Even as he packs his bags, Quebec’s Rémy Bélanger de Beauport, can hardly believe he’ll be living in New York City less than a week from now.
“It’s funny. I’m almost shy to say this, but this is going to be my first time in New York City,” he said. “I’m going to the place where the music I’m into is happening.”
Bélanger de Beauport, who describes himself as a free improv cellist, was selected for the Conseil des arts et des lettres du Québec’s five-month residency in SoHo. The program is open to artists from all disciplines, from visual arts to music and literature, but only those with more than 10 years of experience are eligible to apply.
“I had never applied before, but last year I thought ‘Here’s a promise to myself: I’m applying for the first time for the studio in New York and I’ll be applying for the next 10 years if I have to, but I’m going to go there eventually,’” he said. “And I got it on the first try.”
The grant provides a select artist with a furnished apartment in New York, with the goal of fully immersing them in the city’s art scene. It first came to be in 1981 and dozens of local artists have taken part in the residency since.
“It’s an honour. I was selected on the basis of my work, by my peers, by the CALQ,” Bélanger de Beauport said. “But also it’s great to go to New York and have an apartment to myself and to just think about my art, but in a new place, in a new way.”
CALQ estimates it receives between 30 to 40 applications per studio per year and only two artists are selected, each getting a half-year stay.
It’s quite the turnaround since not long ago, Bélanger de Beauport was forced to put his music career on hold. He was one of seven people stabbed during a random sword attack in Quebec City’s historic district on Halloween night 2020. Two people died of their injuries.
“I like that when we talk about my music now, the focus is really on the music and not on (the attack),” he said. “But of course, it’s a part of me, and it’s a part of my experience, and a lot of people probably know me just because of that.”
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“Anything I was gaining, was a true gain. … In November 2020, I couldn’t stand up, so the moment I could stand up was such a gain for my musical life because now I could play standing up … I couldn’t use my fingers for a while, then I could use them,” he explained. “I’m not thinking about what I could do before and I can’t do now. I try not to go in that direction.”
Bélanger de Beauport has had to make some minor changes to the way he plays, but he says he doesn’t see much of a difference in his music.
“My music has always been about the body and breathing and exploring the limits of the body, and so in that way, my trajectory as an artist has not changed,” he said. “It’s just the limits of my body are different. The fingers don’t feel the same … the shoulders are kind of different.”
The cellist hopes to use his upcoming residency as an opportunity to forge new connections, but also to continue his many ongoing projects, including a vinyl album and four compositions.
“I want to see the best players, I want to hear the best music and hopefully, of course, I’ll be influenced by the music I hear there,” Bélanger de Beauport said. “And also it’s such a mystery to me how people get to live there, cause it’s getting super expensive.”
Bélanger de Beauport will live and work in New York until the end of December, after which he hopes to continue his work with the Ensemble de musique improvisée de Québec.