Pointe-à-Callière Museum’s 22nd edition of Port Symphonies, featuring composer and trombonist Scott Thomson, honoured the achievements of Agatha Christie, the famed murder-mystery novelist. The concert was held in Old Montréal at Place-Royale Square, next to the Pointe-à-Callière Museum, where a current exhibition, Investigating Agatha Christie brings to light Christie’s many interests, from literature to archaeology. The exhibition paints a portrait of the woman behind the novels. For Agatha Christie fans, Investigating Agatha Christie, which includes mementos from Christie’s childhood, marriages, and life spent abroad, is a must-see as it provides the context for the purpose behind this year’s Port Symphonies concert. Together, these elements pay homage to the life and legacy of Agatha Christie and offer alternate modes in which to honour the “Queen of Crime.”
Port Symphonies opened to the sound of bagpipes and drums performed in the middle of Place Royale Square. It was not long before the space was filled with onlookers who gathered to watch the performers and hear the boats, including tugboats and ships, blow their horns in unison. What began as an initially unusual arrangement of sound came together in an interesting medley of music through the combination of the bagpipes, trains and boat horns at different pitches. Thomson’s passion for improvisation is evident in the structure of Port Symphonies as the sounds combine together in surprising and interesting ways.
The performance had a feeling of spontaneity, as the crowd gathered to listen at different points of the concert, and could be enjoyed by everyone not only at Place-Royale but throughout the surrounding area of the museum and Old Port. The sonorous tone of the horns from the boats filled the air with a resonant sound that enveloped the square. Members of the audience filmed the location and recorded the music, producing a sweeping panorama of the view looking out to the boats in the river. In this manner, the concert was unique in that there was not a single performer, nor was the performance limited to a precise location, but features a variety of elements assembled to create a cohesive sound. The spectacle was framed by the scenic location, the charming beauty of Old Montreal beside the luminous skyline, and the harbour dotted with boats. Port Symphonies was truly an immersive experience for onlookers to join together and wait in anticipation for what the next sound arrangement will be.
As the boat horns echoed one another, it seemed as if the sounds were in communication with each other, each responding in a different octave. The performance, about half an hour in duration, was framed by the sound of bagpipes, creating a sense of unity. The noise of the boats, bagpipes and locomotives throughout the symphony was reminiscent of the excitement and drama of Christie’s mystery novels. In particular, the sound of the train horn brings to mind one of Christie’s most celebrated novels, Murder on the Orient Express, published in 1934.
Port Symphonies allowed the audience to experience their environment in another way. Sound is central to the performance, and it offers an intriguing manner in which to honour the “Queen of Crime.” As the sounds mixed together in curious and compelling ways, they mimicked the precision with which Christie developed the plot of her mystery novels. In this way, Port Symphonies delighted not only Agatha Christie fans and music enthusiasts, but remained open for everyone to come together and enjoy.
Investigating Agatha Christie is at the Pointe-à-Callière Museum (350 Place Royale) until April 17.