“Quintessence” to celebrate the 40th anniversary of I Musici

I Musici officially celebrated its 40the anniversary with a concert entitled Quintessence, Thursday evening at the Pierre-Mercure room. The orchestra had filled the audience very well for an evening where the warmth of the colors of the ensemble was highlighted, notably in a transcription of the Quintet op. 111 by Brahms.

This was part of Jean-François Rivest’s mandate, in contrast to that of Jean-Marie Zeitouni: a return to the I Musici formula, string ensemble rather than chamber orchestra. This avenue suits the conductor, originally a violinist, well. It also has a strong impact on programs, with a number of transcriptions for string ensemble of quartets, quintets and sextets. From now on, when I Musici programs Symphonies of Beethoven (what’s the point anyway?), these are reductions-adaptations and not, as with Turovsky or Zeitouni, expanded concerts with supernumerary musicians.


It’s just a question of finding or rediscovering an audience fond of quartets played by twenty people, but judging by this well-stocked audience on Thursday, to our great surprise, it does indeed exist. To clear up a possible misunderstanding, it is not that the repertoire for string orchestra does not exist, but its exploration, with a few exceptions, such as the original concert by Lina González-Granados in October (which, alas, fell into same time as other concerts) seems quite secondary.

Jean-François Rivest’s very good idea in Strauss and Brahms, as clearly pointed out by violist Elvira Misbakhova, who spoke a few words of welcome, was to distribute 6 violas in these works. With 4 violins I, 4 violins II, 6 violas, 3 cellos and 1 double bass, the sound texture, especially in Brahms, is exactly the right one. Strauss, too, benefits from this increased warmth and roundness. Rivest works on the pleasantness of this overall sound, superbly mellow in Strauss, and the nuances, admirable in 2e Brahms movement.

The leader had the judicious intuition to speak before the presentation of the Great Fugue by Beethoven by clearly explaining the structure of this complex work. As for the execution, it had poise and grip. You will no doubt have understood that we are not inveterate fanatics of seeing four violins make superhuman efforts to sound with the unanimity of one. This is almost not possible and has not entirely been, particularly on the violin I side. But the challenges of these late scores by great composers have certainly contributed to cementing an ensemble which displays no weariness in the face of weight of years.


Strauss: “Capriccio Sextet”. Beethoven: “Grande Fugue, op. 133”. Brahms: “Quintet, op. 111”. I Musici, Jean-François Rivest. Salle Pierre-Mercure, Thursday January 18, 2024.

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