Album information

Montréal Variations

The first in a series of happy surprises concerning this recording was the eagerness of the marvelous pianist/composers I contacted to participate in the adventure. Admittedly the subject is a golden one: Montreal abounds with accents, perfumes and colours; it is at once simple and refined; even its few wrinkles speak to us. And in this era of the “global village”, isn’t it wonderful to evoke one’s own neighbourhood: the streets that saw our first steps, our first loves, and our first heartbreaks too. These are the places that shaped who we are.

With such a group of virtuosi, one could very well have expected a surfeit of erudite notes and flashy effects. But no, this disc, which aims to be accessible to all, bears instead the seal of emotion, and a measured dose of nostalgia. Hats off to these artists, who put Montreal first.

Because the very nature of solo piano recordings does not allow the artists much opportunity to meet, aside from hasty greetings at the studio entrance, I had to find a way to bring them together. I suggested that they each write a short variation on a common theme. These four notes, reminiscent of the departure signal of the Montreal metro, also begin the official theme song of “Man and His World,” which montrealers celebrate the
40th anniversary this year.

Sound engineering, like beauty or taste, is not a dogma but rather a point of view. In this work, I wanted a straightforward, almost raw sound, to give listeners the sense of being close to both artist and instrument.

Finally, I was happy to have the exceptionally talented Montreal photographer Luc Robitaille on this project, who for the insert employed a process that was similar to and inspired by jazz.

So sit down, get comfortable, and rediscover Montreal with the artists of Montreal Jazz Club as your guides.

Philippe Dunnigan
Artistic director and Producer


We never tire of hearing or reading about the things or people we love. The same goes for cities. And though violinist Philippe Dunnigan has always been fascinated by music, that hasn’t prevented an equal fascination with Montreal.

Dunnigan first got the idea of a musical portrait of Montreal after listening to Bach’s Goldberg Variations. Though he was born and raised in Quebec’s Eastern Towships region, he has never forgotten the strong impression Montreal made on his first trip to the city.

To bring his idea to life, he turned to pianists he knew and whose work is close to his heart. These artists were given carte blanche to evoke a area of the city dear to them. Pianists such as Lorraine Desmarais, James Gelfand and Oliver Jones were given a single imperative: create variations on this essentially urban theme.

When I was asked to write these notes, the lines of French poet Valery Larbaud immediately came to mind: “Cities, and more cities; / I have memories of cities like one has memories of love.” I admit it; I was won over in advance. Nature only enchants me in small doses, while cities, at least those that speak to me, intoxicate me.

Montreal is one of these. I was born among its walls, far too many years ago, and there is every reason to believe that my ashes will remain here.

Listening to these “Montreal Variations” takes you into dreamland. I won’t lie; I turned at once to Alain Lefèvre’s Ville-Émard la belle, for it was on the streets of this neighbourhood that I lived out my childhood and that, little by little, I learned to be a man. How can one not feel just a little melancholic?

I cannot imagine a true Montrealer being insensible to the poetry of this multi-artist sketch created by the different pianists united here. Each has its own individual sensibility, its particular nuances, but they have in common the grace brought about by feeling. They demonstrate without a doubt that we are always from somewhere.

Proof that Philippe Dunnigan—an unconditional lover of Pollini, Horowitz, Bill Evans, and Oscar Peterson—is a Montrealer at heart can be found in his hope that those who enjoy this disc will continue their exploration of jazz, and, perhaps inspired by some of the pieces in this collection, will seek out the past or present recordings of these artists, all of whom love this city in the same way they love music. I couldn’t agree more.

© Gilles Archambault
Writer and jazz lover

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AN 2 9295
Lorraine Desmarais

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