Nos Chers Italiens
at St-Léon de Westmount

Studio de Musique Ancienne de Montréal celebrates 45 years of concerts and recordings

By Irene Chwalkowski

There were 360 patrons of the musical arts at Saint-Léon de Westmount church on Sunday, November 3, listening to an “early music” choir concert celebrating the 45th anniversary of Studio de Musique Ancienne de Montréal. SMAM’s repertoire was drawn from 45 years of its concerts and recordings.

Founders Christopher Jackson, Réjean Poirier, and Hélène Dugal have been inspired by generations of music makers and audiences. Since its early beginnings, SMAM has also changed and grown, in part due to its ambition to offer early music and to reach a wider audience.

The iconic church was the perfect backdrop for a selection of early music. Entitled Nos Chers Italiens it featured musical giants from Claudio Monteverdi (1567-1643) to Giovanni Pierluigi de Palestrina (1525-1594), Giovanni Gabriele (1557-1612) with Giacomo Carissimi (1605-1674) along the way.

Shortly after 3 pm, the lights dimmed once or twice, the background chatter ceased and the choir assembled in front of the main altar. They were all dressed in black.

Studio de Musique Ancienne de Montréal -

Conductor Andrew McAnerney (2015)* led a long list of choir singers and instrumentalists.

Soloists included soprano Marie Magistry (2004), tenor Nils Brown (1995) and bass-baritone Normand Richard (1988). Chorist-soloists were sopranos Anne-Marie Beaudette (2018), Stéphanie Manias (2010), alto Josée Lalonde (1991) and tenor Michiel Schrey (1990).

The concert was a holier than thou moment, an oasis of civility in this harsh world. Kudos to SMAM and may they sing for another 45 years!

The instruments showcased the violin, cello, lute, organ, sackbuts and cornetto.

In order to amuse music lovers, a selection of about a dozen CDs were available for sale at the back of the church at an economical $20 a pop.

True to Italian tradition, trayfuls of wrapped goodies awaited the communicants on their way out at the end of the concert.

Saint-Léon de Westmount rivals any of the dozens of churches I have experienced in Italy – the Sistine Chapel excluded, naturally.

The bas-relief woodcarvings on the front doors alone are worth a visit. The ceiling is indeed, Sistine Chapel-ish, though in much more muted colours, and the shrine to the Virgin Mary is breathtaking. Turquoise and white lampions – 30 of them, are installed right before a prie-dieu and the view is magnificent. The Virgin herself is grey – standing some 15 feet high with relaxed arms draped across her waist. Various religious icons picturing Mary and child are scattered around the base of the statue; bouquets of variegated hues and marvellous stained-glass windows line both sides of the display. I picked a white lampion and lit it with the help of a man who told me where to find the wooden sticks that spark one flame to the other.

The concert was a holier than thou moment, an oasis of civility in this harsh world. Kudos to SMAM and may they sing for another 45 years!

For a schedule of future musical offerings in the 2019/2020 season visit
There you can also find out about how to become a patron of the musical arts.

* Dates in parentheses indicate the year the singers joined the choir.

Images: courtesy of Studio de Musique Ancienne de Montréal, unless indicated otherwise
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Irene Chwalkowski –

Irene Chwalkowski is an experienced freelance reporter with a demonstrated history of working in the newspaper industry. Skilled in translation, journalism, photography and interviewing, she is a media and communications professional with a Bachelor’s degree in Social Psychology from McGill University. She also holds certificate in French to English translation from McGill University.

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