Building Montreal: The Aldred Building

Aldred Building

I was photographing Sunday morning in Old Montreal. Actually, I woke up at 5:30 and figured that if I was going to be awake I may as well do something constructive. I was not disappointed. I'm a morning person. I have always enjoyed that feeling of being awake before most of my world. I love driving around just before dawn, the empty streets, the street lights getting ready to flicker off, the chill in the air, watching another surviving soul in the sleepy, surreal apocalyptic grey light walking down the street or waiting for the bus. I wonder if they are feeling what I feel. There is peace and clarity and as a breeze floats over my cheek I shiver at the thrill of the world existing only for me.And there is always parking. I cannot wander down to the area and not photograph the Aldred building. My lens often seems a bit too preoccupied with the beautiful Art Deco building cross-corner from Notre-Dame. It's ziggurat, step-back design was probably due to the city bylaws prohibiting buildings over 12 stories unless step-backs were included, a bylaw also adhered to by New York City, and it is no surprise that the Empire State Building has a similar design.

Construction started three months before the stock market crash in 1929 and miraculously the construction continued and was completed in 1931. It was Montreal's first sky scraper, with state-of-the-art elevators and a visible break from the classical architecture in abundance around the square. The architects reflected the mass of the cathedral on the lower part of the building and cleverly aligned it to both Notre-Dame and Place D'Armes streets even though they do not meet at 90 degrees. I had never noticed until someone pointed it out to me on an architectour a couple of years ago. The building was commissioned to be a symbol of wealth and properity. Times had changed by the time it was finished, but the vision of the design endures to this day as a piece of luxury and beauty from an era that so many of us wish we were a part of.

Montreal love letter

I have discovered that the things that I love are the things that I never grow tired of looking at: my kids, a long stretch of road not yet run, an orchestra playing, a stack of unread books, a blank page and a good pen, the faces of my friends when they laugh, and a city that never fails to make my heart leap.Driving back into Montreal, 40 kilometres out and I catch my first glimpse of the city, lights off in the distance and the beacon beaming out into the night sky, lighting up the clouds. You are tantalizingly close. As I travel closer my anticipation to see you grows, my heart starts to flutter and become lighter, forgetting things that weigh on me. I cannot wait to see you again. Finally through the South Shore and up onto the Champlain Bridge approach and then the view that leaves me breathless every single time and replaces everything in my body with a momentary heady joy. Lit up and strong, you are so smart and clear and you shine and shimmer into the river and my head chants, "home, home". I feel so proud that you are mine, I cannot believe I live here.

La Maison Symphonique - new concert hall for Montreal

new concert hall

new concert hall

September 11 was the inaugural children's concert for Montreal's newest concert hall. Five years after the project was approved, and 266 million dollars later, La Maison Symphonique is open for business! I bought our tickets in June, some of the last available in the balcony, and waited all summer in anticipation of the opening. I read the less-than-stellar reviews of the grand opening first show and Beethoven's ninth, but was not discouraged, and on the Sunday I got everyone dressed up and we headed downtown. By the time we got there, the kids and I were pretty excited. There was a lot of activity around the area with the Marathon des Arts festival happening at Quartier des Spectacles, with free tours of the hall being held to draw people in.

Approaching the hall, it is obvious that the building is not finished. Bare plywood and make-shift ramps are everywhere and the windows at the back reveal insulation, ducts, pipes, and general construction. Inside, the reception areas are sparsely furnished and airy. The spaces do not appear as large as Salle Willfrid Pelletier though, which makes me wonder how the traffic around the bars during intermissions will fair. Narrower stairs and escalators reside where I think that a wide staircase should have been. Elevators are also present, and the design seems beautifully thought out for wheelchair accessibility. I also spied some back stairs which will be no doubt ugly but will afford an easier escape. Both kids were delighted with the open space, running around an empty top reception level before heading into the concert hall. The glass walls made the space during a matinee bright and the hanging wooden sculptures are charming and set the tone for inside. The inside of the concert hall is finished, and is beautiful despite the outgassing of wood and upholstery. The light beech wood contrasted with the metal is clean and modern and a dramatic change from the weight and dark of the older Place des Arts halls, although I question the creamy white seat fabric which may be overly hopeful and ill-though-out by the designers.

We found our seats and settled near the middle at the top of the shoebox. Even on the balcony, the stage does not seem as distant. And the view is impressive indeed: 1900 seats and room for 120 musicians and 200 singers. The choir area can also be used for spectators, and being able to surround the performers allows for more seating and makes the music more of a community event. Everything about the new design seems more relaxed and casual and inviting.

The concert began without a lot of ceremony and Nagano appeared with two young female pianists, one his daughter, for Saint-Saen's Carnival of the Animals. Naomi's attention was very short-lived, and I had to start hissing at her almost immediately, but Ben and I were entranced and I tried as much as possible to point out which animals were being imitated so they could follow along. Peter and the Wolf was next and Naomi was constantly asking what was happening, sometimes quite loudly as I tried to quietly translate the narration for her. The last was a ballet by Debussy which was performed by École supérieure de ballet du Québec students and which was simply too long to hold the attention of children, or adults for that matter. In addition to the restless youngsters, I saw more than one parent checking their smartphones. I think opting for a shorter excerpt from a ballet and finishing with a more dramatic musical selection would have been more appropriate for the audience. I still remember the thrill my children got from the Queen of the Night's aria last year and going back many years to another children's concert, the Star Wars theme which left small boys humming down the stairs enthusiastically and perhaps considering a career in music.

Now, the sound. Yes, it is not life changing. In my opinion, it will take about a year to tune the room completely. I don't think that this is a failure, it is a process. There is simply no way to perfect a sound for every size orchestra and every type of music and different audience sizes without playing in the hall and tweeking. The sound baffles (nine motorized canopies that move individually) are designed to be adjusted and the hall was acoustically well planned, so even though there will have to be some changes made, eventually the sound will evolve to meet the expectations of the conductors and the audience members. I didn't find the sound muddy, but from the balcony it was dulled, and didn't seem to hit the audience with enough resonance. I want to sit in different areas and see what else is happening on lower levels of the room. Luckily, I think that the initial reviews may mean that tickets will be readily available this season, hopefully at discounts.