• Most Respected Classical Music Platform
  • #classicalForever

Cellist Denis Brott Discusses How to Best Run a Chamber Music Festival

As the Founder & Artistic Director of the Montreal Chamber Festival, Denis Brott shares his best advice and expertise


This year, the Montreal Chamber Music Festival will return for its 29th season from June 13 to 23, 2024. The Festival presents eight main programs and five free noon-hour concerts in the beautiful Salle Bourgie, Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. The closing concert, on June 23rd, will take place at Maison Symphonique, Place des Arts. You can find out more about this year's program here.

In anticipation of this year's 29th season, The Violin Channel will stream multiple concerts from the 2023 Montreal Chamber Music Festival from April through June.

We sat down with the festival Founder & Artistic Director Denis Brott to learn about his expertise in running a festival and what's to come in 2024.


What are you most looking forward to at this year’s festival? 

For me, after 28 seasons, every year’s Festival is like attending the graduation of one of my children. So much love, effort, attention to detail, care, and consideration is put into conceptualizing, planning, and implementing the Festival that when it all comes together, almost miraculously, I feel pride and fulfillment that words connect aptly convey. Each edition is like a child growing from conception to maturity in 12 months!


After 28 successful seasons, what is the most important advice in regards to running chamber music festival?

The best and only advice I can share is that founding and running a chamber music festival is a challenging job!  There are no hours in the day, nights in the week, weeks in the month or months in the year.  It is more a passion than a job.  As such, you are always on call and must be in love with the process.  The beauty is that all the effort, blood, sweat, and tears become distant, and memories are even forgotten when the magic of the concerts and their impact on performers and the public transition from concept to reality.  The magic of the music conquers all.


What would you say to an aspiring Founder and Artistic Director of a Festival?

I would say celebrate what you know, know what you don’t know, and admit you don’t know what you don’t know! It takes untold commitment, belief, and tirelessness to bring ideas to life. It takes cherished friendships, camaraderie with colleagues, and relentless devotion to your convictions.  Chamber music is a hard sell at the best of times.  Your joy and enthusiasm must be infectious.  It will be yours to convince your community and colleagues – those who doubt as much as those who believe - that music matters. If you are passionate about your beliefs, others will be too.


What is the most challenging part of putting on a festival? How do you deal with it?

It is, without a doubt, raising money. What I like least about holding a festival is that I always have to raise money to make it happen. Less than 20% of our revenue comes from ticket sales. Chamber music, in general, and a chamber music festival cannot pay for itself. It requires the kindness and support of your community and of your colleagues.  Most frustrating is that I struggle daily to find time to practice as much as I want.  Truth is I feel most myself when embracing my cello.


How do you choose where the concerts will take place?

Montreal is a particularly challenging environment for concert creation and programming despite its reputation as a ”festival” city. The city is musically competitive in the extreme. There is a surfeit of quality chamber music concerts. In addition, few satisfactory venues combine all the required elements for the public and performers alike.  For example, Montreal’s primary concert venue – the Place des Arts – has no venue suitable for the intimacy and specific acoustic properties chamber music requires to succeed. Our best is a beautiful hall in the Museum of Fine Arts, Bourgie Hall.  It is unique and lovely and has the only Tiffany-stained glass windows in Canada.  It was formerly a church.  Its excellent acoustics make it the best choice for us in Montreal now. Though most of our concerts are at Bourgie Hall during the June festival, we do one concert each season using only the stage of the Place des Arts’ Maison Symphonique.  A unique set-up.  We also produce Health and Wellness Concerts in healthcare facilities, historic homes and other unusual venues, all wanting to democratize chamber music.


How do you select the artists? What are you looking for in terms of programming to best cater to the Montreal audience?

As I see it, a Festival is not just another concert.  The Montreal Chamber Music Festival is rooted in firm beliefs and a mission. Our programming is always unique and pushes the boundaries of traditional chamber music events.  The varied choice of performers and repertoire at almost every concert, the combination of seasoned professionals and the finest rising stars creating an on-stage synergy otherwise not to be found anywhere in our city, annual commissions of new works or new transcriptions of beloved compositions, the inclusion of other disciplines like dance, narration, projections of artworks in conjunction with certain periods and styles of music, the celebration of great composers and performers milestone anniversaries…all this is the Festival.  And no opportunity is missed to push the boundaries and share the belief that chamber music is democracy in action and that in chamber music the whole is always greater than the sum of its parts.

What strategies do you use to best engage your audiences?

We keep trying to figure that out!  Engaging audiences is an ever-changing and challenging dynamic.  Since COVID-19, we have become what I call a Festival REIMAGINED.  That means we are now a two-headed monster producing both live events and videos.  I am proud to say that we have created over 25 videos in the past 30 months alone.  We plan to continue in this vein, video recording as many concerts as possible. And therein lies the rub!  Video recording produces no revenue for us!  Yet, we must be visible in this digital world.  This is true not only of video recording but also of all aspects of our digital profile, whether Facebook, Instagram, TikTok and, of course, The Violin Channel!  As good fortune would have it, the MCMF has audio-recorded every Festival since its inception in 1995.  Our archive of recordings of live concerts number in the many hundreds.  It is impressive and unique. To further engage and assimilate our audiences, we are developing dedicated audio channels drawn from this archival library, dividing repertoire into individual Spotify and Apple Music channels under the headings: Baroque, Classical, Romantic, Modern and Jazz.  We hope this will be intriguing and engaging for current and future audiences at home and on the WWW.  This will add another dimension to our newly minted and ever-increasing video profile.


How do you push the festival forward and make each year different than the last?

As luck would have it, I always have ideas.  The abundance of talent and creativity in our midst inspires me to re-examine my world and think differently. Music is a portal through which humanity can find meaning, kindness, empathy, truth, validation, communion, and understanding in their emotional journey.

I reflect on my life journey and my burning curiosity to explore ideas through the programming I dare to imagine. My colleagues are a constant source of ideas.  I enjoy the camaraderie, and most importantly, they inspire me.  Given the MCMF  's mission and my devotion to encouraging and providing performance opportunities to the finest aspiring talent, I am fortunate to make brilliant young colleagues as new friends every year.  We all benefit through colleagues and the professional intermingling of talent of all ages.  In this way, I will continue to grow the Festival and make it different yearly.

As musicians, we never really “know” anything. New perspectives, new talent, and unexplored opportunities await at every turn. At the root of it, that is what keeps my creativity flowing.

upcoming events

may 2024

06may01junQueen Elisabeth Violin Competition12:00 am - (june 1) 11:59 pm Flagey ASBL-VZW, Pl. Sainte-Croix, 1050 Bruxelles, BelgiumEvent Type :competitions Event Tagscompetition,Queen Elisabeth Violin Competition,violinFOLLOW

27mayAll Day31New York Classic Violin Competition(All Day) Manhattan School of Music, 130 Claremont Ave, New York, NY 10027Event Type :competitions Event TagsClassic Violin Olympus International Competition,violin competitionFOLLOW

june 2024

06junAll Day13Khachaturian International Violin Competition(All Day) Aram Khachaturian Concert Hall, 46 Mesrop Mashtots Ave, Yerevan, ArmeniaEvent Type :competitions Event TagsKhachaturian International Competition,violin competitionFOLLOW

08junAll Day16Premio Paolo Borciani International String Quartet Competition(All Day) Romolo Valli Municipal Theatre, Piazza Martiri del 7 Luglio, 1, 42121 Reggio Emilia RE, Italy Event Type :competitions Event TagsPremio Paolo Borciani International String Quartet Competition,string quartet competitionFOLLOW

17junAll Day22Primrose International Viola Competition(All Day) Colburn School, 200 S Grand AveEvent Type :competitions Event TagsPrimrose International Viola Competition,Primrose Viola CompetitionFOLLOW


Get ALL our latest conveniently by EMAIL

Our newsletter is trusted by over 100,000+ industry professionals around the world

We deliver news straight to your inbox and will never share your data.
You'll never miss a beat!

click left click right