An Enchanting and Enlightening Evening at the 2012 Bal-bénéfice de la Fondation Orchestre symphonique de Longueuil “Une Soirée à Paris”

Bal-bénéfice “Une Soirée à Paris” progamme

2012 continued to be a time of economic instability, fragility, and volatility. As increased uncertainty remain hovered over the financial, social, and cultural landscape, developed and developing countries around the world try to weather the euro-zone’s deepening malaise, the shaken investors’ confidence in the financial market, and the significant decline in consumer wealth. Numerous performing arts organizations here and overseas have been affected by the negative impact of the global financial turmoil and turbulence. As financial contributions from government institutions and corporate and individual philanthropy—the lifeblood of many artistic and cultural communities—continue to dwindle dramatically, the arts and culture sector continues to struggle to sustain its existence and strives to find creative, alternative ways to raise funds in order to survive the saddening financial unrest and distress.

Although fears of an imminent global economic collapse ominously loom in the air, all is not completely in dire straits for a number of performing arts establishments continue to orchestrate annual fundraising events, many of which have always enjoyed strong, substantial support from corporate companies and avid patrons of the arts. This past fall, I had the privilege of attending the 2012 Benefit Ball organized by la Foundation de l’Orchestre symphonique de Longueuil (OSDL). Under the leadership of honorary president M. Jean-Jacques Rainville, chairman of the Board at the law firm Dunton Rainville, the annual black-tie event was held at the Centre Sheraton Montreal Hotel located in the heart of the downtown district of the city. More than 410 people dressed to the nines gathered that evening for the soirée-bénéfice which kicked off the 27th season of the Orchestre symphonique de Longueuil in style, and la Fondation OSDL succeeded in raising $114,000, which will enable the Orchestre to continue with its mission and to assure its development and perenniality.

Louis Roederer Brut Premier champagne at Bal-bénéfice reception

Entitled “Une Soirée à Paris,” the prestigious bal-bénéfice captured the French joie de vivre spirit from the outset of the gala festivities. At the cocktail reception held in the foyer just outside the Ballroom, the principal venue of the special fundraising event, accordionist Dino Leone and violinist Pierre Beaulieu, both identically dressed in black-and-white striped tops and bright red scarves tied around their necks, performed French pieces and airs in the background, while guests socialized and sipped champagne, a refreshing and invigorating Louis Roederer Brut Premier bubbly with lovely aromas of brioche and citrus fruit and sensuous flavours of orchard fruits, spice, and honey. In an embracing ambiance that exuded ineffable fervour and sophisticated simplicity, the chic cocktail hour set the stage for an evening of elegance and enthrallment and provided a glamorous glimpse of what was to be presented behind the doors of the contiguous Ballroom.

Under the experienced hands of ABP Location and Sonorisation Ranger, the spacious venue was deftly transformed into an enchanting environs that embodied the ville de lumière et d’amour theme steeped in an allure of glitter, gleam, and glamour and a French tricolour rhapsody of royal blue, champagne white, and scarlet red. To further enhance the milieu with romantic nuances, striking chandeliers composed of string lights were suspended from the ceiling, lending a contemporary edge to the setting, and dinner tables dressed with chestnut red satin tablecloths were decked with graceful centrepieces accented with sparkling crystals and simple dinnerware punctuated with silver charger plates, giving a tasteful touch of opulence to the décor. In front of the vast room, a stage was set up with a constellation of diminutive lights twinkling brightly in the pitch black background. It would be on this very stage where the central attraction of the night would leave a lasting, magical impression on the appreciative audience.

Under the bâton of principal conductor Marc David, the Orchestre symphonique de Longueuil, the raison d’être of this special occasion, provided the musical entertainment; during the Gallic-inspired gastronomic banquet which leisurely unfolded over the course of the evening, the large instrumental ensemble played a well-balanced and varied selection of well-known French works from the classical music repertoire as well as orchestral arrangements of some of the timeless hits from the history of pop music, and the Maestro invited and encouraged the guests to dance to the infectious rhythm of the music. I not only enjoyed the orchestra’s polished performance, a crowd-pleasing crescendo of momentum and energy, but I also kicked up my heels on the dance floor, swinging and swaying to different dance forms and styles, ranging from the waltz and cha-cha-cha, to rock and roll and disco; it is infrequent nowadays to have the opportunity to dance to music that is performed live by a reputable orchestra.

Of course, food and wine formed an integrated part of the grand gala event. I, indeed, indulged in the ravishing repast prepared by Le Centre Sheraton Montreal’s brigade de cuisine, with French-born executive chef Alexandre Martin at the helm of its kitchen, and a smart selection of fabulous French wines offered at the table to accompany the haute cuisine fare.

Confit de canard with fromage de chèvre and vinaigrette vierge

In a similar vein to the orchestral music programme, the multi-course menu featured iconic dishes of French cuisine. Upon our arrival at the Ballroom, the initial cold starter was already unveiled at the tables, along with a bread plate of assortment of plain, olive, and bran rolls which was offered alongside sphere-shaped, sculpted pats of butter. Presented in a deconstructed fashion, the epicurean appetizer consisted of three components: a round timbale of confit de canard inflected with soft herbs and topped with a piped swirl of fromage de chèvre; a liberal drizzle of vinaigrette vierge composed of tomato concassé infused in extra-virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar and seasoned with a sprinkle of finely chopped fresh chives; and to complete the composition, a half of fresh cherry tomato gently anchored atop a neat, tiny bunch of fresh, crunchy purple sprouts. The melting richness of the subtly chunky shreds of duck meat was gracefully offset by the mild tanginess of the light, mousse-like goat cheese, while the subdued sweetness of the unadorned and dressed tomatoes provided a pleasant counterbalance to the intense flavours of the fowl-and-cheese concoction. Rustic yet refined, chef Martin’s playful take on the charcuterie delicacy was harmoniously paired with a glass of 2011 Cuvée Marie Jurançon sec from the historic appellation in Southwest France. Superbly crafted by the venerable oenologist-winemaker Charles Hours of Clos Uroulat, the full-bodied, oak-aged, dry white wine, with an admirable balance of acidity, purity, and minerality, was fragrant with citrus, pear, and almond notes.

For the second course, the classic potage parisien, one of the traditional war-horses of la cuisine française, was impeccably executed. Ladled piping hot from the tureen, the relatively cloudy broth was replete with diced white potatoes and sliced yellow-green leeks. Speckled sparingly with fresh parsley and chive chiffonade, the light soup was saturated with flavours from the soft yet firm, cooked tuber and the supple, sweated allium vegetable aromatized with a touch of butter. As saporous as it was, the unpuréed potato and leek potage did, however, pose a challenge for some of the guests who found it at times somewhat difficult to spoon the vegetable bits from the shallow, wide soup serving bowls.

Carré d’agneau au miel et Porto, gratin dauphinois et légumes du marché

Compared to the soup entrée, the main dish was more of an elaborate affair. The tuberous crop, which starred in the preceding course, reappeared in the hearty plat principal but here transformed into a scalloped potato specialty of the Rhône-Alpes region. Golden crisp on one side and heavy-handed on the butter, the two overlapping blocks of gratin dauphinois, layered with melted Gruyère cheese, were plated with two roasted rack of lamb pieces which were attractively arranged on top of an assembled mound of colourful légumes du marché, a complementing and toothsome medley of Nantaise carrot, asparagus spears, chopped zucchini, corn kernels, and a brunoise of red and yellow peppers. Basted with honey and finished with a port jus reduction sauce that was poured at the time of serving, the four Frenched marinated lamb chops, lightly browned on the outside and slightly rosé on the inside, were succulent and tender. In between dance numbers, I leisurely savoured the gamey taste of the robust meat as I carved morsel by morsel off the rib bones until they were picked clean and in between bites, sipped a 2010 Coudoulet de Beaucastel. The lively, taut red wine from Côtes du Rhône, made from a blend of Grenache, Mourvèdre, Syrah, Counoise, Cinsault, and other varietals, displayed ripe, dark fruit flavours and a spicy finish, a marvellous match for this earthy dish.

Granité aux pommes et Calvados

Prior to the dessert course, a traditional palate cleanser was served. Presented in a dessert wine glass set on a small, white serving dish, the light and refreshing apple granité, revealing pronounced pomme d’Api flavours, was fortified with a heady Calvados, elevating the pre-dessert delight from unpretentiously simple to luxuriously exquisite. Utterly delectable.

The pomaceous motive continued to be further developed in the culminating course of the regal meal. Arranged on a white canvas plate capriciously embellished with a chilled chocolate-drizzled design, an open-faced square of tarte tatine confidently showcased the emblematic ingredients of the fabled French sweet creation, a luscious spin on the old-fashioned apple pie. Pillowy and buttery, a light puff pastry bed comfortably cushioned softened, supple slices of the fruit of temptation caramelized in sugar and butter and scented with cinnamon. Set adjacent to the baked and inverted upside-down forbidden fruit tart were a puddle of homemade caramel sauce and, adding a feisty punch of colour to the various brown shades of the culinary composition, a side of fresh fruits, the tartness of the strawberry half and kiwi round counteracting the dense sweetness of the caramel and the sugared humbleness of the pastry base. To heighten the decadent dessert course, the accompanying sweet wine beautifully complemented the treasured toffee-topped treat. For the occasion, the 2007 Château Bastor-Lamontagne Sauternes produced by Vignobles de Bastor et Saint-Robert seduced diners with its intense tones of ripe apricot, peach, and caramel and delicate hints of apple blossom and citrus. Smooth and sensual, the sublime white wine was divine. Tea and coffee followed, and the sumptuous and scrumptious feast, like the orchestral spectacle, concluded on a high and glorious note.

Tarte tatine with caramel sauce and fresh fruit

After the delicious dinner, the Montreal cover band Shine took over the stage and further engaged the crowd on the dance floor with their rendition of popular hit songs during the remainder of the benefit gala event. When my friend and I finally left the convivial party, we agreed that the formal and festive soirée was a night of celebration, recognition, and appreciation of the importance of the arts and its galvanizing influence on our modern culture and society.

Now that 2012 has come to a close and a brand new year is upon us, I sit back and reflect on the changing dynamics of the arts scene which continue to have a profound impact on all of us. Art is essential to the human spirit for it not only defines and expresses human experience through the use of movements, lines, colours, sounds, and forms but also contributes to the well-being and development of society. Art not only makes us feel, look, and think, but it also moves us, provokes us, inspires us, and enriches us. Without art, the world would be intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually empty. The great American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow once said, “Look not mournfully into the Past, it comes not back again. Wisely improve the Present, it is thine. Go forth to meet the shadowy Future without fear, and a manly heart.” Let’s continue to remain upbeat and provide a nurturing environment for the arts, an enriching world that continues to fascinate, exhilarate, and intoxicate us.

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