Photo: Westmount Photography – Robert Provencher
Symphony New Brunswick’s board of directors is delighted to announce the appointment of Mélanie Léonard as our new music director.
“Mélanie has a unique mix of experience and vision that can take Symphony New Brunswick to the next level,” Reid Parker, SNB’s president, says, “We believe she has what it takes for us to become a more prominent player in Canada’s orchestra scene.”
Ms. Léonard emerged from a crowded field in a competitive selection process that began in 2018. SNB received more than 50 applications from conductors in Canada, the U.S. and Europe. Mr. Parker says the selection committee was won over by her diverse experience, passion for outreach, leadership skills and dynamic conducting style.
“Technically, I think she’s going to be an exciting conductor. I think the players will respect her; they’re going to want to give her more,” he says. “You see that when someone special steps on the podium.”
Ms. Léonard was thrilled at the news of her appointment.
“I am so excited for this new challenge, building new relationships, and expanding my experience as a professional musician,” she says, “But also, on a human level, I feel it’s important to grow and seek out opportunities to push ourselves, and working with Symphony New Brunswick is definitely going to do that.”
Her resumé runs long, including, most recently, serving as music director of the Sudbury Symphony Orchestra. She has also been resident conductor and associate conductor of the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra.
She was invited to conduct at the Montreal International Jazz Festival and with several Canadian orchestras, including the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, Orchestre Métropolitain, the National Arts Centre Orchestra, the Edmonton, Regina, Calgary and Winnipeg Symphony Orchestras and Symphony Nova Scotia.
Maestra Léonard is also in demand for various recording projects. She has recorded soundtracks for Auraat Montréal’s Notre-Dame Basilica; Land of Fantasy, a Cirque du Soleil show presented in Hangzhou, China; and Paradise City, an immersive multimedia universe in South Korea.
She was the first woman to complete a doctorate in orchestral conducting at the University of Montreal. In 2012, she received the Jean-Marie Baudet Prize in orchestral conducting awarded by the Canada Council for the Arts.
A Job Like No Other
The music director role is diverse and challenging, spanning artistic vision, team leadership, community outreach, and more.
“The conductor is a super personnel manager,” Mr. Parker says.
Not only do they have to have a deep understanding of every note in the score, but must also know the strengths and weaknesses of all the players in the orchestra, with whom it’s essential to build rapport and trust.
“It’s a tough job,” he says, “It’s not just waving a stick around at concerts.”
Ms. Léonard guest conducted Symphony New Brunswick in 2018. She recalls the concerts as exciting and describes the musicians as welcoming and hard-working.
“It felt like a right fit,” she says. “I really liked their openness to try what I was suggesting.”
She looks forward to collaborating with them again soon and building on their initial experience together. She’s very interested in leadership, and very conscious of how she shows up.
“The orchestra is always going to sound good if the musicians are happy to be working with you,” she says. “If they feel good, they will be happy to give their best freely.”
The music director’s job also goes far beyond the concert hall. There’s a significant outreach and community development component and a strong push for broader connection and relevance, which Ms. Léonard, who is fluently bilingual, enthusiastically embraces.
“We have a role beyond music,” she says. “We fit into an artistic and an even greater ecosystem. I want to implement projects and ideas that are inclusive. I want every single person in New Brunswick to feel welcome at the orchestra.”
A Winding Path to the Podium
Maestra Léonard’s journey to conducting was “never a straight line,” she says.
“I’m not one of those people who knew I wanted to be a musician at five years old.”
In fact, at one point as a young player, overwhelmed by hours of violin practice, she thought, “I’m never going to be a musician, this is way too much work!”
Born in Montréal and raised in Salaberry-de-Valleyfield, Que., she was always very artistic, doing ballet and competitive ballroom dancing as a child, playing in an orchestra in high school, and studying visual arts and theatre at CEGEP.
As a young woman, thinking about what she wanted to do with her life, conducting hit all the right notes.
“When I reflected on all the moments that made me the happiest, that made me feel alive, it was obvious I wanted to be on the stage,” she says. Beyond performing, conducting encompassed many of her skills and interests, including developing ideas and leading a team.
“When I performed for the first time as a conductor, in university, it just felt like everything locked in,” she says. “It felt like exactly what I should be doing.”
Future Looks Bright
Ms. Léonard joins Symphony New Brunswick at an encouraging time. The recent 70th-anniversary fundraising campaign was a great success, attracting new support for Symphony New Brunswick Foundation’s endowment that will give the Symphony more financial stability and a foundation from which to grow. And, despite the challenges of COVID-19, Symphony NB was one of the few orchestras in Canada that continued to perform live this past year.
Ms. Léonard is looking forward to arriving in the province, meeting the players and people of New Brunswick, and touring around. She loves the Maritime landscape, which she enjoyed for several weeks on a camping trip a few years ago.
Mostly, she’s excited to learn more about what Symphony NB has accomplished to date and to help to develop ideas for the future. She sees great potential to help usher in a broader concept of Symphony New Brunswick, expanding its role in the arts community and beyond.
“We have to find ways to be relevant, to reflect societal changes and find resonance in what’s important to New Brunswickers,” she says. “I feel we have a role and responsibility but also the privilege to lead change, to have an impact.”