Skorzewski, Renée Heisler, Janice Winslow, Marie Claude Gatineau, Debbie Martz and Bill Brownstein, and actor Tony Robinow, whose voice-over/narrating talents can be heard in the video game Assassin’s Creed and Star Wars Identities respectively. (Pretty cool!)

Gala committee members present included Trudy Cusmariu Ain and Naomi Bissell, as well as Allegra board members Stephanie Riddell (chair), Rona Davis, Donna Muller and Samira Sakhia, and Bach Before Bedtime committee members Alix Myers (chair) and Samantha Welscheid. The popular program had a charming spokesperson: a teddy bear.

Also noted at the reception were Judy and Mark Caplan, Grace Chaki, Ruth Gesser, Caroline Losson, Judy and Michael Rasminsky, Lillian Vineberg and Morris Goodman, Ghislaine Richard, Leslie and Brian Dunn, and Jonathan Goodman.

Habs legend Ken Dryden back in
Montreal to strike different chord

The guest speaker for the fundraising gala for chamber music ensemble Allegra, Ken Dryden points out hockey and music are both about teamwork

MONTREAL GAZETTE September 19, 2018

"I think there is an extremely close connection between sports and the arts," says Ken Dryden.

He may be as close as they come to a Canadian Renaissance Man: Ken Dryden has been a lawyer, politician, author, broadcaster, business executive and -- lest some elsewhere may forget, but few here ever will -- legendary goalie who helped the Habs win six Stanley Cups.

One of the rare individuals to be both an officer of the Order of Canada and member of the Hockey Hall of Fame, Dryden is heading back to Montreal. But he's not coming here to talk hockey or politics. In what probably shouldn't come as much of a surprise given his eclectic background, he will be the guest speaker on Sept. 27 for the gala opening of the 38th season of Allegra, the Montreal chamber music ensemble.

Aside from this opening fundraiser, Allegra will be performing six free concerts this season that celebrate women composers. In addition, nine years ago, Allegra artistic director and pianist Dorothy Fieldman Fraiberg launched the interactive Bach Before Bedtime series of paying concerts, designed to introduce children to classical music.

The connection between classical music and sport may seem strange to some, but not to Dryden.

"I've known Dorothy for a while, and I remember being in her home and listening to her rehearse with some of her musicians," says the Torontobased Dryden. "The sound was just so terrific, and what struck me was the teamwork involved in these instruments coming together."

Regardless of the venue or the performance genre, the key for Dryden has always been teamwork.

Although his mother and grandmother played the piano, Dryden acknowledges that he didn't grow up with classical music. But it struck him while working on his 1995 book In School: Our Kids, Our Teachers, Our Classrooms (with Roy MacGregor), that there has been less and less time devoted to the arts as well as phys-ed in high school -- which he feels is wrong, because both are vital to all around development.

"One of the things that is so amazing about being involved in sports and the arts is that you almost always get things wrong at first. But then you are forced to come up with answers instantly.

"I think there is an extremely close connection between sports and the arts. Most involved with either are not going to play in the NHL or at Carnegie Hall, but if you're lucky and take away anything from that experience, it is that ability to deal with things when they don't go right and figure out strategies to do better. That's a pretty good learning experience for anybody for the rest of their lives."

It would seem that everything -- from hockey to politics to writing -- came easy to Dryden. Many still have this image of a seemingly laconic Dryden leaning on his goalie stick while perusing action on the other end of the ice and then springing back into action with cat-like reflexes in shutting down the opposition in front of his net.

He attributes that to being focused. "You can also hide a lot under a mask," quips the Cornell grad. "Being a goalie is the one position when you're both in the middle of the action and you're also separate from it. It was the perfect position for me to play.

"People were probably wondering why someone who was a goalie was going to law school and then going on to write, and what possible connection there is. It's actually a pretty close connection. It's all focus, listening and observing and trying to make sense of something. That's really no different than what you're doing in politics, either," adds Dryden, a Liberal member of Parliament from 2004 to 2011 and a cabinet minister from 2004 to 2006.

Hockey still plays an integral role in his life. His 2017 book, Game Change: The Life and Death of Steve Montador and the Future of Hockey (, is a jarring look at the consequences of head injuries.

Despite having served as president of the Toronto Maple Leafs between 1997 and 2004, Dryden concedes his heart still bleeds bleu, blanc et rouge.

"I'll watch game highlights and check the standings every couple of weeks. But I still feel close to the team. That was a real time for all of us. And only with the passage of time do you dare to realize how good we were -- which is something you don't think about when you're playing."

Those glory days are fondly remembered by beleaguered Canadiens fans who have gone 25 years without a Stanley Cup parade.

"All those historic advantages -- getting the best Canadian players in a smaller league -- we had back then are gone," notes Dryden. "We have to find a way of winning without those advantages."

Clearly, a seemingly insurmountable struggle these days.


Ken Dryden is guest speaker for the 38 annual Allegra gala cocktail and concert event, Sept. 27 at 6 p.m. at McGill University's Tanna Schulich Hall, 527 Sherbrooke St. W. For tickets: 514-935-3933 or

By StrollerMom Activities, Montreal (Ville Marie)February 16, 2017

Hmmmmm. What to do…what to do on Valentine’s Day……

“Do you boys want to go on a Valentine’s Day date? To a concert?”
“A date with who?”
“With me! Your loving mom. I’ll even wear mascara!”
“But then you look kinda look like a vampire.”
Big sigh. “Fine no mascara.”

Date set! An interactive chamber music concert – for the whole family – seemed like it would be a pretty good mélange of music, culture and fun. And it was! I found it both relaxing and invigorating (is that possible? Yes it is!), and the boys had a great introduction to classical music. If fact, they really, REALLY liked it and want to see the next concert in the series. 

Founded in 2008 by Allegra Chamber Music, Bach Before Bedtime is a series of concerts aimed at introducing children to classical music pieces, interspersed with a whimsical bilingual story. During the 45 minute concert, children might be invited on stage to conduct the musicians, they can play along with percussion instruments, take part in a group dance near their seats or in the aisles, join in a silly sing-along, and afterward they can get up close with the performers and their instruments. Bonus: Cookies and juice are served in the lobby after the show.
Cookies and juice for the win, ’cause they saved the stuck-in-traffic car ride home!

But, back to the beginning.

After talking my brother into accompanying (and driving) us, we loaded up two eight-year olds, a four-year old, and a twelve-month old for the long, LOUD, and frustrating drive downtown. 
Twenty-thousand questions and complaints later and we were almost there. By some stroke of luck, we found parking right outside the concert hall, and zipped into the Elizabeth Wirth Music Building. With three minutes to spare.
There are helpful volunteers to take your pre-bought tickets, or to register you as a walk-in. We were too late, but there was also a pre-concert craft going on in the lobby, right beside the stroller parking area. 

McGill’s Tanna Schulich Hall feels very grown up, and after hissing “We don’t kick the seat in front of us!” we sat down and arranged our hats, mitts and giant coats behind us.
Intimate and entertaining, the concert was a great intro for all the kids. I wasn’t sure how The Destroyer would fare, as my little playground buddy is not quite a sit down and listen quietly type, but he was mesmerized. He was actually so quiet and still that I leaned over and asked if he was ok. The big boys were also equally intrigued, and I was delighted at the surprise introduction of the musicians and their instruments. Interspersed with the story’s narration and projected images, the chamber music, by some of Montreal’s premiere classical musicians, is played for just the right length to keep little minds interested.
Mademoiselle Pin Drop and Monsieur Le Silence signs are a reminder to try and stay a little quiet, but there were coos of delight, kids laughing, and babies crying. Several parents had babies in carriers (you need to leave your stroller in the lobby), while others stood and did the “parent sway” in the aisle to the side. 

Towards the end of the concert volunteers passed out percussion instruments which the kids delighted in shaking and banging along with the music. We then learned some concert etiquette – the musicians leave the stage first before the audience gets up! – and got to meet the musicians and see their instruments up close. The older kids requested some Star Wars music to which the french horn player cheerfully obliged. Happy smiles 🙂
I’m kind of hoping that one of my kids will take up the french horn because I LOVE the sound. 

A friend of mine and her two kids saw the previous concert and said this about their experience:

"The concert was wonderful! The kids loved it and it has led to a lot of creative art projects and very imaginative games! I think they’ll remember it for a long time."

From my eight-year old:

"I liked when the french horn player did the Star Wars music for me!"

Some important notes:

-Follow Bach Before Bedtime’s FACEBOOK page HERE for up-to-date info on concerts. The next concert takes place on March 14th at 11am and 4:30pm. You’ll also find the link for registering through the FB page.
More info on the Bach Before Bedtime concert series can be found on their WEBSITE

-There is a suggested donation of 20$ per family. 

-The address is 527 Sherbrooke O., Montreal, QC H3A 1E3 on the corner of Aylmer. The entrance to the building is on Sherbrooke.
We were miraculously able to find (free!) street parking right around the corner on Aylmer, and there’s also paid meter spots around as well as an Impark lot on Aylmer just north of Rue Sainte-Catherine

-Bring your own percussion instruments or borrow one at the concert. Just make sure to return them when you leave!

-Age range? There were infants up to older kids (10ish?) in the audience. Both my 4-year old and the 8-year old really enjoyed it. 


LaScena Musicale NOVEMBER 2016

Stella, the little heroine of the Stella series by award-winning author Marie-Louise Gay is a young redheaded girl whose imagination has no limits. The series, written in French and English, has been translated into a dozen languages and expanded into different artforms. There is a live theatre adaption of the series in Portugal, a puppet theatre adaption in Nova Scotia, and an animated TV series. In Stella, Fairy of the Forest, Stella and her little brother Sam make their way to the forest to see a fairy. On their way, Sam asks her many questions about insects and animals, about trees' age and growth of rocks. Stella answers him with creative responses.

Stella, Fairy of the Forest is the featured story in the coming edition of Bedtime. Before Bach. Gay will be reading her story in French and English accompanied by chamber music performed by the Kaleio Woodwind Quintet, pianist Dorothy Fieldman Fraiberg, and doublebassist Reuven Rothman. They will be performing excerpts from Danzi Woodwind Quintet op. 56 No. 1, Saint Saëns, D'Rivera's Contradanza for Woodwind Quintet, and Ibert's 3 Pièces Brèves. Illustrations of the book will be projected on the stage to visually follow the adventures of Stella and Sam in the forest. Children will be able hear and see an interactive version of the story.

Bedtime stories are important in a child's development as they challenge imagination and stimulate creativity. "Reading, art and music expand a child's perception of the world. They are windows onto other cultures, other lives, other emotions," says Gay. "They enrich and empower children to recognize their emotional response to music or to stories."

"In my imagination, all these small creatures and natural wonders could be translated into music," says Gay about why Stella, Fairy of the Forest would make a good story for Bach Before Bedtime. "I can't wait to hear the musical 'voices," she adds.

Bach. Before Bedtime (BBB) is a series of interactive and experiential chamber music concerts for children of all ages. Founded by the Allegra Chamber Music in 2008, its mission is to introduce children to the world of classical music where they can interact with the performers by trying their instruments, playing with percussion instruments and conducting musicians. Juices and cookies are provided after the concert.

Tuesday, November 22, 11 AM and 4:30PM, Tanna Schulich Hall, Montreal. Suggested donation per family; $20,

RSVP Online
- Or -


2015 35th Gala

Susan Schwartz, Montreal Gazette

Published on: September 20, 2015

Vivian Ventura McCormick 'conducts' musicians at McGill's Tanna Schulich Hall at a Bach Before Bedtime concert in Montreal on Thursday, March 12, 2015. Bach Before Bedtime is a program of the Allegra chamber music series, founded by Dorothy Fieldman Fraiberg, left. A gala event celebrating the 35th anniversary of Allegra is set to take place Sept. 30, 2015.
John Kenney / Montreal Gazette

When Dorothy Fieldman Fraiberg founded Allegra, a grassroots, not-for-profit organization, it was to provide chamber music programming for Montrealers free of charge. She has been its artistic director from the outset – and Allegra is now entering its 35th season.

“We want to make the music accessible to all,” she said. “I feel passionate about chamber music … It is a labour of love.”

Fieldman Fraiberg, who is also a pianist, has assembled musicians, many drawn from the Orchestre Métropolitain and the Montreal Symphony Orchestra, to perform an innovative program of works during a season of six concerts; they take place on the campus of McGill University, in Redpath Hall and Tanna Schulich Hall.

Allegra is steered by volunteers; there is minimal administrative overhead. Financial support comes from sponsors and family foundations – sponsors are the Rosalind and Morris Goodman Family Foundation, Power Corporation of Canada and the Banque Nationale – but Allegra relies on donations and proceeds from an annual gala to raise most of the funds that sustain it.

This year, Allegra’s benefit concert will be on Sept. 30 at Tanna Schulich Hall, 527 Sherbrooke St. W. It begins at 6 p.m. with a cocktail dinatoire and a silent auction featuring gift certificates for restaurants, theatre tickets, tennis tickets, spa passes and more.

The concert begins at 7. With soprano Suzie LeBlanc as special guest, Fieldman Fraiberg on piano, Simon Aldrich on clarinet, Elvira Misbakhova on violin, Pierre Tourville on viola and Sheila Hannigan on cello, they will perform Franz Schubert’s Der Hirt auf dem Felsen, D. 965 for soprano, clarinet and piano; Gustav Mahler’s Ich bin der Welt Abhanden Gekommen, from Rückert Lieder, arranged by Aldrich for soprano, clarinet and strings; and Robert Schumann’s piano quartet, op.47. The concert will be followed by a dessert reception.

The event is a tribute to Montreal philanthropist Rosalind Goodman, a music lover and longtime Allegra board member; she died in August of 2014.

Tickets are available at three prices: $125, $200 and $300. Call 514-935-3933 or email

Eight years ago Allegra added an afternoon program, Bach Before Bedtime, to introduce children to chamber music in a fun setting in which they interact with music, musicians and instruments. The 2015-2016 season of six concerts will take place Tuesday afternoons at Tanna Schulich Hall.

“Our aim is to provide children with a fun learning experience and fill the increasing void of classical music in our society,” Fieldman Fraiberg said. Go to to learn more.

2015 35th GALA

Bach Before Bedtime Fundraiser
Midtown Le Sporting Club Sanctuaire

Bach Before Bedtime 2015: Our Flutist Lara Deutsch!

noncerto 35.1 Lara Deutsch - Piazzolla: Tango Etude no.1 from noncerto on Vimeo.

noncerto 35.2 Lara Deutsch - Ferroud: Trois Pièces I.Bergère captive from noncerto on Vimeo.

noncerto 35.3 Lara Deutsch - CPE Bach: Flute Sonata III.Allegro from noncerto on Vimeo.

Interactive concert series draws kids to classical music

Bach Before Bedtime: Interactive concert series draws kids to classical music
Series hosted at McGill's Tanna Schulich Hall makes classical music - and musicians - accessible to kids.
Bach Before Bedtime draws kids to classical music

Applause: Swap meet is music to children's ears

Susan Schwartz, Montreal Gazette More from Susan Schwartz, Montreal Gazette

Published on: March 8, 2015

Participant Ali Mindel, left, with organizer Shawna Goodman, at a swap meet on Feb. 18. The event raised $900 for Allegra Chamber Music and its Bach Before Bedtime program for children.

Participant Ali Mindel, left, with organizer Shawna Goodman, at a swap meet on Feb. 18. The event raised $900 for Allegra Chamber Music and its Bach Before Bedtime program for children.

Shawna Goodman

About 25 people came together at a swap meet organized by Montreal mother, cooking teacher and community volunteer Shawna Goodman in an event that raised $900 for Bach Before Bedtime, an interactive concert series put together for children up to the age of 8 by the musicians of Allegra Chamber Music.

Participants in Goodman’s swap event, held Feb. 18, dropped off between five and 10 items in advance — everything from housewares such as platters and serving pieces and fashion items including scarves and purses and shoes. Items were either gently used or not used at all. (Sometimes we make choices that are wrong for us — but perfect for someone else. Or we have items we don’t use — and yet someone else could.)

They paid an admission fee of $36, which went to Allegra and Bach Before Bedtime, and they could take home up to the number of items they brought. Each participant received one personalized clothespin for each item she brought; she browsed and placed a clothespin on items she wanted. If an item had more than one clothespin attached, a draw was held.

A vegetarian lunch was served and the swap meet, held between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m., was an opportunity for people to make new friends or catch up with old ones. All leftover items were donated and delivered to the MADA Community Centre ( Its mission is to help people in need with basic necessities, all the while preserving their dignity and helping them to become self-sufficient.

Allegra’s Bach Before Bedtime series features 45-minute concerts, followed by the opportunity for children to go up on stage, meet the musicians and touch and examine their instruments. Cost is $15 per family. The next Bach Before Bedtime concert is on Thursday, March 12, at 4:30 p.m. at McGill University’s Tanna Schulich Hall, 527 Sherbrooke St. W. Reserve at or learn more at bachbeforebedtime on Facebook.

Allegra Chamber Music, founded by Dorothy Fieldman Fraiberg, brings together some of Montreal’s finest chamber musicians to present works that are seldom heard as well as unusual combinations of instruments and contemporary and traditional repertoire. Now in its 34th season, Allegra is the only chamber music organization in Montreal that does not charge for its annual series of concerts. The generosity of sponsors and friends makes this possible, as does an annual gala concert.

The next Allegra Chamber Music concert is to take place March 12 at 8 p.m. at Tanna Schulich Hall. The program features works by Beethoven, Joaquín Turina and Théodore Dubois. Learn more at


Montrealers who lose their hair during chemotherapy treatments for cancer cannot always afford natural, comfortable wigs. The CanDonate Hair Program, founded by professional wigmaker Laurie Brown and now in its 10th year, has supplied more than 1,000 natural hair wigs to people with cancer. It has launched a support program, A Part of Me, to make natural hair wigs available to more cancer patients.

On March 15 between noon and 4 p.m. in the centre atrium at Place Vertu Shopping Centre, the CanDonate Hair Program will welcome prospective hair donors: Hairdressers will be on hand to cut hair for donations of eight inches or more of hair, to be made in turn into handmade wigs for cancer patients.

Ten cancer patients will be selected to receive a makeover, free of charge, featuring clothing, makeup, spa treatments and a free wig handcrafted by Brown. Go to DonEspoirCancer on Facebook to view a recent haircutting/hair donation event. Learn more at

Classical music just for kids
By JENNIFER NERI, Montreal Families
November 2009

Montreal Families

Youthful chamber music
November 22, 2009

The second season of the Bach Before Bedtime concerts, a series aimed
at children, gets under way on Thursday with a concert from 4:30 to 5:15
p.m. at Redpath Hall on the campus of McGill University, 3461 McTavish
St., above Sherbrooke St. on the east side.

Children and parents are invited to an interactive chamber-music
experience in which the children will have the chance to go up on stage,
meet the musicians, examine their instruments and listen to music. There
will be snacks for the kids as well as door prizes.

The concert series is organized by the Allegra Chamber Music ensemble,
featuring musicians Dorothy Fieldman Fraiberg (piano), Simon Aldrich
(clarinet), Yukari Cousineau (violin), Jean René (viola) and Chloé
Dominguez (cello).

Cost is $10 per family, payable at the door. RSVP, with your name and
the number of children and adults who will attend, by email to

For more about Allegra, which has presented chamber music concerts
for more than two decades, visit the website

© Copyright (c) The Montreal Gazette

Bach Before Bedtime

February 2009
Bach Before Bedtime

Bach Before Bedtime is coming soon!
On Thursday, February 5th, Allegra is launching its first musical series for children. The event starts
at 4:30 pm at Redpath Hall at McGill University. For 45 minutes, come and treat your budding young
Mozarts to a short concert. They will also have a chance to come up on stage, meet our musicians,
examine our instruments and listen to some wonderful music.

Here are the musicians your musicians-to-be will meet:

  • Dorothy Fieldman Fraiberg (piano)
  • Simon Aldrich (clarinet)
  • Yukari Cousineau (violin)
  • Alexander Lozowski (violin)
  • Brian Bacon (viola)
  • Yegor Dyachkov (cello)
  • Reuven Rothman (doublebass)
Nibblies for the kiddies will be on hand.
Suggested donation: $10 per family

Hope to see you and your young ones there!

Bedtime Before Bach

The Gazette
February 13, 2007
La Presse
dimanche, le 13 Fevrier, 2007
Gazette article
Lapresse article

Gala 2006

September 12, 2006 CBC interview on Home Run. To listen to the interview with Jeanette Kelly click here.

The Montreal Gazette

Allegra Therapy

Sunday September 24, 2006

Campbell article
The graceful and elegant Redpath Hall was the setting of Allegra's concert Gala

Hugh Alcorn (rear left), and Master of Ceremonies Dennis Trudeau join Dorothy Fieldman Fraiberg (front left), and Ghislaine Richard

I know I’m supposed to be a good social columnist girl and never reveal more than I should. But we all know that every now and then even a good girl has got to be just a teensy bit bed. So, though I’m really not supposed to confide in you, my inner wild child is going to teeter on the edge and admit a behind-the-scenes faux pas.

You see, on the night of the Allegra Music Chamber’s 26th annual benefit gala, I accidentally had our assigned photographer Tyrel Featherstone, on location (Redpath Hall) 1 1/2 hours early (gosh, I’m bad!). Anyway, I was sure I was toast, subjecting the cool twentysomething staffer (with the fab directional hair) to the evening’s entire performance when he was intended to be there only during the après-concert reception.

However, post-performance, while I was expecting a mad-as-heck Tyrel (justifiably so), instead I was greeted by a smiling Tyrel who gushed over the concert and expressed interest in attending others (all of which are free and open to the public).

And so, Sunday readers, I confide my faux pas for good reason – to illustrate just how incredibly therapeutic Allegra’s gratis chamber Music can be. I, like my photographer friend Tyrel, fell prey to Allegra’s energizing crescendos and hypnotic melodies produced by violinist Yukari Cousineau, violist Brian Bacon, cellist Katherine Skorzewska, clarinetist Simon Aldrich and the extraordinarily talented and dedicated woman who dared to dream up Allegra and keep it alive and well for 26 years – pianist/artistic director Dorothy Fieldman Fraiberg.

Post performance, the blessed-out crowd moved on to the reception, where the sea of culturally inclined included Leslie and Hugh Alcorn; pals Susan and Rick Hart; gorg ‘n’ glammy Nancy Brown with plastic surgeon hubby Harvey (no, that’s NOT why she’s gorg and glammy!); pageturner Michael Galletti; Anne Fish and Colin Irving; Julie Keith and head of the world Anti-Doping Agency Dick Pound; Ghislaine Richard with lawyer husband Max Mendelsohn; spectacular mother-daughter duo Mazie and Carmella Vincelli; ever-elegant Denyse Walsh with good pal Cherry Richards; the self-titled Mr. Cello Olaf Skorzewska; delightful Joan Rothman with friend Ray Robb; and the evening’s commanding emcee, Montréal broadcast royal Dennis Trudeau with wife Suzanne Jobin.

Moral of this story? For all that ails you, trail Tyrel to the next Allegra concert.

The Montreal Gazette

Sound is intimate and the price is right

It's been 25 years of free concerts

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Allegra Chamber Music founder Dorothy Fraiberg at home with her piano.

It all started with a philosophy: people need music. That's all people - young, old, those who can't afford $100 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. At least four times a year for the past 25 years Montreal's finest musicians have come together to play the music they love best. And we get to hear it for free.

A 25th birthday is a significant milestone in anyone's books. Dorothy Fieldman Fraiberg, the group's pianist and one of the founding members, contemplates everything that has happened over the past quarter of a century, and what is still to come. Sitting beside her Steinway in her Westmount 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 MSO and the Orchestre Metropolitain. We are still entirely non-government-funded, and our concerts are still entirely free."

Allegra works as a core team of Montreal musicians who put together concerts involving themselves and any other instrumentalists the programs require, but it is the price of the tickets that makes this group so different from any other.

In a world where arts funding is a pretty rare species, 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 last year Allegra was able to invite 42 musicians to play in a season of seven concerts. The group also holds a gala event at the start of each season, hoping that big names might help attract donations (this year's event is hosted by Quebec actress and singer Dorothee Berryman.)

"But of course, we always have to be looking for more. We want to do interesting works, with interesting instrumentation. We want to expand the series, to repeat the concerts so that more people have the chance to hear us.

"But it all comes down to funding."

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; this year's season includes a Czech-themed program and a bassoon-themed program, as well as new works by Canadian composers. She says that thanks to the free nature of the concerts, and therefore an almost guaranteed 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."

Allegra Chamber Music presents its 25th-anniversary gala concert in Redpath Hall, 3461 McTavish St., Thursday at 7 p.m. Contact (514) 935-3933 or