Interview with L'Harmonie des Saisons director Eric Milnes
Eric: A lot of what we do is very detail oriented, you know. Listeners will tend to lean in.
James: That’s the voice of Eric Milnes, a conductor, performer who is currently living in Montreal, leading several ensembles in that area. Eric is also very active in the Vermont community. He’s the choir director at College Street Congregational Church in Burlington and is also the new music director for the Vermont Choral Union. I had a chance to speak with Eric about a performance of Handel’s Messiah that is bringing together two of his ensembles from either side of the Canadian border.
Eric: The ensemble from Montreal, L’Harmonie des Saisons, which I direct; it’s a vocal and orchestral ensemble which specializes in music of the 17th and 18th century; they’re making their premiere performance in Burlington on Sunday, December 11th at 4pm, to which tickets will be available at the door. And they are being joined in this performance by my choir at College Street Congregational Church here in Burlington, and that choir has worked very hard for approaching three years for this opportunity.
James: L’Harmonie des Saisons is a Juno Award winning ensemble that for 12 years has delighted audiences around the world with historically informed performances on period instruments.
Eric: The sheer sound of the instruments is remarkable because you just hear it so immediately that it’s quite a beautiful thing.
James: What makes the experience of The Messiah on period instruments with this type of attention to detail different from other performances?
Eric: The instruments that we see in the modern orchestra today bear some resemblance to what was played in the 18th century, but are really significantly different. The people playing them in our ensemble, as in many ensembles, are not hobbyists but this is their primary pursuit and they’ve been specialists at it for decades. So, when you are seated in front of an orchestra of period instruments you immediately hear this quite remarkable difference in the sound. I should also point out that our singers sing in a dramatically different vocal style than we will often hear.
So, I find in our performances we can achieve a higher level of expression which evolves in the moment, where the fun really is! And in my experience, the audience responds very actively to that. They hear it and they see.
James: What is your vision for this event and for the future of early music performances in Vermont?
Eric: I really see it as an entrée for the listening public to an entire range of performances and offerings of period music. Particularly in Burlington I would like to initiate a series of Burlington baroque offerings where we, with singers and instrumentalists, really get into the repertoire in what might be described as a historically informed way and collaborating with my wonderful team of instrumentalists and singers from north of the border. So, I would like to see this as a first event of perhaps many that would include a Burlington Baroque festival.
James: So don’t miss this first opportunity. The Montreal based ensemble L’Harmonie des Saisons and the Choir of College Street Congregational Church in Burlington present a special performance of Handel’s Messiah, Sunday December 11th, 4pm at College Street Congregational Church in Burlington, Vermont.
Eric: And I would like to say also, that all students and young people and children are invited free of charge. There will be tickets available at the door as well as on Eventbrite.