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Alain Payette: Biography

Alain Payette
1953 -
Region: Québec

Alain Payette

Composer Alain Payette was born in Montreal in 1953. He has been active on the cultural scene in Quebec, Canada, for three decades, and his music has been performed abroad. Over the years, he has developed a musical vocabulary coloured by his own expressive needs in an atmosphere of freedom unfettered by any school. With his instincts guiding him in the process of composition, he has persevered in acquiring a musical vocabulary all his own. He believes that feelings must play an integral part in music, and melody holds a place of honour in all his works, for in his view, it is one of the best means to reach the listener. The result is music of great candour, accessible and affecting – music that reflects the character of the man who created it, a composer who has devoted his life wholly to his art.

Payette is a prolific composer. His catalogue includes more than 60 works for piano, chamber ensembles, orchestra, choir and solo voice, all in a tonal style. His chamber music has been broadcast in radio concerts on many occasions and his symphonic works have been performed by a number of orchestras. Always warmly received by audiences, his music has been described as bewitching musical poetry of outstanding lyricism and beauty, and concert organizers and performers have begun programming Payette’s works with increasing frequency. Although recently he has been commissioned by performers seeking to expand their repertoire, the majority of his works were composed on his own initiative.

The first recording of a work by Alain Payette, for Koch International Classics, was L’ivresse d’aimer, a setting for baritone of five poems by Gustave Labbé. These songs were premiered by the renowned Gino Quilico, to whom they are dedicated, and Alain Lefèvre. An American critic wrote “Check out Payette – for whom this album is enthusiastically recommended” (Adrian Corleonis, Fanfare, January/February 1998). L’ivresse d’aimer has touched the hearts of many music lovers.

Payette’s 12 Preludes for Piano (Confidences poétiques) were first performed on June 1 and 2, 1997, in Thessalonika, Greece (Cultural Capital of Europe, 1997) by pianist Alain Lefèvre. The work was given a standing ovation. One reviewer wrote, “The select and demanding audience was completely won over by the warmth and vitality of the performance of the young artist, who demonstrated a particular enthusiasm for the music of Payette” (M. Katsounakis, Kathimerini, June 1997). In September of that year, Lefèvre recorded the 12 Preludes, a recording that Claude Gingras called an “absolute success” (La Presse (Montreal), August 22, 1998). The Preludes have been taken up by numerous pianists and performed frequently.

When the choral work Douces Mémoires was first performed, excitement hung in the air. Under the direction of Jean-Pierre Guindon, Douces Mémoires was given its European premiere in August 1998, at the International Choral Festival in Vaison-la-Romaine, France, with the composer at the piano. The orchestration the composer made of this cantata in 2004 gives the work an entirely new dimension.

In 2000, Alain Payette met pianist Anne-Marie Dubois, participating in her video Romantisme au piano, which includes performances of several of his works. Payette’s Concerto for Piano and Orchestra was premiered in Drummondville in April 2003 with Ms. Dubois playing the solo part. The concert was a special homage to the composer, and the work received a standing ovation. The concerto was performed again in 2004-2005, by the Orchestre symphonique de Longueuil.

Montreal’s Musica Camerata, one of the foremost chamber ensembles in Canada, played the Trio No. 3 for Violin, Cello and Piano in April 2006. The same group previously programmed the Sonata for Viola and Piano, in 1995.

In his creative approach, Payette seeks originality but never at the cost of accessibility. For him, music is above all a means of communicating emotions. Melody is his preferred means of reaching his audience, and he always seeks to invent original melodies with a great potential for lyrical development. Clearly stated at the outset to capture the listener’s interest, themes are subsequently elaborated and transformed. The result is music of freshness and candour. While the theme provides the works with a unifying thread, structure remains important, and it has frequently been observed that Payette’s music is well constructed. Yet, rather than adhering to a pre-established template, each piece has its own form. Ultimately, Payette lets himself to guided by his instinct, always in search of the beauty he wishes to hear. He exploits the virtuoso capacities of performers in a lyrical and tonal vein that respects their traditional technical training.

Because of the melodic and at times nostalgic nature of his music, Payette thinks of himself as a Romantic composer. Though fully cognizant of and permeated with the century we live in, he is eager to preserve the human dimension despite life’s turmoil. His music is coloured by Impressionist harmonies incorporating unusual chords but without abandoning the quest for beauty of sound. Jazz-inspired chords and rhythms are another element explored in his compositions. Communicating impressions is the constant goal of his work, and the possibilities are limitless, for the perception of impressions is constantly in change throughout our lives. Countermelodies are a dominant element in Payette’s music, giving it a particular character and often challenging performers, who must carefully balance a profusion of melodic material.

For Alain Payette, composing music is above all a means of self-realization that makes possible the most extraordinary voyage human beings can embark upon: the exploration of their inner depths. The majority of creators conceive and execute their work in solitude. But once that has been accomplished, creativity must necessarily reach out toward others, to serve as a means for everyone to channel their emotions. Payette considers both of these stages essential to the proper balance of his creative endeavours. His main source of inspiration is the people around him. He is a keen observer of their behaviour, attitudes, contradictions and impulses – indeed, human nature in all its complexity fascinates and inspires him to the highest degree. With his music, he ultimately attempts to heighten his awareness of his existence and hopes to do the same for others.

Alain Payette is a composer who defies categorization. His music, with its features of Impressionism, jazz and popular music, has both a Romantic and a contemporary side. However, this combination does call not upon avant-garde or experimental trends. Payette prefers accessibility to cerebral technique. His compositions are the reflection of his spontaneous need to communicate with the public emotions first and foremost. His music takes listeners on a journey of melancholy, passion, exuberance, reflecting all the facets of the composer’s personality, and the touching and accessible nature of the music makes it ideally suited to reach a broad spectrum of listeners. Payette composes music of substance that could encourage people everywhere to attend concerts more regularly. His goal is to create a bridge between classical music and audiences in order to give instrumental music its due in popular culture.

September 2006


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