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Beethoven's 5th plays at Montreal airport 'drive-in'

Eric Thomas

Agence France-Presse

Montreal, Canada  /  Fri, August 7, 2020  /  09:04 pm
Beethoven's 5th plays at Montreal airport 'drive-in'

The Montreal Symphony Orchestra performs in a parking lot at Montreal-Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport on August 5, 2020, during a socially-distanced 'drive-in' concert amid the COVID-19 outbreak. (AFP/Eric Thomas)

Music lovers streamed into an airport parking lot, socially distancing in cars to listen to the Montreal Symphony Orchestra play Beethoven, Ravel and Mozart in between flights taking off.

"I normally spend a lot of time either in front of an orchestra or in front of an airport. So we combined the two, it's kinda special," conductor Jacques Lacombe told AFP during an interview Wednesday evening, shortly before the performance.

The Montreal Symphony Orchestra (MSO) is used to playing outdoors -- in parks, outside retirement homes, even at the city's Olympic stadium every summer. 

But at the end of an airport runway, facing a crowd seated behind car windshields? Not so much. 

"This is a first in my career," said the conductor, who directs the Mulhouse Symphony Orchestra in eastern France but regularly collaborates with the MSO.

The MSO, one of two major symphonies in Montreal alongside the Orchestre Metropolitain, had not performed in public since March due to the pandemic. 

For its eagerly anticipated COVID-era debut, it opted for a drive-in show -- a first in Canada according to organizers.

More than 520 carefully spaced cars, their headlights off, packed into a massive parking lot at the Trudeau International Airport west of Montreal in front of a small stage where around fifty musicians performed, each socially distanced from the other.

Read also: Montreal's tourist heart a ghost town in pandemic summer

'Beauty is missing' 

The performance was broadcast on a dedicated FM channel, allowing the music-loving motorists to listen to the concert on their car radio. Two giant screens allowed the back rows to see the stage.

In lieu of applause the audience honked car horns and flashed headlights.

Every now and then a jetliner took off behind the stage, drowning out a delicate tune from Mozart's The Magic Flute, or the opening notes of the adagio from Beethoven's 5th Symphony.

Most of the spectators said they were not bothered by the disruption.

"Airplanes are wow, it's perfect," said Michele Lesieur, a Montreal nurse who came in her small Toyota.

The last concert she went to was all the way at the beginning of the year. "I missed that a lot," she said. "Beauty is missing right now."

For Lesieur there was only one downside: a very large SUV parked in front of her. "If I had known, I would have paid a little more for better seats," she said.

Ticket prices ranged from Can$100-$500 (US$75-$375) per car, helping support the symphony after it was forced to cancel dozens of concerts due to restrictions on large public gatherings.

Read also: Serenading plants: Barcelona opera reopens with unusual concert

'A message of hope'

Yuni Lavoie, a 20-year-old student, and three friends opted for cheap seats, parking their car in the very last row. 

"We can't see the stage, there's a car with a roof rack right in front of us," said the young music lover.

But for the price, she didn't mind too much. "We're going to listen on the car radio, it's going to be fun."

A few hundred meters away, in the first row at the foot of the stage, Rachel and her husband had a breathtaking view of the orchestra. Their ticket was a gift from their children for their 60th wedding anniversary, she explained. "We're happy!"

Spectator Jacques Lacombe found Beethoven's 5th "metaphorical" for the COVID-19 era, particularly in Montreal, the Canadian city hardest hit by infections.

"It is a symphony where man fights against his destiny, it begins in turmoil and oppression and ends with a kind of liberation, jubilation and victory," he explained. 

"I hope that this evening's message is a message of hope, that we will return to a certain normality."

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