Mission and History
The chamber orchestra Les Violons du Roy takes its name from the renowned string orchestra of the court of the French kings. The group, which has a core membership of fifteen players, was brought together in 1984 by music director Bernard Labadie and specializes in the vast repertoire of music for chamber orchestra, performed in the stylistic manner most appropriate to each era. Although the ensemble plays on modern instruments, its approach to the works of the Baroque and Classical periods has been strongly influenced by current research into performance practice in the 17th and 18th centuries; in this repertoire Les Violons du Roy uses copies of period bows. The orchestra also regularly delves into the repertoire of the 19th and 20th centuries, as witnessed by its recordings of works by Piazzolla, Bartók, and Britten.
Les Violons du Roy is at the heart of the music scene in Québec City, where it has been in residence at the Palais Montcalm since 2007. Since 1997, it has also been an important part of Montreal’s cultural scene. The orchestra is well known throughout Canada thanks to numerous concerts and recordings broadcast by Société Radio-Canada and the CBC and its regular presence at music festivals. Les Violons du Roy made its European debut in 1988 and has since gone on to give dozens of performances in France, Germany, England, Spain, Switzerland, and the Netherlands in the company of such renowned soloists as Magdalena Kožená, David Daniels, Vivica Genaux, and Alexandre Tharaud, including two guest appearances at Amsterdam’s Concertgebouw. The orchestra has also toured in Mexico, Ecuador, and Morocco. A recent highlight in the ensemble’s history was its acclaimed performance at the Berlin Philharmonie with Magdalena Kožená during its January 2014 European tour, which also included stops in London, Brussels, and Paris.
Since its first performance in Washington in 1995, Les Violons du Roy has extended its performance network in the United States and now makes regular stops in New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles. The orchestra is heard frequently on NPR in the United States and is now represented by Opus 3 Artists. A recent high point was the performances of Handel’s Messiah and Bach’s Christmas Oratorio with La Chapelle de Québec and an outstanding array of soloists, part of a US tour that took the orchestra and choir to Carnegie Hall in New York and the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles. The concerts received very positive reviews, in particular from the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times. In March 2012, the orchestra returned to Carnegie Hall with La Chapelle de Québec to present Bach’s St. John’s Passion. It also toured the United States again, first in 2012 with flute player Emmanual Pahud and then in 2013 with mezzo soprano Stephanie Blythe. In October 2012, the musicians made their second visit to Mexico for concerts in Guanajuato (Festival internacional Cervantino) and Saltillo (Festival internacional de las artes Coahuila).
The twenty-six recordings made by Les Violons du Roy have been acclaimed by critics and earned many distinctions and awards at the national and international levels. Of twelve CDs released by Dorian, two won Juno Awards (Apollo e Dafne (Handel) and Requiem (Mozart)). Since 2004, the association with the Québec label Atma has led to six CDs, including Water Music, winner of a Félix Award in 2008; Piazzolla, conducted by Jean-Marie Zeitouni and winner of a Juno Award in 2006; and Britten, Les Illuminations with soprano Karina Gauvin, also directed by Jean-Marie Zeitouni and released in summer 2010. The CD Bonbons, also on the Atma label, came out in fall 2010. The group’s first collaboration with the multinational Virgin Classics label led to the release in fall 2006 of a CD of cantata arias by Handel and Hasse with US mezzo-soprano Vivica Genaux. Two other Virgin Classics released in 2011 feature C.P.E. Bach’s cello concertos with the Norwegian cellist Truls Mørk and J.S. Bach’s keyboard concertos with the French pianist Alexandre Tharaud. A recording of opera arias by Mozart, Haydn, Gluck, and Graun with contralto Marie-Nicole Lemieux was launched in 2012 under the Naïve label, followed by a Hyperion recording of Haydn concertos with pianist Marc-André Hamelin in March 2013. Their latest recordings appeared in October 2013: one on Analekta with harpist Valérie Milot in works for harp and orchestra and the other produced together with Diane Dufresne. Les Violons du Roy is a proud member of Orchestras Canada, the national association representing Canada’s orchestras.