Diamond Schmitt-designed Maison Symphonique in Montreal inaugurates its pipe organ

The Montreal Symphony Orchestra tonight inaugurates the pipe organ at Maison Symphonique. The 6,489-pipe colossus is a design collaboration between Jack Diamond, principal, Diamond Schmitt Architects, and Quebec-based organ manufacturer Casavant Frères.

This is the architect’s first organ commission. His role was to create the organ facade – the configuration of pipes above the stage that frames the audience’s view of the auditorium. “This is an exuberant organ, built into the room as part of the architecture, not just an insert,” says Diamond. “Too many organs simply look like radiators.”

The 1,900-seat concert hall expresses a reverence for sound where overlapping curves of the auditorium’s wood-lined walls shape the musical dimension of the hall. The asymmetrical array of organ pipes is a bold, confident composition that – like the concert hall itself – is a contemporary expression of the fundamental forms of concert hall design.

“This organ is consistent with the contemporary design of the hall – it’s where architecture and making music come together,” says Diamond, whose previous concert hall designs include the New Mariinsky Theatre (2013) in St. Petersburg, Russia, and the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts (2006) in Toronto.

Casavant Frères of Saint-Hyacinthe, Quebec, has been handcrafting organs since 1879. The instrument for Maison Symphonique is one of its largest to date. It consists of four mechanical action keyboards, 109 registers, 83 stops, 116 ranks and 6,489 pipes. An organ console is fixed to the base of the instrument and a second, moveable console can be placed at the centre of the orchestra that allows an organist to activate the instrument’s keys. The Grand Orgue Pierre Béique is named after the founder and first general manager of the Montreal Symphony Orchestra.

Says MSO music director Kent Nagano of the instrument, “it’s so brilliant, it has so much strength, so much power, so much resonance, so many timbre possibilities.” Organist emeritus for the MSO Olivier Latry, who will perform the inaugural concert with the MSO, likened the instrument to sitting in a high-performance car. 

Maison Symphonique opened in September 2011 and was designed by Diamond Schmitt Architects and Aedifica Architects. The traditional “shoe box” theatre configuration is reinterpreted in an architectural language to inject life, visual interest, warmth and sensuality with supreme acoustics, clear sightlines and audience comfort. The hall is a soundproof ‘box-within-a-box’ that is separated from the surrounding public lobbies and rehearsal rooms and rests on rubber and steel pads that inhibit unwanted vibration and noise from entering the room. A monochromatic palette of colours creates a calm, cohesive and elegant environment in the hall to draw the audience’s attention to natural, unamplified performances.

The first public concert featuring the Grand Orgue Pierre Béique will be live streamed at medici.tv on Thursday, May 29th at 8 p.m. EST. The concert will be available free of charge on the site for three months.

Diamond discusses the integration of the organ and the concert hall in a podcast available at dsai.ca

Hear a preview of the organ as performed by MSO resident organist Jean Willy Kuntz at www.youtube.com/watch?v=smXxxDshBwE#t=108

Diamond Schmitt Architects (www.dsai.ca) is a leading full-service architectural firm based in Toronto with an international reputation for design excellence and sustainable design solutions. An extensive portfolio includes academic buildings, libraries, performing arts centres, sports facilities, master plans, and residential and commercial buildings. Equally extensive is work completed for the healthcare sector, with life science facilities, research laboratories and hospitals.