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Government of New Brunswick

Mélanie Léonard

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Mélanie Léonard, Symphony New Brunswick / Symphonie Nouveau-Brunswick

Born in Montreal, Mélanie Léonard is Music Director of Symphony New Brunswick and Assistant Professor of Instrumental Conducting (Contemporary Music) at McGill University's Schulich School of Music. She was conductor-in-residence, then associate conductor of the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra and Music Director of the Sudbury Symphony Orchestra.

She has been invited to conduct many Canadian orchestras, including the Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal, Toronto Symphony Orchestra, Les Violons du Roy, Orchestre Métropolitain, National Arts Centre Orchestra, and the symphony orchestras of Edmonton, Regina, Victoria, Winnipeg, Québec and Symphony Nova Scotia.

Maestra Léonard is also in demand for various recording projects. She has recorded the soundtracks for Aura at Notre-Dame Basilica in Montreal, Paradise City, an immersive multimedia universe in South Korea, and Land of Fantasy, a Cirque du Soleil show presented in Hangzhou, China.

Over the course of her career, Ms. Léonard has founded three musical organizations dedicated to contemporary music: Ensemble Prima, the Wild West New Music Ensemble and the Calgary New Music Festival.

In the 2023-2024 season, she is again invited to conduct the Orchestre Métropolitain and the Saskatoon Symphony Orchestra. She made her debut with the Ottawa Symphony Orchestra.

Mélanie Léonard was the first woman to complete a Doctorate in Orchestral Conducting at the Université de Montréal. In 2012, she was awarded the Jean-Marie Baudet Prize in Orchestral Conducting by the Canada Council for the Arts.

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Symphony New Brunswick / Symphonie Nouveau-Brunswick

What led you to become a conductor?

Becoming a conductor was the culmination of a journey through various art forms and a reflection on happiness.

First, my musical path was full of detours. Interested in all art forms, I didn't at once know that music was my path. I did ballet and competitive dance sport. I also majored in visual arts and minored in theater at CEGEP. Alongside all this, I'd been taking violin lessons since the age of 9 and was a member of the West Island Youth Symphony Orchestra. I passed all my violin levels at the McGill Conservatory of Music (which unfortunately no longer exists).

It was at a time when the visual arts and theater occupied most of my time that I realized that I could always appreciate all art forms from afar, but that I couldn't live without music. I lacked the time to play my instrument, and it was the feeling of this emptiness that was the beginning of an important reflection.

When was I happiest? On stage. It was obvious to me. I knew I wanted to be a performer. At first, I wanted to be a violinist, but my reflection led me elsewhere. In addition to my love of the stage and sharing with the public, I had a creative spirit, I liked working in a team and I enjoyed taking on a leadership role in the various projects I was involved in. I realized that being a conductor allowed me to be myself and express all these facets of my personality. So, I embarked on the academic path that would enable me to realize this dream, and I'm convinced every day that I made the right choice. I'm extremely grateful for the chance to do what I'm passionate about.

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Mélanie Léonard, Symphony New Brunswick / Symphonie Nouveau-Brunswick

How did your training and experience help you to create and innovate in your artistic practice?

My involvement in various art forms has given me a global understanding and appreciation of what it means to be an artist, a musician. Music is part of both the social and cultural ecosystem. I still go to museums and dance and theater shows. This direct contact with art continues to inspire me and feed my creativity. In contemporary music, I have the chance to take part directly in the creative process of a work. It’s a great asset to be able to talk directly to composers.

What stimulates you most about your practice?

The opportunity to contribute to the richness of the community through music. I want to have a positive impact on people, the musicians I work with and our audience. It moves me to think that what we do as musicians brings happiness to others. I see it as a great privilege to do the job I love and to touch people’s hearts.

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Mélanie Léonard, Symphony New Brunswick / Symphonie Nouveau-Brunswick

How has living and working in New Brunswick helped and/or inspired you on your journey?

I talk a lot about sharing and community impact when I talk about my job. I feel welcome here. The audience is what gives music its meaning. Without them, it’s just an artistic exercise. But I’m inspired by their welcome, their participation, their support, the words of encouragement I sometimes receive. Through my programming, I want to cultivate the richness of this bond, and I hope to forge new ones. I’m also inspired by the musicians and team I’m lucky enough to work with. They are talented and committed, and together we feel we can achieve great things. I’m always happy to share the stage with the orchestra. They’re more than colleagues, they’re a family.

Why do you think it’s important to make art and pursue an artistic career?

Art feeds the heart. It’s a language of emotions. It’s both reassuring and confronting. It’s a way of looking at the world. It reminds us of who we are at a fundamental level. Whatever the practice and whatever the level at which we practise it, art enables us to contact the world in the sincerest way possible.

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Mélanie Léonard, Symphony New Brunswick / Symphonie Nouveau-Brunswick

What do you think is the impact of artists’ work on communities and the province as a whole?

Through our various activities, the orchestra’s musicians are very involved in the community. They take part in presentations in schools and libraries and perform in chamber music concerts. Our smaller ensembles make us more mobile and flexible, enabling us to visit different communities outside the major centres during our season. These musicians play a vital role in enriching the cultural offering and making music more accessible to a large portion of the population. Some of our musicians are well-known and highly appreciated by the public.

What’s more, in addition to sharing emotions, artists and musicians are ambassadors who help the province to shine beyond its borders. It’s a job that gives people a sense of pride. For example, when I conduct elsewhere in Canada, I always talk about Symphony New Brunswick, the beauty of the province, the people. Through my own pride in contributing to its growth, I become a messenger of its richness. There isn’t a province where I’ve conducted that hasn’t heard of Symphony New Brunswick. I want everyone to know who we are.

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Symphony New Brunswick / Symphonie Nouveau-Brunswick

Describe what you are most proud of in your career.

Probably for persevering through all the rejection letters, the periods without work, the various difficulties, the doubts. I’ve been scared, hurt, frustrated, and discouraged. However, each time, the idea of changing direction was harder to accept than the effort needed to get back on my feet.

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Mélanie Léonard, Symphony New Brunswick / Symphonie Nouveau-Brunswick

What advice would you give to emerging artists?

I wish I could share a foolproof recipe with them, but there are as many paths as there are musicians. Believe in your dream and listen to your inner voice. The same advice could be given to anyone driven by a passion.

Where can we follow your work?

Love NB arts and culture? Share your favourites. #inspiredbyNB