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Vincent Belanger: Hi-Fi Cellist of Audio Note

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Vincent Belanger was named official musical ambassador of Audio Note UK as of February 1st, 2016. Two years and some months onward, I am curious not only as to what this position entails and how it came to be.

To get down to the matter, I interviewed Vincent to find the answers to the questions and more, hopefully.

 

DB: What exactly is a musical ambassador? What does it entail? 

VB: Good question, I would like to say that in each Audio Note room in which I am afforded the opportunity to play, there is no competition between myself and stereo system in the room, because my cellp of two hundred years, hands down will always be the best sound system in any room.  (Hahaha!)

Seriously though, my mission is twofold. Firstly, to show how closely an Audio Note system can reproduce the sound of my cello. I do it by my music, not by huge technical/esoterica explanations. I don’t have that knowledge anyway! This is why Peter Qvortrup (owner of Audio Note) refers to me as his musical ambassador. Secondly, in order for my music to do the talking, I developed my own concept of live recording which I debuted at the Montreal Hi-Fi Show in 2012. I composed and continue to compose short pieces that allow me to move the melodies to and from the right and left microphones, which are recorded and then I play in the middle, along with these recordings.

Subsequently, it made sense to follow on from these productions and produce fantastic recordings of rare or in some instances never before recorded classical music, and thus Audio Note Music was born. Pure Cello, which was well received and acclaimed was the first project with others to follow.

At RMAF 2017

DB: Why take on such a role? And is this role part of a bigger mission re: classical music?

VB: Yes, everyone has a mission. Mine is to share the beauty of classical and instrumental music.

At each H-Fi show, at which I performed, attendees would tell me that they did not know, did not think it was possible for them to appreciate classical music that way. The role was and is a challenge, as nobody before me had attempted something like this, and I was spurred on to see how far I could take this Audio Note production in the United Kingdom. I love the UK, so any opportunity I have to visit the country, I jump at it!

 

DB: When did you become interested in high fidelity sound reproduction?

VB:  My interest in high fidelity sound reproduction started in the Fall of 2009 when I started work on album Vincent Bélanger Là (ANM 1602, new analog mastering available in April 2018).

Since then I came to realize that the music industry invests a lot of time and resources in the reproduction of music, my music.

Sarah Tremblay and Michel Plante, the Montreal Hi-Fi show organizers, were my mentors in the world of Hi-Fi. And since my association with Audio Note, I perform independently for them at their shows.

 

DB: Why Audio Note? What attracted you to them? And/or them to you?

VB: You may ask Peter Qvortrup what attracted them to me! I am curious to know! (Laughing).

It is a long story … I first played with Audio Note UK in September 2014, during the New York Hi-Fi show. I remember that David Cope, then Audio Note’s North-America representative, was impressed not only with the realism, but the public’s reaction to my playing. The undertaking was epical. I preformed more than 10 times in his exhibitor room, mostly playing duet with my album , and while I’m not the kind of person to toot his own horn, I never heard my album like that before. It was breathtaking. This relationship endured at shows across Canada and the United States:  Montréal, Washington, New York and Denver.

David Cope and I became close friends. He was involved in the production of Pure Cello(ANM 1601) and found the Chapel in Putnam, Connecticut where it was recorded. From David I learned a great deal of the Audio Note philosophy.

Peter Qvortrup sponsored my new bow, a fantastic one by a fellow resident of Montréal, Eric Gagné. After the production of Pure Cello, Peter invited us to the UK for further discussion. Peter impressed me with his knowledge of the cello. Seriously, this man knows more about cello than anyone else! I was impressed! We passed the 1st meeting talking about the old records and listening to dozens of LPs. I met him during that week 2 more times, he is very busy … To be honest, since our last meeting, I didn’t think I had impressed him. I was stressed, and my English quite rusty …

The last time I met him on that trip, Peter’s first words were ‘Vincent I have 10 minutes’, so I did something totally unexpected, and gave him a five-minute cello lesson. I wanted him to feel the sound of the cello. From my perspective, the sound of the cello looks like nothing else. It was something he had to experience with his own ears. Those five minutes became two hours. We had lunch together and from this meeting our association was created as was Audio Note Music and my role as musical ambassador.

The attraction was and is our shared vision. The same love of classical music. With all that, I would be a fool to refuse the opportunity and support.

(In Vincent’s response above, he jokingly dared me to ask Peter what first attracted him to Vincent Bélanger, as a musician? Did he know that somewhere off in the future Audio Note needed a musical ambassador? What are he and Audio Note aiming to get across to the general public, the Hi-Fi enthusiasts with Vincent’s performances at Hi-Fi shows and recorded albums. I took Vincent up on the dare and question Peter Qvortrup. The following is his response:

“On the recommendation of David Cope I brought Vincent to the UK, and when I heard him play I heard a rare musicality, lyricism and sensitivity in Vincent’s playing, I have had plans to build a record company within the Audio Note brand for many year and I felt that here was an opportunity to create some unique, sonically great recordings with a first class musician playing repertoire that has either not been recorded before or has virtually no exposure, the ulterior motive is to entice more customers to get past their reluctance to listen to classical music, something I have experienced very often during the nearly 40 years I have run rooms at shows.

I collect, amongst other music, cello recordings (I have about 3,000 records with cellos alone!) and when I sat down with Vincent, it was obvious that we have very similar ideas about repertoire, so we went ahead and made Vincent our musical representative, which provides us as a company making music, producing equipment, with the unique ability to perform live music at shows and do a direct comparison between recorded music and live which is proving very powerful.” – Peter Qvortrup)

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Peter and Vince

DB: I can understand how and why Audio Note values the relationship, but am curious what do you personally get out of it?

VB: Good point. This relationship allows me to be an artist without being so business-like. I will not have to record the same Beethoven sonatas as everyone else does. There’s a certain freedom and Peter at no time ever said to me ‘record this music and we will sell a lot of albums.’ Of course, I do need his approval, but we mutually discuss things and regard the ANM as an archive-recording label. Peter and I agree that the market needs new music and no label, whether it be a major or emerging one, will invest as much as Audio Note does in unknown music, so I am grateful for that opportunity.

At the end of this year, I will have 6 new recordings out there in the market, and recordings are a musician’s best business card.

Performing at the Hi-Fi shows is a pleasure for me. It is a very intimate setting, where I can share my passion, and in that, it is a privilege for me. I am so fortunate to be able to connect with people directly and make people laugh. It can only help Audio Note.

It is not a win-win situation; Peter and I hate that expression. The relationship is mutualistic. Audio Note and Vincent Bélanger grow together.

 

DB: In one of my associations, I consider myself extremely fortunate to have been a computer consultant to arguably one of the most famous and prolifically recorded living violinists. His identity will remain anonymous. We would sit side-by-side, me at the computer, him practicing his fiddle and from time to time listening to recordings on his boom box. I asked ‘why not a hi-fi system’ and he responded [paraphrasing] ‘I can make my own music, and I can invite my friends over to jam… it just isn’t that important to me to have a full-blown hi-fi system’. What is your reaction? Is this common among your peers, professional musicians, regardless of music genre?

VB: Yes, it is exactly that, for most of classical musicians. I think it is because in the history of music: Jazz and Pop, modern music evolved and developed their style within the recording industry. The greatest tubes are used in guitar tube amplifiers. In the time of Bach and Beethoven, you can imagine the microphone wasn’t even a thought. As a result, I think it is not natural for us, classical musicians, to have an interest in Hi-Fi.

I am reminded of the first time I talked about this aspect of my job with my father. My father is a great musician. Forty years have passed since he founded the Opera House of Québec city, and he was also my conductor on .

At first, my father could not comprehend my work for Audio Note, but then he got to listen to Pure Cello at the Montréal Hi-Fi show with all of the Audio Note components, and he turned to look at me and said ‘this is better than concert hall!’ Now he understands. A breakthrough.

 

DB: When not on the road performing and attending Hi-Fi shows on behalf of Audio Note, do you spend time listening to your system at home? And how do you listen to music as a classically trained musician? Are you listening to something specific in recordings?

VB: My musical tastes vary greatly. I listen to a lot of music and am more inclined to listen to live acoustic performances. I listen to mostly classical but also, world, jazz and Latin music. I like the sound of acoustic jazz. It is so close, so intimate. So much so, that it became my inspiration for the microphone placement for the Pure Cello recordings. I wanted to re-create that sense of intimacy for the public.

Last year in Shanghai, I discovered a fantastic album: Drum Sisters. It is the exception; it is absolutely not acoustic but the sound is fantastic.

 

DB:  Do you listen to your own recordings at home? I know some musicians I’ve gotten to know loathe to do so. And, if you do indeed listen to them how critical are you of your playing? With each new recording what do you learn that makes the next recording that much better?

VB: I have to admit that I am no exception, it is very hard for me to listen to my own recording. But I have no choice during the show. I try to be humble. A record is like a picture … be sure that your hair is well combed otherwise you will have to live with that for the rest of your life.  (Laughing).

At home, when I want to listen to cello music, I prefer to discover the new generation of cellists.

The young cellist from Britain, Sheku Kanneh-Mason, and the Persian Kian Soltani from Germany are my favorites at the moment. I would dream to play with them some time. Who knows!

 

DB: Lastly, being a brand’s musical ambassador is rather unique. Do you see yourself as a trendsetter? Will we be seeing more musicians taking on such a role/position?

VB: Yes, I hope that I am indeed a trendsetter in this way. I want to inspire others, classical musicians, to do what I am doing. And for that it requires a crazy businessman with extreme confidence in the product, and a not-so-crazy cellist with the stamina to listen to his own recordings 10 times a day at a Hi-Fi show. Simple, no?

 

Epilogue

Color me curious. Very curious indeed. When someone takes on a role in the Hi-Fi industry which is unique and trendsetting, I have to know more. I was not sure what to expect. In learning more about Vincent Bélanger, we get insights into Peter Qvortrup and David Cope, and that enriches the story. That the role of musical ambassador is something which Vincent doesn’t want to keep to himself but rather inspire others so to do, heartens me. Vincent is correct, it should not just be about classical music. Look how the intimacy of acoustic jazz inspired the recording and microphone placement for Pure Cello. Genres learn from and teach each other.

From Peter Qvortrup’s responses to my questions it is clear that both he and Vincent are on the same mission and in each other have found kindred spirits.

I know now that when I attend Hi-Fi shows and see/hear Vincent perform, that it is about more than the gear, more than the music. It is about the enjoyment of the experience, emotionally. And I concur with Peter about hearing more classical music at Hi-Fi shows, but not the same repertoire over and over again. My present 2018 album release project spans so many genres, and sadly so far this year there have been too few classical recordings of note, let alone recordings of new pieces or those yet to be recorded. There is hope, always that.

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One Response to Vincent Belanger: Hi-Fi Cellist of Audio Note


  1. Très bon article. Nous avons le privilège au Québec d’avoir ce grand artiste, et qui nous fait découvrir des nouvelles musiques. Il faut dire que c’est un grand bonus de savoir que l’on peut acheter ses disques les yeux fermé sachant qu’ils sont tous de la plus haute qualité d’enregistrement. Merci M Vincent Bélanger.

    [English translation]
    Very good article. We have the privilege in Quebec to have this great artist, and that makes us discover new music. It must be said that it is a great bonus to know that one can buy its disks with closed eyes knowing that they are all of the highest quality recording. Thank you, Mr. Vincent Bélanger.

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