Canadian conductor protests Conservatoire closure

Canadian conductor protests Conservatoire closure


norman lebrecht

June 24, 2022

Message received:

I must express my shock about the foreseen imminent closing of the McGill Conservatory, to say nothing about how it was communicated.

I know many of the 66 Conservatory instructors, all of them immensely dedciated, one of them my wife with 55 (fifty-five!) students, nearly all of them resp. their parents have already indicated their definitive plan to continue their studies with her, with or without a Conservatory.

The motives in the letter are completely false, with no numbers given, no previous talks/warnings ahead, nothing but a fait accompli of the exiting Dean of SSoM. “With heavy heart”…I agree:, heart of stone! Its contents is in total contrast to the facts:

Regarding space:

As professor of the SSoM faculty I was always willing to share my studio with Conservatory professors, and so did several colleagues of mine. Besides, I cannot understand that the classes must take place in the Strathcona Music Building which indeed suffers with space, but everyone familiar with McGill’s total amount of buildings, rooms etc. in different parts of the city, cannot take the space claim seriously, certainly not with instruments which can be brought to the lesson by teacher and student ( = all Instruments except keyboards). With a bit of research, good will and endurance, this “problem” can be solved!!!!

Number of students:

I cannot speak for other instructors than my wife, but as mentioned, supportive letters of nearly all her students/parents have already poured in, protesting the decision, speechless over its short term (!!!) and assuring that they want to continue the lessons.

When some years ago, the existence of some Conservatoires within Quebec was threatened (except for Montréal and Québec City), not by a politician, but by a Conservatoire insider (!), I was one of many who wrote a protest note to the Minister of Culture, arguing that Quebec would seriously harm its position as the distinct province, ruining its exceptional cultural reputation within Canada. Fortunately, the crisis then was eventually solved positively.

Now we experience the same with the McGill Conservatory, a disastrous decision signed by two insiders, an exiting and an incoming Dean (none of them, by the way, with any closeness to performance!) with obviously no concern for the long term negative effects:

– Many Conservatory students moved on to professional music studies, won prizes and even performed in special programs in New York’s Carnegie Hall

– A large part would go into other professions, but because of their early-in-life musical education are/will/would be future enthusiastic concert goers, genuine melomanes.

– SSoM, by far the most important music faculty in Canada and well known internationally, is (has been to the brdt of my knowledge the only one with the inclusion of a Conservatory, an excellent method to secure a rich cultural life on all levels, on stage and in the auditorium (in Asia, Universities start even with music kindergarten!). It is/was again something that made Québec the one distinct province, far above all other provinces, the only one, I for one and several other international colleagues of mine, feel (felt) proud to work here and not anywhere else within Canada.

I dare say that no Dean with a direct background/link to Music Performance would have ever allowed that to happen (this I know as a fact and can elaborate on it). But a slimy letter like this, with false claims, fatal and not thought through in all consequences, tarnishes the good McGill name internationally of our beloved institution, ruins with one stroke what has been built over many years with enormous care and enthusiasm by dedicated teachers who have been made jobless from one day to the next, while their instigators are moving on (one of them simultaneously even receiving an award….!) “Strategic Planning”: eliminating an immensely important pedagogical institution with catastrophic consequences for so many instructors and frustrations/protests from numerous students/parents, all this with vague excuses saying nothing concretely.

In what world are we living??? Nothing can convince me that no other ways would be possible for a solution, acceptable for the teachers and the students/parents alike. Therefore, all facts, numbers, room options (and for Heavens’s sake including outside the Strathcona Music Building, in one or more of McGill’s countless buildings all over the town), should be brought forward and turned upside down for evidence and strategic thinking which deserve the name to secure the good name of McGill. What we have right now is a huge disgrace!

Hoping for a very constructive Townhall Meeting,

Alexis Hauser Artistic Director, McGill Symphony Orchestra Montréal


  • GZ says:

    Well, while I can relate to and am in agreement with the overall argument, I can’t but lament the poor formulation, due, probably to a spontaneous passionate outburst…

    Poor syntax, typos, missing and wrong punctuations, incomplete sentences, parenthesis opened never to be closed, lengthy convoluted sentences…

    Should have been proof-read first…

    But the pain is real, palpable and more than justified. Too bad it was poorly presented… 🙁

    • Oliver says:

      His writing is similar to his conducting : passionate and poorly organized.

      • Alexandra says:

        With all due respect, this letter came from the heart. It maybe wasn’t proof-read entirely, but that doesn’t give you permission to judge him/adding his profession into it.
        My father has always lived for music and music education. He has dedicated his life to performance and teaching. He doesn’t spend his day writing e-mails on the computer but memorizing scores. He is part of another generation, a generation that read books and wrote letters without the use of digital devices. I would kindly ask you to better understand the message rather than judging grammar/syntax.
        Music education is extremely important and the McGill conservatory was the reason I went into music. Through the McGill conservatory I was able to live my dream of becoming a violinist, this following my parents’ footsteps. I want other children and grownups to have that chance too.

    • Gunter Wand says:

      Remind us how many languages you speak? I have been reading lately some comments made by Ricardo Muti, in very poor English, but my first instinct was to understand on both an intellectual and emotional level what he was trying to say.Hauser’s message is very direct, and clear. It is a shame that your superficial need for a perfectly phrased sentence, supersedes the desire for a meaningful message. And no, my first language isn’t English either, so feel free to criticize it below. I have a feeling it’s one of your biggest assets.

  • V.Lind says:

    All well and good, and thanks for sharing. Now get someone to tidy up your prose and publish this, or a version of it, in the Montreal press, where it might do some good. Here, at best, it is a matter for sympathetic murmuring. But Quebec pols are still responsive to anything that might threaten the “distinct society.”

  • Fiddlist says:

    Go Alexis!

  • Joel Wapnick says:

    Great letter, Alexis. I hope it has a positive effect.

  • Elsebeth’s says:

    Shocking from an outside glance but not being privy to the inside goings.

  • Tim says:

    What a fatuous blowhard.

  • Mark says:

    Seems the decision to close might well be based on the all too real financial constraints following the pandemic. A lack of uptake from students suggests people are making tough choices about their future based on security and finacial concerns and that’s to be applauded.
    Without an actual scrutiny of the figures such a letter (and a badly written one at that) reads as hot air from a performer with no grasp of economic realities.

  • James says:

    I am a retired teacher, composer, and performer.
    People complain about sheltered and shallow digital natives glued to their devices, but hardly seem to notice when pandemic and war-fueled inflation threaten meaningful traditional alternatives to the trash culture of “social media.”

    As a society, we must choose. Is our culture to be a market-driven race to the bottom whenever stressed by catastrophe, or do we resist and fight to preserve a deep consciousness of who we are? The authoritarians don’t care, only we do.

    Conservatories were created by the church in 17th c. Napoli to “conserve” homeless children. These schools created what we still recognize as one of the great artistic and pedagogic traditions of mankind.

    Shall it now gradually slip away as we watch youtube, or do we determine to intimately learn who we are beyond the vaunted marketplace and work to save it? Canadians must decide if they want to swirl around the same drain that the US is sliding down. Achieving ignorance is effortless.

  • Vera says:

    I could NOT agree more, it’s all very true you told, James.
    I am as well from long time a performer and performing arts’ teacher. And I can not understand absolutely such a wrong decisions like this about closing this (or any other!) institution of arts. Culture we’ve got, built and preserved for centuries can not be arbitrarily demolished by two close-minded people who decided (on behalf of others) about their whole futures! It’s just unbelievable how short sighted and ignorant are some people in-charge as a deans, I can not believe it! I hope there are enough students and their parents as in spite to protest such a disgraceful option!

  • Maria says:

    There seems to be far too many colleges of music around – or conservatoires, if you want to sound posh – with far too many students paying vast sums of money, particularly students from abroad accepted into mainly English colleges as they pay even more in thousands of pounds for the privilege. They believe a college of music will spin them into this big international career, but the work simply isn’t out there, so I and many in the profession have never studied or been institutionalised at a music college but worked with fine teachers, and if not better and cheaper, outside a college. For years, many have asked why there are four major music colleges in central London only a few miles away from each other, and then propped up by so many foreign students, particularly from the Far East/Orient paying the enormous fees and very limited English? Guildhall, Royal College of Music, Royal Academy of Music, and Trinity? Then the Royal Northern College in Manchester, full of foreign students, and hardly any English.

  • Felix says:

    This institution – that existed for over a century – deserved better than the small place it was offered within the McGill infrastructure. Many of its young students have become great artists, some of which still have international careers.

    The McGill Schulich School of Music closing down the Conservatory is self-sabotage. These are financially-driven cuts at the local youth, the roots of its own future. It is a decision that derives from a severe and impressive lack of vision.

    About a third of the Students were lost because of policies that prevented lessons in person during the pandemic. These students would come back with time and new students would be found with ease if improvements were made. It seems that this one-in-a-lifetime event was used as a pretext to shut down an institution that was struggling financially, instead of addressing the problem at its core: The McGill Conservatory was never given the place it required in the McGill campus, has been under-financed and is still today undervalued even by those best placed to understand its purpose.

    In the 100 instrumental teachers losing their jobs many are graduates from the same university. Shameful.