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All hands on deck at the Canadian Guitar Quartet

Famed chamber music ensemble plays Whistler for the first time on March 20
E-Arts2 Guitar Quartet 29.11 SUBMITTED
Clockwise from top left: Jérôme Ducharme, Christ Habib, Renaud C. Giguère and Louis Trépanier of the Canadian Guitar Quartet.

Louis Trépanier, the Canadian Guitar Quartet’s sole remaining original member, knows the key to making great chamber music is always keeping more than one pair of hands on the tiller. 

“They’re playing off each other and there’s few enough people onstage that everybody is steering the boat at the same time,” says Trépanier. “Whatever you do, a mistake or brilliant idea, is the next step forward. So people need to either correct or run with what you did, good or bad.” 

Since its debut in 1999, the Canadian Guitar Quartet, which makes its first stop in Whistler this weekend, has played on three different continents, carving out a reputation as one of the country’s most highly-sought-after guitar ensembles, releasing four critically acclaimed albums in that time, and mentoring the next generation of classical musicians through its series of clinics, master classes, and one-on-one sessions. The ensemble has undergone a number of changes over the years, and while that comes with a natural shift in interpersonal dynamics, Trépanier says the way the group approaches the music has remained consistent. 

“The guys that came into the group came in wanting to be in this group. If you show up to be part of the Rolling Stones, you’re going to think, ‘Well, I’m going to change the Stones a little bit even if I try not to because I’m a different person, but essentially I want to be playing the Rolling Stones catalogue,’” Trépanier says.

One thing that separated the quartet from other chamber musicians, especially in its early days, was the fact they play everything from memory. Trépanier likens it to live theatre, with each line memorized down to the syllable, while the actor’s delivery and the emotion behind it is entirely dependent on the moment.   

“Like theatre, it takes a long time to get that ready and then off you go,” he adds. 

It certainly helps when the cast of players know and anticipate each other’s nuances at a near telepathic level. 

“Chamber music is this sort of small, intimate group setting and people enjoying the common cause of everything. When it’s really done well, there’s this beautiful, egoless thing happening,” Trépanier says. “There’s a British string quartet called the Brodsky Quartet, and my wife and I went. My wife is a musician as well. It was one of our favourite concerts [because of] the togetherness. It’s kind of corny, but the individuals all disappeared and this sort of multi-souled being was there in their place.

“I’m getting all esoteric and describing this spiritual stuff in a way, and I’m a pretty down to Earth person, but at its best, it really does feel like something transcending in a really good way.” 

The Canadian Guitar Quartet’s repertoire tends to veer towards a mix of recognizable classical numbers and original pieces composed by one of the group’s members. On its B.C. tour, the quartet plans to play some Mozart, Brazilian bossa nova from the 1950s and ’60s, as well as some original music written specifically for the quartet (“There’s always been one guy in the group who is a pretty good composer over the years,” Trépanier says). The ensemble also has a penchant for taking well-known pieces written for piano or orchestra and adapting them for the guitar.  

“Four guitars can recreate a lot,” he says. “We almost don’t like to use the word ‘accessible’ for our repertoire because it seems like some sort of compromise, but it is. It’s something you can relate to as any kind of person who has listened to music in whatever form; you’ll be able to hang your hat on what we do. Some of the music we do is a little bit out there but it’s balanced in the whole performance.” 

Trépanier and fellow quartet members Renaud C. Giguère, Jérôme Ducharme and Christ Habib hit the Maury Young Arts Centre stage on Sunday, March 20 at 5 p.m. Tickets are $25, available in advance at the box office or online at whistlerchambermusic.ca or artswhistler.com, as well as at the door. Proof of vaccination and government ID is required for entry.