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Spotlight on Marina Thibeault

MUSIC FOR A WHILE : Marina Thibeault, viola
ATMA chats with musicians about their lives in the time of coronavirus.

Part of our ongoing series of interviews with musicians during the pandemic: a conversation with violist Marina Thibeault.

Celebrated for her “deep rich sound, exceptional virtuosity, and enthusiasm,” she travels the world as a sought-after soloist. Named Radio-Canada’s classical “Revelation” for 2016-2017, Marina has delighted audiences across Canada, the United States, and Europe with her elegant, spellbinding performances and engaging presence. Last year she began her tenure as Assistant Professor of Viola at the UBC School of Music. ELLES, Marina’s second recording for ATMA Classique, features repertoire for solo viola and viola and piano (Marie-Eve Scarfone) by exceptional 19th and 21st century women composers.

What was your last live public performance before the lockdown began?

I last performed back in February with my ensemble, Trio Saint-Laurent.It was the last show on our Prairie Debut tour. We performed that final concert at ArtsPlace in Canmore, Alberta: a magical hall with completely surreal decor. We had an attentive audience and we took the opportunity to savour every note, every melodic line, varying colors and musical intentions, as if it were our last concert together for the season. Then, a few days before I was to leave for the JUNOS — originally scheduled for March 15 — the pandemic broke out. I was booked to play in the CBC JUNO Classical Showcase. Instead I stored the gala dress that I’d had specially made for that concert in my closet!

How has the pandemic changed your daily routine?

Since I have young children and a full-time position at the University of British Columbia, my daily routine hasn’t changed much. There is no more travel, of course. My musical life is now sedentary, which is strange when you are used to living out of your suitcase several times a month. At the very beginning, I had the impression that I had become an administrator. I was cancelling plane tickets, managing an overflowing email inbox, strategically rethinking several projects, etc. It was as if all the things I liked about my work —my love of playing in public, sharing what I know in person with my students at UBC — had been taken away from me. The first two weeks were dedicated to picking up the pieces. My priority, of course, was to be present for my family and to make time for activities which were good for me; to take care of myself and my loved ones as we go through this turbulence.

What have you found to be the most challenging aspect of this new reality?

Managing my email exhausts me, as do online meetings. Happily, preparing grant applications for major projects (including my third album on the ATMA label, which will be with orchestra) gave me lots to hope for and revived the dreamer in me. I am starting to receive positive responses and now that my efforts are beginning to bear fruit, I think it was worth the time investment!

How have you been keeping busy since live concerts were suspended?

Between completing my doctorate, my work at UBC, and the kids, my days are quite packed! I try to plan some time for myself, which is beneficial. I have begun to work out privately with a coach over Zoom, doing runs of up to eight km (balancing out all that time sitting at the computer!); to go for walks with my children; to marvel at the magnificence of nature here on the Pacific coast; to knit until the wee hours of the morning; to make clothes for my kids, etc. We’ve been baking homemade white bread since January 2020. The lockdown spurred my desire to try making sourdough bread. It was an utter failure! I just don’t have the strength to feed one more mouth every day! Two babies, that’s quite enough! The sourdough starter is now in the compost!

What music do you find yourself turning to most frequently since the pandemic hit?

At the very beginning of the crisis, I wasn’t able to listen to anything at all. I needed silence, a rare commodity in our apartment. I have discovered several podcasts on textile arts and have started listening to online theatre. We listen to music while preparing meals, mainly Georges Brassens, Charles Trenet, Blue Jeans Bleu, Ella Fitzgerald, and Les Trois Accords. A major confession: the song that’s played most these days is “I like to move it” (the version from the first Madagascar film), because it’s our son’s favorite. Part of our morning ritual is to dance like fools after breakfast. That starts the day off right and brings us all together.

Have there been any silver linings/unexpected benefits for you resulting from this time in isolation?

When I got the job of Assistant Professor of viola at the University of British Columbia, I had just one more seminar to take to complete my doctoral degree at McGill, and I could take it from a distance. With all the concerts and travel on my agenda it would have been almost impossible to dedicate to this course anything like the time and attention I have been able to give it in recent months. My subject is Sports Psychology Techniques Applied to Musicians, and I have been supervised by an expert in the field, McGill researcher and professor Dr. Gordon Bloom. I am very proud to say that I read more than 40 articles on the subject and was able to submit my work at the end of the session. I anticipate revising my paper over the summer and submitting it to several journals.

I will be participating in several online pedagogic initiatives during the month of July, including UBC Music Connects, created by myself and three other professors at our music faculty, and I will be giving private lessons and master classes for both the Domaine Forget and the Orchestre de la Francophonie.

I was able to connect with my followers online via the National Arts Centre series #CanadaPerforms (on April 31), and to take part in the American Viola Society Festival (on June 5). I will have the chance of performing virtual concerts for other series, such as for Barachois Summer Music in New Brunswick (on August 5), and the Cordas World Music Festival in the Azores (on September 16)! So I get to ‘travel’ while remaining very ecological!

Any words of advice as we try to get through this?

The words of Isolde Lagacé (General and Artistic Director of Salle Bourgie) have been resonating a lot for me in the past few months: “Avoid knitting and then unravelling.” Most of my projects between March and November are on hold, as is true for most artists in the world. Some of these projects will move online, others will just be postponed. I don’t feel pressure to get it all done now. The challenge is to postpone far enough into the future so that you don’t have to postpone a second time. Time and energy seem more precious than ever. One needs to be gentle with oneself. I see these postponed projects as an opportunity to continue my development, and thus make them even better than they would have been. Marina, version 2.0, is in the works. Please be patient. Concerts will soon resume.

Luisa Trisi, Big Picture Communications
Translated by Sean McCutcheon

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