collectif9 live: a basement venue. To the left, people are sitting in the semi-dark. To the right, a string band is standing and sitting around instrument stands with fairy lights. A musician on a pedestal talks into a mic.

Guest Blog: collectif9 and why communication is key

| Wed 1 May 2019

Montreal's string band collectif9 is playing in the UK for the first time ever on Fri 17 May. Andrea Stewart, who plays the cello, draws the connection between classical music and Montreal's nightlife, and explains why communication is at the centre of collectif9's music.

Trying to figure out reasons for playing or listening to any genre of music, no matter how different, we often come to the same conclusions: it’s all about communication and connections - communication with our fellow musicians, communication with audiences, connections to our own traditions and the traditions of others. This is what brought collectif9 together in the first place, and what brings us from project to project (and this time to the UK!). We do this with chamber music.

We came together in 2011, but already knew each other from our studies and the local music scene (the world of classical music in Montreal is so vibrant and diverse that it seems like you end up knowing everyone, yet you’re always meeting people for the first time). Our lives were completely based around playing music, but our nightlife wasn’t always corresponding to all of the music we loved, specifically the music we had been trained in.

So, we decided to play the music we loved in the places we loved hanging out in on the weekends (or at least those weekends when we weren’t in the concert hall). We played a show at a live-music venue called Divan Orange. It was loud, and energetic, and different, and fun! That’s when we realized that the opportunity to connect with people changed with context, and we could create that context ourselves.

Communication is the thing that drives the ensemble and directs our projects. We choose music that speaks to our different musical interests, music that was influenced by the traditions of others (and a lot of classical music has been!), and collaborators that can show us new perspectives. Once we are together in the rehearsal room, we try to figure out what we can do to make the arrangement or the performance our own - a change of context doesn’t always have to be a change of environment or venue, but can be how we direct the voicing, highlight a driving rhythm, or communicate the story behind a piece of music.

What can we do to create a unique performance? To make you think differently of a piece of music you know well, or an entire genre? We are lucky to spend a big part of our lives asking the types of questions whose answers depend on the person listening. We think that chamber music can take many forms and reveals more in every transformation: like our arrangement of Béla Bartók’s Romanian Folk Dances or of the 3rd movement of Gustav Mahler’s 1st symphony, both of which are were influenced by various folk songs or styles.

Now, collectif9 is a major part of our lives. When we’re at home, we brainstorm ideas, talk about repertoire, experiment with different arrangements of pieces in rehearsal, and develop project ideas. We also meet up for coffee or drinks, talk about restaurants, and go to concerts together. When we are on tour, we focus on where we are and who we meet. We learn some of the things that make each community special. There are ups and downs, excitement and adventure, miscommunication and fatigue, but each concert gives us a different connection to the people around us, and this is what colours our experience and makes it so special.

collectif9 talks about their recent album, No Time for Chamber Music, here. See them live on Fri 17 May at artsdepot.