Raucous camaraderie: collectif9 puts their own spin on classical music

Photo by Danylo Bobyk

On Nov. 12, collectif9, a Montreal-based nine-piece string band, will take the stage at the Kay Meek Centre in West Vancouver to perform their latest acoustic concert entitled VolksMusica. The band has found a performative middle-ground between the intimate and the grand, aiming to share an engaging, entertaining approach to classical music.

It has been more than 10 years since Thibault Bertin-Maghit studied music performance, and even longer since he first picked up the double-bass at the age of 18. But before the bassist for collectif9 began playing classical music professionally, he played in bands as a teenager in France, where he grew up.

Bertin-Maghit says the kind of companionship he found in those bands isn’t always found in larger string orchestras, which prompted him to create the unique size of collectif9: nine members, more than a typical string quartet, but fewer than most chamber music ensembles.

“There was really this feeling of camaraderie – where you feel there’s a lot of energy on stage and communication with the audience,” says Bertin-Maghit. “It doesn’t feel the same way in the classical context usually. So the idea was to bring the classical repertoire and the energy and vibe you get from a non-classical concert [together] to create this camaraderie vibe onstage with eight other people.”

It’s not just the size of the band that differentiates collectif9 from other classical ensembles. The group also uses lighting and amplification to put on a rock-like audio and visual show. Andrea Stewart, cellist for collectif9, says the result is a more immersive experience than a typical classical performance.

“We try to make a whole experience with the concert, and I think that’s one of the things that makes it a little bit different for the classical music audiences,” says Stewart. “It’s not its own visual interest, but we’re actually using it to highlight different parts of the musical experience to get you into the world that we’re trying to create.”

The collective camaraderie of nine musicians.| Photo by Danylo Bobyk.

Bringing classical to the masses

On this tour, the ensemble is performing classical pieces from composers such as Ligeti, Shostakovich and Bartok, all of whom have drawn some influence from folk music, hence the name of the show, VolksMusica. For this particular stop in West Vancouver, however, the nine-piece band will be bringing on a few more performers for a Bartok arrangement.

“There’s [are going to] be nine string students. We’re going to do a workshop on a Bartok piece and they’re going to come play onstage with us for the concert because we love doing stuff like this, and we’ve done it a few times in the past few years,” says Bertin-Maghit.

The collectif9 will rehearse with the high school students and perform with them aftewards.

This will not the first time that collectif9 has brought on students and other performers either. Whether it be six-year-olds playing guitar or amateur adult fiddle players, Stewart says the collective tries to bring on other musicians as much as possible.

“We do it whenever we can, honestly it’s really fun for us to do,” says Stewart. “It’s educational, but not in terms of us coming in and teaching someone how to play, but really letting people come up on stage and experience it.”

Stewart says the collective musical process gave the group its name – the camaraderie and shared experience of music is what drives the nine-piece ensemble.

“Every time you play music with someone else, you learn something different every time we get to go and do that with anyone, we learn something, and we hope that they learn something,” says Stewart. “But sometimes you learn something about yourself, or about the audience, or about the community. It’s a win-win all around.”


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