Experiencing live classical music in Montreal is a treat for purists and casual amateurs alike, what, with two major symphony orchestras, three opera companies and a symphony hall offering superior acoustics for the primary purpose of hosting unamplified musical performances.
Add to that annual chamber and baroque festivals, free classical concerts several times a week and a prestigious museum locale serving as regular host to chamber music recitals at affordable price points, and you've got the makings of a prospering, even democratic classical music scene, performances accessible to all budgets and lifestyles.
Founded in 1934, the Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal is the city's oldest and most prestigious symphony orchestra in current operation, one led by esteemed conductor Kent Nagano who's been OSM Music Director since 2006, a change of pace from his role as Artistic Director and Chief Conductor of the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin from 2000 to 2006.
The Berkeley, California native has collaborated with some of the world's greatest orchestras, notably the Vienna, Berlin and New York Philharmonics. Nagano is also Principal Guest Conductor of Gothenburg Symphony since September 2013, concluding his tenure as General Music Director of Munich opera company Bayerische Staatsoper in 2013 after a six-year run. And in tandem with his OSM duties, Nagano is the Hamburg State Opera's General Music Director as well as Chief Conductor of the Philharmonic State Orchestra, this since September 2015.
Founded in 1981, the Orchestre Métropolitain may not be as seasoned as the OSM, but it makes up for its young age with a slew of critical acclaim with significant help from its equally youthful artistic director and principal conductor, Montreal born-and-raised Yannick Nézet-Séguin.
Having taken the helm at the Orchestre Métropolitaine at the tender age of 25 back in 2000, Nézet-Séguin has become somewhat of a phenom on the scene, known for his engaging theatrics, emotion and energy while conducting in Montreal as well as south of border and across the pond as music director for both the Philadelphia Orchestra since 2012 and the Rotterdam Philharmonic since 2008.
Nézet-Séguin also regularly delves into opera, regularly working with the Opéra de Montréal in addition to guest stints with the Royal Opera House in London's Covent Garden and Dutch National Opera in Amsterdam. And as of 2020, Nézet-Séguin succeeds James Levine as music director of the New York Metropolitan Opera. In the interim, he'll become the Met's music director designate as of the 2017-2018 season.
Montreal Museum of Fine Arts
One of Montreal's more prominent classical music supporters, the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts hosts several classical music concerts a month, from Bach's cantatas to spotlights on Schubert, various series performed by both local and international artists.
Performances are typically held in Bourgie Hall, formerly the Erskine and American United Church, a Romanesque revival style building with Tiffany stained glass windows erected circa 1893-1894 since renovated and repurposed into the 444-seat concert hall, annexed to the fine arts museum in 2011.
Schulich School of Music
A democratizing force for classical music if there ever was one in the city, McGill University's Schulich School of Music proposes concerts of the classical persuasion nearly every day every school year, many of which are free of charge to the public.
Consult the Schulich School of Music's calendar of events.
Opéra de Montréal
The city's chief opera company, Opéra de Montréal, presents roughly four presentations every year, featuring favorites like Verdi, Puccini, Bizet, Purcell, and Gershwin.
Montreal opera company Chants Libres proposes an edgier, modern take on the art, presenting contemporary works over the classics.
In addition to the city's symphony orchestras and opera companies are its annual classical music festivals. The Montreal Chamber Music Festival programs chamber music as well as jazz presentations in the spring, the Montreal Baroque Festival proposes an exclusive lineup of post-renaissance works every summer and in the fall, the Festival Bach Montréal makes it mark, honoring the prolific German Baroque period composer.
Free Saturday afternoon classical music concerts in Christ Church Cathedral, a gorgeous downtown Montreal cathedral, are a given as of 4:30 p.m. And on Sundays at 2 p.m., it's St. George's Church's turn to host Oasis Musicale's classical music concerts.