In this week’s edition of Fellow Fridays, we catch up with cellist Marc Labranche who attended the Toronto Summer Music Academy in 2011. Based in Montreal, Marc has built an impressive reputation as one of the most in demand chamber and orchestral cellists in Quebec. Marc has had the opportunity to perform on a number of stages across North America, Europe, and Asia, which has included working with Southbank Sinfonia, James Boyd, Jonathan Crow, and many others. In fact, one of Marc’s most recent performances was at our 2016 Festival Preview event.
We recently spoke with Marc about what he’s currently up to musically, life in Europe, and his experience studying at the Academy five years ago…
1. How old were you when you started studying music? What were some of your early influences?
When I was 6 years old, I was selected to go to L’École Le Plateau, which is a public elementary school in Montréal, where kids go through academics roughly twice as fast as in a “normal” school, then half the week is spent doing music. I started on the violin and the recorder, like all the other children at the school, and then switched to cello when I was 9.
As far as early influences go for music, I would say all my music teachers both in elementary school and high school (we do not have middle school in Québec) were the biggest influence, as I am the only member of my family who did classical music.
2. What was your experience like in the Toronto Summer Music Academy?
I was part of the “test” year, as it was the first year that the program had been changed to be focused on chamber music. I remember it being extremely intense (there used to be two back-to-back two-week sessions, and I was part of both, so a lot of music to learn and rehearse, with limited practising time), but extremely well organized already, and also tremendously inspiring. I went through so much music that summer and played with such great musicians, bringing every work we prepared to such a high level! I can’t say it wasn’t stressful, but it was so rewarding at the same time. It was also very good to get a feel of what the “real world” is like, sometimes having no choice but to understand and perform a work on very little rehearsal time, yet still taking it to a very good level so we can share it with the audience.
3. What did you find to be the most valuable from your studies at the Toronto Summer Music Academy?
I think the most valuable aspect of the festival, on a young professional musician’s evolution, is the proximity to more experienced chamber musicians. When studying music at university level, you prepare chamber music with fellow students and then get coaching from your teachers, but preparing and rehearsing the music in such close collaboration with more established players is a totally different thing. It definitely made me a lot less nervous about going in for professional work afterwards, having an idea of what it would be like already. Programs like the Toronto Summer Music Academy really create a bridge from going to school into the profession. Of course, spending hours and hours playing chamber music with close friends isn’t too bad either.
4. Would you recommend the programs offered by the TSM to other musicians?
I would most definitely recommend going to the Festival. This program and the Chamber Music Session at Domaine Forget (which works in a similar way) are by far my two favourite summer programs. Nothing even comes close to them.
5. Since attending the Toronto Summer Music Academy, what have you been up to?
I moved to London (UK) shortly after the end of the Academy, to do a master’s degree at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. I then spent the following summer playing with the Schleswig-Holstein Festival Orchestra in Germany. I came back to Montreal briefly after graduating, and taught private lessons in a school while a good friend and colleague was on maternity leave. I then moved back to London to play in Southbank Sinfonia for one year. Southbank Sinfonia is a chamber orchestra that allows you to be in an orchestra full-time for one year and gain experience by having similar performing schedules to a professional orchestra, while creating links in the UK’s professional world, through a large number of partnerships with ensembles there. It offers all sorts of concerts (from early music to contemporary works, chamber music to opera, unconducted chamber orchestra concerts, “normal” performances, etc.). We toured to Italy (where I performed as a soloist with the orchestra) and Hong Kong. It was a very intense, yet formative year! While in the orchestra, I freelanced in Europe a little bit. I spent a few months in Berlin and now am back in Montreal, freelancing with orchestras, mainly in Montreal and Quebec City, trying to plot ways of incorporating more chamber music into my life. I’ve basically tried to get as much playing, experience, and inspiring projects going as possible.
6. What are some of your musical goals for the future?
I guess my ultimate dream would be to be part of an inspiring string quartet and manage to have it be my full-time gig. I also really enjoy performing in orchestras, which comes from my early training. I would love to be in a great orchestra, or even better, a chamber orchestra, which can sometimes feel like a hybrid between the two. Play great music with great people… I guess that’s the goal.
7. Is there any music you’re listening to currently that you find really inspiring?
Oh boy. The list would never end; there are so many incredible artists out there! I’d say Janine Jansen and Leonidas Kavakos never fail to take me somewhere else whenever I hear them live, they always blow me away. Die Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen (particularly their recording of the Beethoven violin concerto with Janine Jansen, their Brahms 3 conducted by Daniel Harding and their Beethoven symphonies cycle conducted by Paavo Järvi). I had the incredible privilege to play with them, and they’re as inspiring (probably even more actually) live as they are on recording! Les Violons du Roy are definitely on the list also. As far as chamber music goes, Isabelle Faust and Alexander Melnikov’s Beethoven sonatas, anything by the Florestan Trio, the Hagen Quartet (especially Beethoven), Jean-Guihen Queyras and Alexandre Tharaud’s duo recordings, The Arcanto Quartet with Olivier Marron’s recording of the Schubert’s cello quintet. Hausmusik London’s recordings of the Mozart viola quintets and the Brahms sextets. These are only the first to come to mind.
8. Where can people learn more about you?
I try to keep an updated list of concerts on my website: www.mlabranche.com, which also has my complete bio. I’ll eventually have more stuff on there, at least it’s the plan!